Tesco: How a new partnership is saving energy using the Internet of Things

Posted on: 26/07/2018

The National Grid operates with a very narrow generating margin of 5%, and an increasing input of renewable generation systems that do not provide consistent outputs. Stabilising the Grid is a strategic national priority, which is addressed not just from the supply side of energy but from stabilising demand too—so-called Demand Side Responses (DSR).

With supermarkets operating hundreds of thousands of refrigeration units across the country, the refrigeration of food accounts for more than 14% of the UK’s electricity demands at any one time; representing one-third of a typical retailer’s energy cost.

To help address this, a consortium comprising the University of Lincoln (UK), Tesco Stores Ltd, The Grimsby Institute (GIFHE) and Intelligent Management Systems Ltd (IMS), which controls Tesco’s circa 112,000 refrigeration systems across c. 2,600 stores in the UK, is running a 24-month full-scale project called The Development of Dynamic Energy Control Mechanisms for Food Retailing Refrigeration Systems – this is the largest industrial demonstration of DSR to food retailing networks, using Internet of Things technology.

Currently, control systems use very static control temperatures, whilst this project is developing algorithms to dynamically control refrigeration temperatures. The project has shown that this can be done, whilst controlling food quality and temperature control limits.

How did KTN help?

Paul Huggett, KTN’s Knowledge Transfer Manager for Electronics, had a long-standing relationship with Professor Simon Pearson, Director of the Lincoln Institute of Agri-Food Technology at the University of Lincoln.

Paul alerted Professor Pearson to an Innovate UK competition looking at Integrated Energy Challenge Phase 1: Feasibility

Professor Pearson also had an existing relationship with Tesco, after working with the retailer on a number of technology projects. “Tesco was looking at energy use for whole refrigeration space, so [the competition] was very timely,” says Simon. “Then we realised that Tesco had this wonderful company called IMS, which was doing this IoT control system for their entire refrigeration estate.

“It was a two-stage competition – one, they funded some feasibility studies, followed by the second stage, which had some big grants available. We did very well in the feasibility study – we really did deliver, demonstrating ways that Tesco could save an enormous amount of money from their existing energy bill. Just the feasibility study alone has delivered a saving of about £2.7 million a year for Tesco going forward.”

At a KTN cohort sandpit to build cross-cutting collaborations for Phase 2 of the competition, Professor Pearson was then introduced to Duncan Botting, a leading authority on energy management systems. He came on board with the project, and the consortium then applied for, and received, a second Innovate UK grant.

“It’s been wonderful,” says Simon. “It’s got us into places that we hadn’t imagined. We’ve done work on IoT for the Food Standards Authority, for domestic refrigeration systems, which has gone extremely well. We’re now looking at other digital technologies through the food chain, and IMS is partnering with other retailers worldwide. It really has gone from strength to strength.”


  • KTN introduced the University of Lincoln to key partners including IMS and Duncan Botting
  • Tremendous feasibility study results estimated potential savings for Tesco of £2.7m a year
  • The consortium also received Innovate UK grant funding and gained access to new customers and markets

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