Reinventing Energy Management
Addressing this urgency with a software-centric building automation solution is EnerAllies, a private technology company based in Silicon Valley that is reinventing energy management for small-format (facilities with less than 30,000 square feet) multisite enterprises, with a special focus on restaurant, retail, and fitness chains. Some of the company’s prestigious clients include Panera Bread, Pet Supermarket, and AnyTime Fitness.
For many of these light commercial chains, after dealing with the challenges presented by the COVID pandemic, their businesses were well on their way to recovering when they were hit with a new challenge of exploding inflation across many of their major cost items, including their energy bills! For much of this cost inflation, they have limited control and are forced to raise prices, which turns off many of their long-time customers. By contrast, whether they realize it or not, it turns out businesses do have a lot of control over their energy use. So, it’s interesting that with today’s labor shortages and increasing labor costs, many businesses continue with their status quo approach to manually managing thermostats, unrealistically expecting short-staffed managers to be on top of yet one more headache.
Inflation Playbooks Prioritize Energy Management
Many commercial companies are developing an ‘inflation playbook’ that includes looking for new, innovative solutions especially around HVAC energy management that can save money, present a compelling business case with a fast payback, and can be deployed immediately. Yet when companies search for viable energy management solutions, they remain discouraged by the prospect of dealing with complex, expensive hardware-centric systems that require a lot of training and take 2 or more years to achieve a financial payback. And because of the complexity, their overstretched teams are not able to take advantage of the promised savings.
EnerAllies takes a very different approach in addressing all these issues. As Rob Keil, CEO & Co-Founder of EnerAllies, states, “We provide a software-centric, IoT solution for HVAC management and optimization that delivers an almost immediate payback for our customers, with ROIs ranging from 200%-300% or higher. We target a huge underserved market in which customers historically had to choose between the status quo, manually managing their thermostats and hoping for the best or very complex and expensive industrial control systems. We offer them an exciting third choice.”
Clean, Modern, Easy-to-Use Interface
EnerAllies is uniquely positioned as the only software-centric energy management solution that scales seamlessly from the enterprise-scale requirements of thousands of sites all the way down to a single location for an SMB customer. EnerAllies makes this capability easily accessible with a clean, modern, easy-to-use interface whether that’s from a smartphone, a tablet, or a computer. The elegant user interface is intelligently designed to automatically adjust to the screen size of the user’s chosen device. Busy managers on the go can easily gain control and visibility of comfort and HVAC performance in their operations from their favorite smartphone even if they’re on vacation!
The company’s connected software platform, named Virtual Energy Manager (VEM), uses cloud-based software to control WiFi-enabled thermostats using an open API. “WiFi is everywhere and it’s the least expensive technology for businesses to use,” Keil mentions. This contrasts with many competitors that rely on proprietary or expensive alternatives with little obvious benefit. These thermostats are connected over the internet to the EnerAllies cloud with end-to-end multi-level security, enabling users full visibility to all of their thermostats and HVAC rooftop equipment performance from a single screen. The EnerAllies servers securely store and process real-time data on energy use, HVAC equipment health, and the comfort status of all locations. The VEM software enables centralized control and automation of all thermostat setpoints and schedules, monitors real-time performance of all HVAC rooftop units, and provides data and insights to users via dashboards, configurable alerts, analytics, and reports (including CO2 footprint impact from reduced energy usage).
A Focus on Business Users
EnerAllies built VEM from the ground up to meet the needs of business users without requiring an engineering degree to translate. For example, EnerAllies designed VEM’s reports around the concept of exception-based management, because this is how business users typically consume information and act on data. And VEM’s straightforward design requires very little training to get immediate value from the platform. The EnerAllies focus on business users especially helps customers with lean operations who lack a dedicated staff of energy management experts.
‘Earning Our Customers’ Trust Every Month’
EnerAllies offers VEM to customers as a connected Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution and has made the ‘service’ aspect central to the company’s DNA. “Providing a SaaS offering means we must earn our customers’ trust every month over a sustained period, or they won’t want to renew.
