By Martin Flusberg 

Although energy management systems (EMS) are the norm in industrial buildings and large commercial facilities, they’re far from it for most commercial facilities. That’s because according to the Department of Energy, 90 percent of commercial facilities are smaller than 25,000 square feet, and most of these facilities don’t have an EMS. The reasons for the difference in EMS penetration are fairly straightforward. The potential savings of an EMS in smaller venues does not justify the cost of a system intended for the complexities of larger facilities.

Moreover, those systems were typically designed for use by on-site facility managers and, as a result, tend to be overly complex for smaller facilities without dedicated facility professionals on-site. In fact, our experience suggests that typical 100 store retail chains often have only one facility manager supporting the entire portfolio. Fortunately, a variety of recent technological developments have changed the EMS equation. Ubiquitous internet connectivity and cloud computing, low cost sensors and wireless communications, and the application of analytics to “big data” have changed the very nature of an EMS, resulting in cost-effective, user-friendly systems more accessible to smaller facilities.

EMS for Smaller Commercial Facilities

An EMS often starts with control of heating and cooling, the largest energy expense in a majority of commercial facilities. Heating and cooling systems in smaller facilities generally have more in common with systems in homes than with systems in larger facilities. As a result, relatively low-cost internet-controlled thermostats can take the place of more costly HVAC control systems. This has brought the savings and convenience of HVAC control to smaller facilities without the complexities associated with traditional EMS.

And fortunately, many small commercial EMSs offer intuitive interfaces that include features particularly important to small buildings Lighting cost is also particularly important as it is typically among the highest energy expenditures in smaller buildings. The good news is that fewer lighting circuits in small facilities means lower costs for lighting controls, and a new generation of products leverages centralized installation and wireless communications to make them even more affordable.

There are also relatively inexpensive new technologies that monitor facility operations at a granular level. Such systems may monitor energy use of individual pieces of equipment and present that information centrally, along with temperature and other variables. This granularity can deliver several major benefits, including:

  • Identifying opportunities for significant savings;
  • Informing management about the prevalence and costs of equipment powered on when it shouldn’t be, helping enforce corporate operating procedures; and
  • Proactively identifying equipment problems, potentially lowering maintenance costs and avoiding major disruptions.

For companies with multiple facilities, benchmarking capabilities deliver additional value by highlighting efficient and inefficient facilities. With granular monitoring, it is possible to pinpoint the reasons for performance differences across locations. And, users are able to identify equipment models that perform best, informing purchasing decisions with hard data. Finally, such an EMS represents a cost-effective way to perform “continuous” or “monitoring-based” commissioning.

Since equipment conditions can, and do, change constantly – often resulting in “drift” or performance degradation – ongoing monitoring ensures that operations can be fine-tuned at any time. Smaller facilities are now well-positioned to take advantage of new, cost-effective and user-friendly EMSs that deliver significant business value.

Martin Flusberg is CEO of Powerhouse Dynamics. He has spent most of his career developing innovative technologies that address climate change; the first half in transportation and the second half in energy. Most recently, he was co-founder and President of Nexus Energy Software, a pioneer in delivering on-line energy and carbon analysis to consumers and businesses. 

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