Extreme Measures

by Katie Lee

— By Drew Holst —

How AI and IoT can team up to help compensate for the costs of extreme weather.

Multi-site retailers and restaurants require a significant amount of energy to operate, even when energy prices rise. Keeping every location at the right temperature is imperative for providing the best possible customer experience. That requires adequate heating or air conditioning, no matter what.

Moreover, for restaurants, the use of energy-intensive equipment, such as refrigerators or freezers, is imperative to ensure food safety. But that has consequences: The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s 2018 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey earmarks foodservice locations as the heaviest users of energy compared to other commercial facilities.

The extreme weather that many areas have been experiencing recently adds even more energy cost burdens due to new pressures on the grid. Phoenix’s 19 straight days of 110+ degrees this summer represent one example. With climate change a likely contributor, retail and restaurant facilities managers could easily see the problem again next year. What are they doing now to optimize their energy use — and drive down upcoming winter heating costs, too?

Managing Comfort While Minimizing Peak Demand Charges

Implementing energy management systems (EMS) along with the Internet of Things (IoT) and AI-driven technologies is making a difference to them — especially in minimizing peak demand charges for electricity, which are based on the 15-minute time periods when businesses collectively exert the most stress on their local grid and use the most power. The charges can account for up to 70% of an electricity bill and are rising by 7% each year.

The EMS systems — which combine hardware, software, controls and data/reports — give these facility managers enterprise-wide visibility into their energy use and equipment performance from the cloud and empower them to make immediate, real-time improvements. Many of these systems incorporate Internet of Things (IoT) technologies — which enable facility managers to connect their HVAC equipment, as well as ovens, refrigerators, freezers and fryers — and act based on the data they provide.

The Cost of Being “Always On”

When facility managers implement these systems, they often make surprising discoveries. One major national brand found that at one location, new rooftop air conditioning units were costing rather than saving them money. Looking into related IoT data, they discovered that one unit was driving consistently high power consumption all day and night. The culprit? A malfunctioning switch that made it impossible for the unit’s blower to cycle off.

Imagine a restaurant or ice cream shop that’s serving as a haven for customers trying to beat the summer heat. At noon, when the temperature is spiking and people pour in, staff may set the temperature even lower than normal and keep it that way all afternoon. Even at 3 or 4 p.m., when customer traffic decreases, and they can adjust the settings, they stick to the original ones. During that several-hour period, they unknowingly incur costly peak demand charges.

Facility managers are now implementing new AI-driven solutions that integrate with their IoT systems to account for the day-to-day (or hour-to-hour) challenges the example ice cream shop may face. These solutions can enhance the impact of IoT systems. At any point in time, the technologies are balancing energy demands by analyzing a variety of variables, such as weather, human preferences, electric utility signals, market prices, equipment usage and even EV fleet schedules. This enables facilities to automate distribution of the electric load more strategically and achieve related savings. It’s reasonable to expect that by optimizing the electric load on a 24/7/365 basis, organizations can achieve a 10-25% reduction in peak demand, 3-10% less energy consumption and CO2 emissions, and enhance energy bill savings by 10% or more.

Building on Progress

Facility managers using these AI and IoT-enhanced energy management systems are finding other ways to save, too. For example, the technologies enable them to:

• Drive down costly service calls: Some facility managers have seen the cost of such calls rise by 60%. By identifying problems and their root causes through IoT (like refrigerators struggling to stay cool or dishwashers taking too long to heat), they’re saving money by resolving issues with just one truck roll versus multiple service calls required in the absence of remote visibility into equipment failures.

• Make better repair-versus-replace decisions: Data from energy-guzzling equipment may indicate that it’s time to invest in a more efficient model rather than continuing “Band-Aid repairs.” This may also put facility managers on a better path to achieving their ESG goals.

• Compensate for staff shortages by automating routine tasks, such as temperature checks, that take staff away from more important work, such as serving customers.

In cold or hot weather, a more systematic approach to energy management is delivering bottom-line benefits to multi-unit retail and restaurant managers. As weather-related events cause management to update their systems and strategies, new technologies are helping them stay ahead.

— Drew Holst is vice president of Powerhouse Dynamics, a Newton, Mass.-based provider of Internet of Things (IoT) and AI solutions to help multi-unit retail and restaurant brands reduce energy usage and costs and improve sustainability. These include the Open Kitchen® platform for restaurants and foodservice operations, the SiteSage® platform for retailers and DemandSmart peak demand charge reduction software. Email [email protected] or visit www.powerhousedynamics.com.

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