Imagine being a retail facility manager with a portfolio of two dozen stores in the Southeast. It’s mid-July, and air conditioners have been cranked up for weeks. One store’s usage, though, is consistently 25% higher than all the rest. What could be the culprit?
In the middle of air conditioning season, many retail facility managers could be wrestling with issues just like these. High energy costs, combined with carbon reduction goals, create pressure to take action. But with labor shortages plaguing this sector, managers and employees have all they can do to pay attention to their customers. As long as stores are comfortable, staff may forget to turn the air conditioning down at a certain time, power down the lights, or (for C-stores and food retailers) call in maintenance if there’s too much frost building up in the freezers.
Technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) enable facility managers to proactively intervene — monitoring the little details that could turn into significant expenses if not corrected in time. By connecting all their equipment — HVAC, lights, signs, freezers, refrigerators, food warmers and more — and then monitoring it from their phones or tablets, they’re retaking control.
Going back to the retailer with the outlier store: What if the cause of the excessive energy usage was simply a stuck switch? One national retailer had a problem with a stuck switch on new equipment. Only after they connected their HVAC units using IoT did they discover the problem. IoT enables stores to set rules for when this equipment should power up or down, and receive email alerts when deviations occur so that management can look into the cause.
During the hottest months, IoT can prevent retailers from incurring unnecessary electricity demand charges too. Out of all the commercial buildings in the U.S., retail establishments have “account[ed] for the largest energy costs,” according to ENERGY STAR, citing 2003 figures. However, facility managers can use IoT to program their air conditioners to synchronize usage to reduce the demand charges on their electric bills.
The latest technologies connect to virtually everything, making it easier for facility managers to improve their enterprises’ bottom line by preventing costly problems associated with inefficient energy usage. For example, take the C-stores connected with gas stations in major tourist areas. By using IoT to identify refrigerators that are “working too hard” to reach optimal cooling temperatures, facility managers can order timely repairs — avoiding high replacement costs and customer disappointment while bringing their energy consumption down to normal levels.
Retailers that manage their energy in these ways can also benefit from public goodwill — especially in an era when investors scrutinize public companies’ ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) standards. As they use IoT to make improvements, they can also correlate them to sustainability benchmarks.
For instance, in a recent analysis of 5,000 of Powerhouse Dynamics’ retail and restaurant locations, they have collectively lowered energy usage by 161 million kilowatt-hours per year and kept 137 million pounds of CO2 per year from the environment through their IoT strategy. Saving money and energy while helping to achieve sustainability goals through IoT is a true win-win scenario.
Jay Fiske is President of Powerhouse Dynamics, headquartered in Newton, Mass., a leading provider of Internet of Things (IoT) solutions including SiteSage® for multi-unit retailers and Open Kitchen® for multi-unit restaurants and foodservice operations. These platforms connect, analyze and control equipment to deliver enterprise-wide operational efficiencies. Fiske joined Powerhouse Dynamics in 2011 as VP of Business Development and was promoted to his new position in 2022. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.