Energy Efficiency: Retail Surprises, Food Service Plays Catch-Up

Jamie Daubenspeck

Historically, the retail industry has collectively been perceived as technology laggards. For years, thin margins and large investor expectations combined to force conservative technology and operations budgets on retailers. Ironically, as it relates to energy management, the exacerbation of those problems during the Great Recession turned that historical perception on its ear. To survive rapid economic degradation in 2008, retailers turned to energy efficiency investments en-masse in an effort to reduce costs. As such, the retail industry emerged as a leader in energy efficiency improvement and has been consistent in that leadership position every year since. As the economy improves, albeit slowly, retailers, who were early adopters of energy and sustainability management initiatives, are continuing to enjoy the rewards of reduced operational costs.

Ecova’s 2015 Energy and Sustainability Predictions survey indicates that retailers continue to lead other industries in adoption of energy and building management systems. Fifty-seven percent of retail respondents to the survey said their organization has implemented some form of Energy Management System (EMS), or Building Management System (BMS) to collect real time energy data.

While retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue are ahead of the curve as early adopters, many have just begun to enjoy the fruits of real-time energy data collection and analysis. Our survey reveals that retail energy, sustainability, facility, and finance professionals are leveraging their newfound access to detailed energy data to go beyond the early strategic, ad-hoc projects that marked the survival mentality of the recession. As their EMS/BMS implementations mature, they’re developing long-term energy strategies and planning capital investments that will result in a sustained impact.

While the retail industry has emerged as a leader in energy efficiency initiatives, the food service industry is coming to grips with the fact that for an energy intense business, it’s got some catching up to do. Quick-service and casual restaurants, in particular, face a profound opportunity to improve energy efficiency this year. According to the Energy Information Administration, their long hours of operation, specialized equipment, and sheer demand make restaurants the most energy intensive commercial buildings in the United States. Measured per square foot, restaurants consume nearly three times the energy of the average commercial building.

But while food service merchants are typically more energy intensive than healthcare, retail, and grocery businesses, they achieved lower levels of energy efficiency improvement between 2008 and 2013. Our survey illustrates that while 46 percent of respondents from the food service industry say their organizations have invested in real-time energy data collection through EMS/BMS or other devices, a full 40 percent of respondents have yet to make such an investment.

The food service industry is ripe for EMS/BMS solutions, and the financial benefits can be staggering. As mentioned in our 2015 Energy and Sustainability Predictions report, Ecova client Arby’s Restaurant Group was able to uncover more than $5.5 million in potential annual savings after implementing a comprehensive energy management solution that focused on:

    • Operational and behavior modifications
    • Lighting, HVAC and water heating systems, restaurant equipment and building shell recommendations
    • Set points and schedule modifications

With savings stakes this high and EMS/BMS adoption in food service this low, we expect 2015 to mark a watershed year for restaurant energy efficiency initiatives.

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