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Energy management remains very much in the spotlight as retailers continue to look for ways to cut costs and maximize profitability. Dan Kubala, VP marketing for Site Controls, which provides enterprise-wide energy management, facilities intelligence and demand response solutions, spoke with Chain Store Age about some of the latest trends and opportunities in this evolving discipline.
What are some of the key trends in energy management and building automation technology?
A key trend we’re seeing involves technology migration. Many companies that invested in early generation EMS equipment are now facing difficult decisions regarding de-support or functional obsolescence. They are trying to assess their options—do they try to ‘make do’ with current equipment, or do they ‘rip and replace’ legacy systems with a completely new platform? Or is there another alternative? These decisions have significant long-term consequences to the energy savings they’ll be able to achieve, and the life cycle cost of owning and operating their EMS platform over time.
Another trend is the move toward ‘data visibility’—the ability to get meaningful data out of the EMS system that managers can use to drive down costs and more effectively operate their businesses. Retailers are realizing that merely installing a bunch of sensors and building controls doesn’t solve the larger problem of enterprise management. The key is an integrated business intelligence platform that delivers information to the right people in a way they can act upon [it] without being overwhelmed by streams of useless data.
At Site Controls, our approach to both of these issues involves a solution called AnyConnect. It is an Internet appliance that enables companies to leverage their existing EMS investments by tying them into a cloud-based Data Center that provides a global unified view of their enterprise assets, regardless of the underlying brand of EMS equipment.
What impact does cloud computing have on EMS?
Cloud computing is important for energy managers because it enables them to utilize the immense amounts of data generated by building automation systems without the hassle—or significant IT costs—of hosting that data internally. It also provides them immediate access to industry best practices, such as role-based dashboards and automatic exceptions processing, without having to reinstall software or reconfigure corporate information systems.
How do you help retailers take better advantage of utility-sponsored grid management programs such as demand response?
As heat waves occurred across the country this summer, retailers on our network enrolled thousands of chain locations in collaborative load-shedding events, which returned megawatts of power back to the grid. Retailers booked substantial revenues through their participation and, as a group, they made a significant positive impact to grid stability and emissions reductions. These automated demand-response programs (also called Intelligent Load Management or ILM) were made possible because retailers are linked to their utilities through our ILM network, and they agreed to participate at specified levels of load reduction. The ILM technology is designed to interface with grid conditions and to dynamically balance power generation and power demand in real time, on a no-touch, business-rules-driven basis.
Most importantly, it continually monitors site conditions to ensure there is no negative impact to site conditions. The result is virtual generation, where unconsumed power is yielded back to the utility or ISO; the retailer is paid for power it never uses. The closed loop, cloud-based ILM technology that performs the intelligent balancing act can help eliminate the need for costly, pollution-prone power plants.
Besides saving energy costs and demand response payments, what other benefits can an EMS provide?
The primary savings from EMS come from reduced energy consumption and demand response revenues, but there are many other benefits as well, including—depending on the system capabilities—the opportunity to drive down maintenance costs through service-call avoidance, warranty validation and call optimization.
Another “hard dollar” benefit is the ability for retailers to independently validate their utility bills. We’ve had multiple instances where retailers have uncovered billing errors (often unnoticed for years) after installing EMS, returning tens of thousands of dollars in overcharges.
“Soft benefits,” which are harder to quantify but no less important, include providing a consistent customer shopping experience across the chain, increasing equipment lifetime through more efficient management, and the ability to reduce carbon emissions at an ROI of 50% or greater.