Three Ways to Win Energy Management Gold During Extreme Weather Events


By Jason Roeder, PowerhouseDynamics

As weather patterns and energy costs become less predictable, the need to maximize savings, gain control and monitor energy usage with minimum staff effort moves from the “nice-to-have” to “must-have list.”

Recent HVAC benchmarking data from the Professional Retail Store Maintenance Association suggests that the majority of retail chains have adopted some type of on-site energy management system. This demonstrates that energy management issues are important – and solving them is not insurmountable. Retailers that lack on-site energy expertise can successfully tackle energy monitoring and control. Using an Energy Management System to centrally monitor, control and analyze store environments can be the ticket to achieving consistent customer experiences, controlling electric and gas consumption and supporting sustainability efforts.

But how to get there?

Preparation. Skill. Dedication.

Cue the trumpets and national anthems. Welcome to the Polar Vortex Olympics.

The same factors that guided athletes on the road to Sochi enable operations and facilities managers to keep a nationwide portfolio of sites comfortable during brutally cold winters and long hot summers. For smart energy management, channel your inner athlete and keep cash registers ringing.

For someone managing facilities from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes, preparation is important – from ongoing execution of standard preventive maintenance to finding and securing a network of good service providers and more. In addition to these basics, preparation for extreme weather also means remote control of your HVAC fleet. This would have been prohibitively expensive five or 10 years ago, but the substantial drop in cost (and expansion in capabilities) of cloud-based heating and cooling control puts this level of preparation well within reach. Remote control, if coupled with sufficiently flexible software, allows for enterprise-wide changes to be made in advance of or during extreme weather, ensuring customer comfort.

In the midst of a severe weather event, many locations will certainly report problems. In order to efficiently address all of the complaints flooding in, the medal winner must have the right equipment. Real-time visibility into key performance indicators is now possible for common roof-top heating and cooling units (RTUs). Available data include thermostat set points, room temperatures, RTU electrical usage and, in some cases, supply and/or return duct temperatures. These data types help the fleet manager separate the inbound complaints into two categories: thermostat program issues and equipment performance issues.

The chart below shows an example of an equipment performance issue recently discovered by a retailer.

In this case, the thermostat set point of 68 degrees is correct, but the lack of appropriate electrical usage (the green lines) reveals that the fan is not running on this unit while it calls for heat. No changes to the thermostat are going to solve this – only a visit from the HVAC tech, armed with this key information, will earn the gold.

The Winter Olympics are held only every four years, and in many cases, extreme weather events like the recent Polar Vortex are similarly infrequent. This means that many months, or even most years, will pass without a glaring moment of truth. It therefore requires dedication to best practices and an investment of time and money in order to be ready for unexpected severe weather. Modern energy management systems can continually expose equipment performance issues that may be hiding in plain sight between extreme weather events. Some RTUs can pass through recurring filter changes and belt tightenings, and still underperform. It takes a dedicated system to find those latent problems so that you’re medal-ready when the Polar Vortex Olympics arrive.

Closing Ceremony
In the Olympics, the difference between gold and last place can be a few milliseconds. Similarly, the difference between a good year of retail sales and a bad one may be only one week of sales that were lost to bad weather. Thanks to equipment advances in both arenas, new records can be achieved.

The good news is that even without a dedicated on-site team, there is no reason why all HVAC fleet managers can’t ultimately win the gold. It just takes preparation, skill and determination.

Jason Roeder, is director of energy products and services of PowerhouseDynamics, which delivers energy and operational efficiencies to its multi-site customers through cloud-based controls and analytics. He can be reached at [email protected].

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