Grid Fruit: AI Keeping Food Fresh with Less Energy

Votes: 1
Views: 1419

Consider a path to profitability for commercial food retailers, one that competing online merchants cannot touch. A means of achieving impressive ROI within two years. A process that promises to recover $4.4 billion in lost revenues annually. A system that helps manage regional peak loads for electric utilities, lessening the likelihood of brownouts and blackouts. All of these ideals can become reality through the Grid Fruit innovation, which improves energy efficiency while reducing peak power demand and utility costs using machine learning and data science. This technology increases energy productivity and reduces demand, saving food retailers up to 15% in operational costs from reduced energy consumed, demand response rebates where applicable, and reduced peak demand (lowering the significant electrical demand charges).

Grid Fruit is a Pittsburgh, PA-based company established in 2018 to bring energy efficiency and power grid incentives to commercial food refrigeration. The technology stems from the founders’ PhD research at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in IoT, power optimization, and controls. They started Grid Fruit from these approaches to apply machine learning for keeping food fresh more efficiently and economically by harnessing and deploying the potential of customers’ unanalyzed or “dormant” data for more cost-effective operations. They have been collecting food retail data from commercial refrigeration since August 2017 in a pilot program. Currently, the team is focused on developing the core algorithm to iteratively learn from this data, improve control signals to reduce waste, and generate ongoing savings for customers’ commercial refrigeration systems.

Grid Fruit estimates the technology will reduce each supermarket’s energy consumption by 174 MWh every year (of 232 MWh currently wasted annually by each supermarket’s refrigeration system), enabling cost savings of $31,000 per supermarket annually. By the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalency Calculator, this energy reduction translates to reducing CO2 emissions every year by 123 metric tons per store, thereby increasing the buildings’ sustainability both from environmental and cost standpoints. These savings and energy reduction will be greater for larger stores including wholesale clubs and discount stores. Across all major types of food retail stores, Grid Fruit will be equipped to provide recurring annual savings over $4.4 billion in the U.S. alone.

Beyond energy savings, Grid Fruit also plans to reduce peak power demand and lower food waste by providing custom operational recommendations, e.g., establishing optimal temperature setpoints for each commercial refrigeration case based on its age, shopper traffic, and the food types within.

Finally, by using machine learning AI algorithms with enhanced monitoring and dynamic control, the Grid Fruit technology will transform the thermal storage capacity of retailer refrigeration systems into energy storage for the grid. Commercial refrigeration systems will effectively act as thermal batteries, providing a dynamic storage option for grid managers to flatten the load curve during peak demand hours. This, in turn, will provide more value for the food retailers by earning them demand response rebates from the grid – an additional $2 billion/year US market - and reducing the stores’ peak demand charges, which constitute the majority of their electricity bills.



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  • Name:
    Jesse Thornburg
  • Type of entry:
    Team members:
    Jesse Thornburg, PhD
    Javad Mohammadi, PhD
    Fabricio Flores
  • Profession:
  • Number of times previously entering contest:
  • Jesse's favorite design and analysis tools:
    MATLAB, Simulink, EnergyPlus
  • Jesse is inspired by:
    Nature's patterns and textures inspire my designs. I have always been a tinkerer and a builder, so I love a systems approach to engineering: designing, building, testing, and debugging. I love to assemble and work with multi-disciplinary teams, and their diverse skills inspire me. Through growing up on a family farm, and there becoming used to constant problem solving, I appreciate seeing elegant solutions that are aesthetic, functional, and simply carried out.
  • Patent status: