Can Energy Management Systems Really Work?
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Can Energy Management Systems Really Work?

Can Energy Management Systems Really Work?

Energy management systems (EMS) are great in theory but often prove problematic in practice for many multi-unit franchise owners. The reasons tend to vary but a common theme centers on the administration of the intelligent thermostats, the pre-conceived cost of installation and complexity to ascertain, analyze, and effectively apply the data.

All of these are valid points against EMS for entrepreneurial multi-unit franchisees who operate in environments with razor thin margins and who may have limited internal resources. These owners simply don't have the bandwidth or dedicated staff to effectively administer, monitor, and analyze the fire hose of data associated with energy management systems.

As a result, multi-unit operators often discard the notion of embracing energy management systems and the significant financial benefits and operational efficiencies they provide.

New Standard: Energy Management as a Service

The tide of opinion from multi-unit operators towards energy management is turning based on a new standard of energy management, which has emerged to control costs, increase profitability, and eliminate waste. This new standard is referred to as Energy Management as a Service (EMaaS).

EMaaS is a managed service that provides multi-unit operators with the full range of robust features and functionalities associated with traditional EMS but without the headaches, high cost, and complexity associated with traditional systems.

EMaaS makes energy management effective because it augments the in-store equipment with a dedicated team of data scientists that know energy and who can effectively evaluate incoming data in real-time to drive actionable decisions.

Instead of reacting to problems long after they occur, these energy experts notify multi-unit operators and their facility staff to the critical issues as they impact the business.

How does a multi-unit operator benefit? Here are the three top benefits of an EMaaS:

Reduced Maintenance Costs

EMaaS ensures that the most important maintenance needs are addressed immediately. Additionally, non-emergencies or anomalies are proactively identified, which can eliminate the high costs associated with unwarranted service calls. EMaaS can effectively detect HVAC systems issues, remotely triage an HVAC unit, and verify if a service call is actually needed. This process can significantly reduce unnecessary truck rolls and lower maintenance costs.

Capital Planning And Expansion

Capital planning can be difficult exercise for multi-unit operators whether for replacement or expansion. HVAC systems are particularly problematic because they are expensive - representing 15 percent of the invested capital in a new restaurant location - and owners have very little information on which to make an appropriate sizing decision.

When making replacement decisions, multi-unit operators are often forced to blindly allocate significant capital for HVAC system replacement based on indeterminate factors such as age of the unit.

Facility managers recognize the need to replace aging equipment, but often do not have the critical data to make the best decision on the remaining operating life of the system in order to efficiently allocate capital. EMaaS provides robust reporting based on rich analytics that can effectively track runtime and energy usage data to identify the worst energy use and maintenance offenders. This critical data enables the multi-unit operator to intelligently allocate capital where it will make the most positive impact on operating expense reduction and profitability.

For expansion projects, EMaaS can generate reports that can be a valuable tool in providing analysis of extensive historical data so that multi-unit operators and their facility managers can assure the proper sizing of HVAC requirements for these new capital projects. With actionable data, many facility managers are now able to significantly reduce the size of HVAC equipment and substantially save on capital projects.

For example, one multi-unit operator that routinely installed 50-ton AC units in their new stores asked their EMaaS team to evaluate their existing store HVAC usage data and found that it could instead use 35-ton AC units. As a result, the multi-unit operator had lower capital costs and saw a 34 percent reduction in energy costs in these new stores compared to existing units.

In another example, a multi-unit operator had their EMaaS team analyze costs to not only reduce its AC capacity, but also to reallocate equipment for better guest comfort. In this particular case, the EMaaS report told the multi-unit operator they could reduce AC capacity from 80 tons to 65 tons, which allowed them to then install two 25-ton units and three 5-ton units. This provided better control over their overall airflow, allowing them to significantly improve guest comfort in the dining room without negatively impacting other areas.

Monitoring and Analysis

A feature-rich energy management system can produce up to 13,000 data points per day - too overwhelming for a multi-unit operator with limited internal resources to effectively manage. At the same time, without someone monitoring the system, these multi-unit operators are wasting significant energy, maintenance requirements become excessive, and food safety is at risk if a problem with refrigeration goes unnoticed.

With EMaaS, the multi-unit operator has a dedicated account management team to track setpoints of HVAC and temperatures within each store to see when employees are overriding the thermostat setting. This could be due to a comfort issue (it was particularly cold one day) or employee preference. However, if temperatures aren't reset to the original standard, energy is wasted. EMaaS provides multi-unit operators with the precise data they need to track these temperature changes across their distributed portfolio.

Energy management data helps deduce whether an HVAC unit is performing efficiently. The data can then be compared with other stores to determine which stores are not operating efficiently and the data also show opportunities for improvement. With EMaaS, the average store can save significant money annually on just the monitoring and analysis of their equipment performance data.

Two things that multi-unit operators can count on: Energy costs will continue to climb. And every dollar will matter. Managing energy effectively is difficult without the appropriate expertise. EMaaS takes the burden of constantly monitoring energy and refrigeration in each restaurant off the to do list of the multi-unit operator and provides actionable reports of the fire hose of energy data, determines which issues require immediate attention, and builds out a custom workflow so that multi-unit operators can grow and scale their businesses efficiently.

James Walton is vice president business development for EnTouch Controls.

Published: February 17th, 2015

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