Practical sustainability: making energy management a priority Featured

9:01pm EDT August 31, 2011

Smart Business spoke to Nicole Cinquini-Bray of Phoenix Energy Technologies about how the right technology can help trim your business's energy budget.

In just a few short years the Enterprise Energy Management (EEM) market has gone from baby to boomer, projected to grow from an estimated $0.7 billion in 2010 to $3.6 billion by 2015, according to a recent report from Forrester Research. A rising star in the sustainability and clean tech spaces, in the wake of economic crisis this emerging market has significantly upped its pace and its client base in 2010 — and it appears that this is only the beginning.

While the technologies available are nothing short of sophisticated, the premise behind EEM couldn’t be simpler. EEM helps businesses get smarter about how they’re using energy.

In terms of expense, energy most often ranks as the second or third largest operating expense for multi-site enterprises. And, while executives are accustomed to managing other major expenses like inventory and human resources using business intelligence and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software systems, few resources have been available to turn energy into a strategic resource flow. EEM software systems are rising to the occasion, giving enterprises a wide range of solutions in a diverse field of players ranging from global enterprises to small and medium businesses to startups.

If you’re currently responsible for a multi-site operation and have an energy spend of $1 million or more annually, now is the time to tune into the green-versation about Enterprise Energy Management systems. Bear in mind, this isn’t a hard line. However, with just a few buildings and a smaller energy budget, a robust EEM system is likely not the right fit for trimming the fat from your energy budget.

How it works

First, determine where and how energy is being used within your facilities. Next, identify areas of waste. Then, course-correct to save on energy consumption and costs. As an added bonus, by reducing energy consumption you’ll not only reduce costs, you’ll also improve your sustainability efforts, reduce your carbon footprint and bolster positive perceptions about your company and brand.

An EEM system automates the collection of critical data sources, meaning all of the data sources that impact energy consumption and costs. This might include building automation system data, meter data, weather feeds, occupancy and scheduling data, generator or renewable energy sources, billing data and budgets.

Once the data collection process has been automated, the data is cleansed, structured and normalized (meaning it is adjusted for weather and other outside variables to compensate for variations), and it is pushed out through a software application. Software applications will vary vendor by vendor, but the essence is consistent. These software applications enable key operations personnel, such as facility maintenance managers and energy managers, to interpret energy data, rooting out the highest energy and cost savings potential.

Most often, seemingly “obvious” adjustments make the most significant impact on the bottom line. However, absent transparency in your energy data, the energy savings potential for these adjustments are never realized. Changes as minor as adjusting temperature set points by a few degrees or adjusting a lighting schedule can have an equal or greater impact than a costly capital expenditure project. That’s not to say that efficiency measures in the form of capital projects aren’t an excellent form of energy savings over the long haul. However, in today’s economic climate, the cost of these types of projects can be a deterrent.

Case in point

As an example, Phoenix Energy Technologies recently engaged in a pilot program with a national retail account. During the pilot, the PhoenixET EEM system was implemented in 150 locations throughout the United States. Among the energy savings opportunities identified was the adjustment of temperature set points in 23 of the 150 locations.

At the pilot onset, overnight temperatures were set to 78 degrees in store. However, the energy consumed each morning as equipment worked hard to bring stores back down to a comfortable 72 degrees was actually greater than the energy it would take to simply set the overnight temperature to 74 degrees. Estimated annual savings chain-wide based on this adjustment alone were more than $200,000.

In other cases, a piece of faulty equipment or a scheduling bug that causes lights to turn on in the middle of the night — issues that might otherwise never be discovered — are discovered and corrected. When you aggregate these savings opportunities over multiple buildings, and over a period of time, the potential to reduce costs and environmental impact is significant. Some businesses have reported up to a 30 percent reduction in their total energy spend when an EEM system is implemented.

EEM certainly isn’t for everyone, and is largely targeted at the multi-site user. However, if you think there could be a fit, it warrants investigation. Energy prices are said to be rising faster than inflation. The social, economic and legal pressures relative to energy will continue to mount. There is a better process for managing your energy spend, and finding the right solution for your business is certain to have a positive impact on your bottom line.

Nicole Cinquini-Bray is director of marketing at Phoenix Energy Technologies. Reach her at ncinquinibray@phoenixet.com.