The most important adjustment to save refrigeration energy is in the heads of your operators.

Like most people in the energy business, I continue to find more ways in which behavior modification is essential to motivating big energy savings wherever humans are involved. When this training program launched I was reminded of the advice of the 1950s motivation expert Dale Carnegie: Give people a fine reputation to live up to.


Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA) and the Refrigerating Engineers & Technicians Association (RETA) recently partnered to develop a new energy efficiency certification for industrial refrigeration operators.  Certified Refrigeration Energy Specialist (CRES) gives refrigeration operators and maintenance people the skills to optimize the energy efficiency of processing plants and cold storage facilities.

Sure, the training and rigorous exam prepare staff to identify low- and no-cost energy savings opportunities, which in turn helps their employers gain a competitive edge and differentiate themselves in the marketplace.

But I think there’s a deeper reason why this certification will result in lower energy bills. Having an energy related certification beside a person’s name is a constant reminder to them and the people they meet that they are experts at saving energy. If anyone’s plant should be steadily improving its energy efficiency, it’s theirs.

Don Tragethon, Chief Engineer at Western Precooling Systems and outgoing Executive Director of RETA.
Don Tragethon, Chief Engineer at Western Precooling Systems and outgoing Executive Director of RETA.

“When folks realize they understand it and can see the direct result of their contribution, that’s really good for the psyche,” says Don Tragethon, Chief Engineer at Western Precooling Systems. “It builds up their confidence and positions them to do better for themselves in the industry.”

Tragethon is a refrigeration industry veteran who has been running the show at Fremont, CA-based Western since 1997. For the past nine years he was the Executive Director of RETA; he is also a previous president of the Association. (Two months ago he stepped aside to make way for a new RETA director.) It was on Tragethon’s watch that RETA and NEEA developed CRES.

“It’s the journey that makes the difference,” Tragethon says of the training and certification program. “It’s about what the people involved learn about the systems that they operate.”

“Getting a guy to take ownership of the plant, of what he is operating, he will do a better job for you,” said Jeff Johnson, Trident Seafoods Facilities Manager, in a video about the CRES program.

Safety is an ever-present concern for people operating giant refrigeration systems with potentially lethal refrigerants under high pressure. CRES enhances safety by teaching staff how to operate at lower pressures, where there’s less potential for a mishap. And, incidentally, lower pressures equate to lower electric bills.

NEEA says that with CRES practices, energy use in these facilities is reduced by two percent to as much as ten percent over several years, depending on the energy efficiency opportunities found.

“What I’ve done in my own career here is I’ve been able at times to reduce power 12 to 15 percent for certain activities,” Tragethon says, “just by operating smarter.”

Ammonia refrigerant leaks, especially under high pressure, can be deadly.

Operating smarter involves making small incremental improvements, and lots of them. Management might perceive some of those changes as not being worth it, particularly where safety and food quality are involved. CRES teaches participants to make the business case for their recommended changes.

“The people being trained are learning how to identify energy-saving opportunities and express them monetarily to decision-makers,” Tragethon says.” That’s part of the personal development of the operators and technicians who engage in this training and go for the certification.”

NEEA held three demonstration trainings for refrigeration operators and technicians in the Northwest. The first exams were held last month at RETA’s 2013 National Conference in Bellevue, WA. Operators must complete and document two additional energy management activities every three years plus get continuing education to maintain certification.

NEEA and RETA are planning to develop CRES certification into a national program. They also expect to have the program ANSI certified by the end of 2014.

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