Effective Control Strategies

Retail facility directors continually look for ways to drive down operational costs, but are limited in their efforts without a strong control system. Installation of a facility control system can provide savings and improve operations of a small-format retail store if adhered to well.

Why is it important to use controls to ensure store policies are being enforced? Based on a secondary study concerning walk-in doors, it was found that store personnel or vendors sometimes prop open these doors for various reasons. An industry average shows that walk-in doors are open about 25% of the time. While the amount of refrigeration varies by store, this could equal about 19.8 kWh or $2 per day, which amounts to about $730 per year in energy-usage costs. Using a supervisory system for monitoring, an alarm can sound when a walk-in door is left open for too long, giving a store manager the insight to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Refrigeration, lighting and HVAC are the three key areas included in a store-level control strategy. While each area of controls can be set up separately, a control system works best and is most cost effective when all three levels are combined under one platform. Below are recommendations for using system controls at all three levels.

Refrigeration Controls: An installation of electronic controls in a refrigeration system can help to not only monitor the opening and closing of walk-in doors, but can also reduce compressor run time. This is a result of applying electronic controls to what has traditionally been a mechanical control system. Once the controls are installed, leveraging alarm management in refrigeration systems can alert you to potential issues and prevent food loss. Using the monitoring data from your refrigeration system controls can allow you to be more proactive with your strategy and reduce overall maintenance expenses.

Lighting Controls: With lighting controls, a store can ensure that various lights are turned on and off at the times they should be based on ambient light and/ or store occupancy. Controls can be put in place for ambient light, dimming and modulation. Lighting schedules can be automated and maintained through a control system; ensuring store lighting procedures (e.g., making sure the canopy lights are not on during the day) are followed.

HVAC Controls: A key benefit to having HVAC system controls is the ability to program thermostat setpoints appropriately and ensure they are not changed. This will help to make sure policies are implemented correctly (and consistently) at each store — for example, restrictions on override capabilities can be set during specific times through the supervisory control system. Once a company has identified the need for a control system and is ready to implement the solution, successful engagement with the system is important.

Here are five keys to success for small-format stores using facility controls:

■ Who will have access to the system — facility directors, of course, but store personnel, on-site technicians, or maintenance and energy managers? Decide early on who will have the right to use to the controls and how they will access the systems.

■ Make configurations for HVAC and lighting schedules, refrigeration control settings and additional monitoring points similar throughout all stores. There will always be differences to account for, but standardization across an enterprise is helpful so everyone can understand the system capabilities and actions.

■ It’s important to plan the way alarms will be utilized and managed before startup. Review alarm thresholds and critical versus noncritical categorization to separate data that can be used for analytics from events that require immediate action. Think through alarm notifications, schedules for off hours versus peak hours, and the differences between HVAC and refrigeration alarms.

■ Analyze the information collected through the system to identify problem areas. Alarms and other relevant data can be used to target maintenance and equipment replacement.

■ Do not underestimate the need for a thorough, simple training program for all people who will interact with the system. Set up training before the systems are installed, and schedule ongoing training as needed. Small-format retailers need to become even more energy aware as stores are carrying more fresh-food products, frozen-food aisles are expanding, food-safety temperature requirements are tightening, and demand for prepared food is growing. The most cost-effective opportunities for energy saving is to improve system efficiency and reduce unnecessary energy use.

John Wallace is director of innovation at Emerson Climate Technologies, Retail Solutions.

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