The structure of the utility markets is changing


The pandemic, with all its effects and consequences, has changed the working world and demonstrated what is possible: working from home instead of the office, walking to the desk in slippers instead of commuting by train, video conferences instead of meetings. Because professionals no longer have to commute to the city office five days a week, new possibilities suddenly emerge, and many discover the rural areas for themselves. For the past one and a half years, much of what defines city life has not been possible. Shops, theaters, cinemas, cafes, and restaurants were temporarily or completely closed, cultural events canceled. For some, this has caused major cities to lose their attractiveness.

Urban Flight Instead of Rural Flight

According to a survey conducted by the ifo Institute and the real estate portal Immowelt, 12.9 percent of residents in cities with more than half a million inhabitants plan to leave within a maximum of one year. Nearly half of the 18,000 respondents cite the situation during the COVID-19 pandemic, including its impact on leisure and work, as an important reason for this decision. Families with children and younger people in the family formation phase are particularly inclined to leave city centers due to changes in working conditions. Preferred destinations for relocation include smaller major cities with 100,000 to 500,000 inhabitants and the outskirts of larger cities. Additionally, there is a growing trend of people moving to rural areas. According to the Eduard Pestel Institute, a research institute focusing on municipalities, companies, and associations, including the housing market, this phenomenon has been ongoing for some time but has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, some areas have experienced unprecedented demand recently. The German Association of Rural Districts (Deutscher Landkreistag e.V.) also perceives that rural areas are becoming more attractive.

If the trend of urban exodus solidifies in the coming years, the supply structure will also need to adapt. "In the future, there could be more local convenience stores in villages," speculates Joachim Dallinger, Head of Product Management and Marketing at Epta Deutschland. "We are already seeing that retail spaces are becoming smaller, and grocery retailers want to be more flexible – especially in the area of refrigeration equipment." In practice, this means that plug-in refrigeration and freezer units are in higher demand – also because the market is seeing a shift away from synthetic refrigerants. "For example, one of our customers has equipped their warehouse, from which they directly supply their customers with delivery vans, not with a large cold room, but with plug-in refrigeration units," explains Joachim Dallinger. "It is important for them to remain flexible and be able to close their warehouse at one location and rebuild it elsewhere if needed. They are willing to accept that they cannot conveniently navigate their warehouse with a forklift." If the structure of supermarkets changes, Epta is already well-prepared with its product portfolio. Customers receive a solution perfectly tailored to the needs of their market.

Quickly operational

If the spaces become smaller, there is often no room for a separate machinery room. In this case, plug-in refrigeration units, which include the refrigeration technology directly, can play their advantages compared to remote units. In addition to their flexibility, they score with easy commissioning - simply plug into the power outlet. They also do not require a defrost water connection. All plug-in refrigeration units at Epta are operated with the natural refrigerant propane. This ensures high energy efficiency and a good environmental balance. Nowadays, more and more plug-in refrigeration units with glass lids and doors are also offered. The high energy efficiency and full glazing result in low energy consumption and low heat emission. However, if a large number of plug-in devices are used in a store, the heat input into the store must be considered.

Using waste heat sensibly

For remote cabinets, which are connected to an external refrigeration system, the advantage is that long refrigerated cabinet runs can be installed with them, and they are available in many designs. Because no refrigeration unit needs to be integrated, they offer flexibility in design. Furthermore, the waste heat can be centrally utilized for heating or hot water through a heat recovery system. Semi-plug-in cabinets combine the benefits of remote and plug-in cabinets: they allow for long refrigerated cabinet runs, are quiet, and are immediately operational as they only require a power and water connection. The resulting waste heat is extracted from the sales area via a water circuit and can then be centrally utilized.