Bringing Energy Management Systems to Small Buildings

energy efficiencySophisticated energy management systems enable organizations to track, control and reduce their energy use and spending. These platforms also help companies run smoothly by spotting problems earlier and form the foundation for value-added services that further push efficiencies.

There is a problem, though: These services generally are expensive and complex. They require special know-how to operate and to interpret data that is produced. Specially trained personnel are more or less a requirement. So what happens when the organization doesn’t have an energy manager on site? Are small businesses and satellite offices of decentralized organizations out of the energy management system (EMS) game?

In the past, the answer to that question would have been yes. Things are changing, however. A small but growing group of companies offer remote EMS services that enable unified building management of multiple properties.

Last week, one of those companies – Powerhouse Dynamics – and competitive power retailer Constellation agreed to cooperate. Under the deal, Powerhouse Dynamics’ SiteStage platform will become an option in Constellation’s Energy Made Easy program for commercial customers.

Martin Flusberg, Powerhouse Dynamics’ CEO, said the target market for his company’s product is organizations of less than 10,000 square feet. That’s a big target sweet spot for Powerhouse Dynamics and others – such as GridPoint, Siemens Building Technologies, Schneider Electric and Johnson Controls – that offer such services.

Indeed, small structures are difficult to reach – but represent the lion’s share of the businesses in the country. Flusberg said that there are about 3.2 million commercial buildings – about three quarters of all commercial structures in the United States — fit the profile. These include about 400,000 retail establishments and 600,000 restaurants. “Big market,” he said. “When we started a few years ago it was entirely missionary work. Now we are beginning to see it change as our product and a few others are on the market. We are beginning to see more uptake and interest.”

Flusberg said that average savings per location is between 10 percent and 20 percent. Perhaps the company’s highest profile client is the Arby’s restaurant chain. The company announced this month that it exceeded (albeit barely) its goal of cutting energy use by 15 percent from a baseline set in 2011, is a client. The chain spends about $30,000 annually on energy. The average savings across the 1,000 restaurants was $4,500, for a total annual savings to the company of $4.5 million.

Flusberg pointed to some differences between big and small buildings and between small buildings in different industries.

The key differences between small and big buildings, he said, is that the diminutive ones tend to have much simpler needs than large structures. Big buildings also tend to have higher plug loads from office computers and similar devices.

The variations are bigger, however, between different types of businesses. Many of the elements monitored would be common, such as air temperature. However, there would be variations as well. For instance, an EMS in a restaurant would monitor cooking and refrigeration equipment. Great opportunities exist in value-added services. For instance, Flusberg says, Arby’s has configured its system to sound an alarm if food is cooking at the wrong temperature.

The emergence of pervasive networking and the Internet of Things is opening a door to companies such as Powerhouse Dynamics. It also, however, opening the same door to other companies. For instance, if Powerhouse Dynamics can set up alarms to inform clients that the roaster is too cold or the refrigerator is too hot or, what is to stop the appliance company from doing the same thing?

The answer is simple: Nothing. Flusberg suggests that a next step in the business is aggregating data management across industries. “The term we been using is ‘orchestrating the commercial IoT,’ ” he said. “We are integrating it all in one place so that the customer does not have to deal with 15 different portals and 15 different [sources of] alerts.”


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