Building a More Intelligent Store Management System


320px-Fredmeyer_edit_1Supermarkets are amongst the most energy-intensive commercial buildings today. In fact, an average-sized grocery store of 50,000 feet can spend up to $250,000 annually on power. While $250K may seem shocking, it is a necessary cost of business to protect the various high-value products from dairy to fresh produce to meats and ice cream. Yet supermarkets have long been subjected to very thin profit margins, so facility managers are always on the lookout for ways to save energy and cut costs–and maintain employee wellness. At the same time, grocers want customers to be able to select their favorite products without any inconvenience–or in marketing-speak, a top “consumer experience” is necessary as most grocery retailers have gone far beyond competing merely on price–conveniences (prepared foods, flowers, dry cleaning) and the store environment (look what Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have done to grocery shopping) are also critical. So it is time for retailers to turn their boxy grocery stores into smart buildings.

Luckily for supermarket chain managers and consumers, the technologies keep improving, just as they are for homes. Plus, a rigorous energy audit can help supermarket managers find the easiest quick fixes to prevent energy waste which is crucial when one considers that 60 percent of a supermarket’s costs are due to refrigeration. The next step is to add various energy-efficient components, updated compressors and HVAC systems and new controls with remote software services that help manage a store’s power optimally and efficiently. During an interview last week with Reggie O’Donoghue, Emerson Climate’s Director of Marketing-Retail Solutions, he explained the steps necessary to ensure the modern supermarket minimizes its energy waste while boosting profits.

The evaluation of a particular supermarket can pose immediate challenges and therefore needs to be put in the context of its location and how the store’s comparison compares to others within the same chain. Two supermarkets on the same city intersection could have a wide disparity in energy bills. And within a supermarket chain, various locations could experience different levels of electricity based on geography, layout or construction. Therefore, before an energy auditor can assess what technologies a supermarket chain would need, he or she needs to look at the entire chain’s energy consumption data, refrigerant use and maintenance history.

Once an auditor has all the information in front of him or her, the time then comes to understand each stores’ energy intensity. Most supermarkets already have an energy management system in place, but even in a new location, that system may have not been optimized. A brand new store’s energy management system often requires an adjustment as most likely few changes in settings had occurred since the store’s opening.

And so a complete scouring of a store’s inefficiencies begins. Lighting systems may not have been timed properly. Sensors operating heaters that prevent glass from fogging may be running 24 hours a day, which is not necessary. The store’s HVAC system could be churning its fan motor too fast, therefore consuming excessive amounts of energy.

Should a store require more than a few tweaks and updates, an investment in updated software systems can pay big dividends–as in saving the company money. With refrigeration a store’s largest energy burden, new controls with more sophisticated algorithms are a start. Should a store’s management wish for even more micro-level energy efficiency management, controls on refrigerated food cases, for example, could manage each one individually based on the types of products displayed. A digital retrofit on a store’s refrigeration compressors can help the system run more consistently and efficiently–especially during those peak load times that end up doing the most damage to a store’s monthly utility bill.

Once refrigeration is tackled, other systems are ripe for a retrofit: lighting, air conditioning and heating and other power needs fall in line for a review. But even the most intensive upgrade of new equipment and software is hardly enough. Emerson Climate estimates without oversight, up to five percent of its operational performance could be lost within a year.

So once smarter systems and updated equipment make their way into a store–or actually chain of stores–the remote management of these sensors, compressors and switches is necessary for a grocery retailer to reap even more savings. A “set point management service” involves a specialist to determine key locations throughout a store where energy efficiency could hit a snag at any moment. These “set points” (or think of them as “hot spots”) are then managed remotely at a monitoring center–in the case of Emerson Climate, the company has such a center in Atlanta that monitors 5,000 sites globally. Anytime something out of the norm occurs–a product case is overfilled, an air duct is blocked, a sensor goes awry–Emerson’s team can notify a facility manager in real time to solve the problem quickly.

The payoffs vary depending on the level of investment and sophistication of a retrofitted intelligent store management system. According to O’Donoghue, just upgrading an energy management system can result in seven to nine percent energy savings. Add additional smart systems, and that figure can spike up to 15 percent. “There are really only two things you can do,” said O’Donoghue as we wrapped up our interview, “you can make your store run more efficiently, or you can manage it better.”

[Image credit: Wikipedia(lyzadanger/Diliff)]

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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