Energy management solutions enhance the bottom line.
By Joe Neubauer and Jerry Drew
Energy costs take a bite out of every budget, but many businesses consider energy usage an uncontrollable expense. Historically, smaller commercial facilities could not afford the overhead associated with a traditional building automation system. Fortunately, technological advancements have made available affordable, “lightweight” energy management solutions that are ideal for restaurants. These mini energy management systems (mini-EMS) provide the ability to remotely monitor and control HVAC parameters, collect data for evaluating energy consumption and provide guidance for enhanced energy savings. Some systems include features such as temperature averaging, remote sensor monitoring and improper operation notifications.
Traditional thermostat programming can be cumbersome and time consuming. As a result, commercial facilities often use programmable thermostats in the same way most of us use a home thermostat: they don’t program them. This can result in HVAC equipment running longer and harder than necessary. Heating and cooling costs are the largest controllable energy expense to a business. The single most cost-effective way to automate an energy savings effort is to program different occupied and unoccupied heating and cooling set points for each day. Most mini-EMS solutions can program and copy settings to multiple thermostats and even multiple locations with a few button presses. Though the thermostats are programmed, set point tampering is the common plague of any energy management effort. We have all seen these set point overrides continue to run for extended periods after closing and when closed for holidays. Thermostat lock boxes are often used to prevent set point tampering, but these awful looking wall tumors seldom work and are usually left in disrepair from past set point adjustment endeavors. A modern mini-EMS can provide the flexibility of a complete thermostat lockout or a restricted set point adjustment range coupled with an adjustable override timer to prevent thermostat schedule deviations from running continuously. To maximize energy conservation efforts, it is important that the energy management system simplifies thermostat programming and minimizes set-point override adjustments. Automated “smart” energy management systems enable restaurant managers to easily monitor and reduce energy consumption in real time, resulting in HVAC-related utility cost reductions on the order of 20% or more. Additional automation benefits can include integrated HVAC start sequencing to minimize initial demand spikes and automated demand response participation that allows any business, regardless of size, to participate in the peak demand rebates offered by many utility companies.
In addition to energy savings, an energy management system can prolong the life of an HVAC system by identifying issues with inefficient HVAC processes such as compressor short cycling, continuous operation and discrepancies in expected supply and return air duct temperatures. Some systems allow for adding sensors to monitor and report on condensate issues, capital equipment operation or any extreme temperature or transitional event. Restaurants, grocery stores and convenience stores are beginning to take advantage of the wealth of available additional features, to include cashing in on freezer, refrigerator, cooler and display case monitoring. A notification that saves precious product should one of these assets fail could easily pay for the mini-EMS with a single equipment failure instance. Monitoring a drip pan in the ceiling can provide advanced notification of a condensate issue and save the expensive water damage repair due to an overflow. In colder northern regions, an integrated freeze guard can turn on heat, even if the thermostat is set to off, to prevent water pipes from freezing and bursting. Use carbon dioxide detectors and automatically open fresh air vents and turn on fans if an issue arises. Modern, feature rich mini-EMS solutions are relatively easy to install and can provide a realistic return-on-investment in a year or less.
Remote access is the buzz throughout the industry and there are several ways to implement remote monitoring and control of an energy management system. The most prevalent remote accessibility is through cloud-based services. These services allow remote access to HVAC controls from any device with an Internet connection. While cloud services offer considerable conveniences, these conveniences, including alerts, are only effective as long as the energy management system has access to the Internet. As every IT professional will tell, Internet accessibility inherently equates to potential network security issues. PCI compliance requirements for any establishment with a point-of-sale terminal will have most network professionals questioning even the most “secure” cloud connection. One way to overcome network security concerns in a PCI compliance environment is to install a completely separate network, just so the energy management system can connect to the cloud service. Nearly all modern IT networks can be set up to do this without any additional hardware. Alternatively, there are energy management solutions that can be maintained on the existing network infrastructure, completely behind the firewall, that provide many of the same features and conveniences as most cloud services. Secure VPN access to a central location within the network domain can be granted for monitoring and controlling the energy management system from anywhere with Internet access. Use wired Ethernet-based energy management solutions in place of wireless Wi-Fi systems to further augment PCI compliance.
Make a sustainable energy management plan pervasive throughout the organization. A team effort using the available cost-effective and comprehensive energy management solutions to control excessive energy consumption can add dollars back to the bottom line of your business. Be sure to evaluate the total lifetime cost of ownership of the energy management system. Mini-EMS systems, divergent from their big brother Building Automation Systems, typically will have low or nearly no recurring operating maintenance expense. No other investment will provide as high a rate of return as that of a good energy management system.
— Joe Neubauer is a solutions specialist for Network Thermostat, a leader in 100% standalone, communicating energy management solutions. Neubauer may be reached at email@example.com. Jerry Drew is the CEO of Network Thermostat and Robertshaw Climate. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.