HVAC Controls Yield Tangible Energy Savings Results
As part of the VEM platform, EnerAllies created a software tool that applies a scientific approach to measuring and verifying energy savings for its customers. The software tool ingests massive quantities of utility billing data, starting with a baseline year prior to VEM being installed, and normalizes energy usage data against year-to-year weather fluctuations (using the industry standard cooling and heating degree days). The tool generates a kWh per degree day (or therms per degree day) ‘before and after’ comparison of results for every customer location. For a customer with 30 or more locations, on average, the EnerAllies energy management solution results in peak HVAC savings as high as 50%, annual savings of about 25 to 30 percent, and 10 to 15 percent reduction in energy bills.
The VEM software platform also uses a data-analytics based ‘Early Warning System’ that provides early detection of HVAC equipment malfunction with 90 percent accuracy, translating to direct cost savings by enabling companies to avoid catastrophic failures in HVAC rooftop units. Since multi-site light commercial operators may have $50,000 or more in capital tied up in HVAC rooftop equipment on each location, these savings can really add up!
Superior Financial Return on Investment and Payback Metrics
EnerAllies uses its combination of software technology and services to help clients achieve an industry-leading payback in 6-9 months and a 200-300 percent ROI. This contrasts with legacy hardware-centric vendors, in which payback can be two to five years, because their solutions can cost as much two or three times the EnerAllies system, even over a total cost of ownership view over 5 or 10 years.
The key driver for this distinction in financial performance is that unlike these legacy vendors, EnerAllies has chosen a business strategy to focus on solving only the most important problems for its customers - what CEO Keil refers to as aggressively applying the 80/20 rule - and avoids the temptation of selling customers features that sound sexy but have high marginal costs and low marginal benefits. This translates into a far more compelling ROI for EnerAllies’ customers, even if the company gives up some higher dollar sales opportunities.
Safety Monitoring for Healthy Buildings
Having carved a unique track record in the energy management space, when the Covid pandemic hit, customers and partners began asking EnerAllies to apply its software-centric IoT capabilities to improving the safety of commercial facilities. The immediate concern was on indoor air ventilation systems, which scientists determined could either exacerbate or mitigate COVID transmissions depending on ventilation performance. The problem was: how do you measure ventilation performance? EnerAllies’ introduced a new CO2 monitoring service that measures and reports in real-time on ventilation effectiveness. The company has since added monitoring services for Demand Control Ventilation (DCV) and humidity, all geared around indoor air quality and all leveraging the full capabilities of the company’s dashboards, alerts, analytics, and reports. More recently, EnerAllies has extended its safety monitoring solutions to include refrigeration monitoring for food safety applications. The idea is to ensure, for instance, that a restaurant’s walk-in refrigerator is performing properly and reducing food wastage. The payback is just a few months.
Our software centric, IoT solution for HVAC management and optimization delivers the industry’s best ROI and fastest payback
Future Directions: Helping Utilities Balance the Grid
With EnerAllies having established its ability to control thousands of thermostats via its VEM software platform, a number of utility-oriented partners approached EnerAllies to apply its technology in the form of a Distributed Energy Resource Management system (DERMs) to help their utility customers address peak demand challenges on the grid. These types of problems became especially acute in August 2020, when the state of California experienced a massive rolling blackout for several days and is anticipating similar potential issues in the summer of 2022. The problem is at its worst during summer evenings, while it’s still hot but solar generation has stopped. Many view the EnerAllies platform as representing a promising solution to overcome these challenges, and EnerAllies has several advanced technology innovations in its pipeline that it believes will position it to leapfrog current DERMs solutions on the market.
From energy savings to predictive maintenance to safety to balancing the grid, EnerAllies is constantly on the lookout for better ways to help its customers and save our resources and thrives on being a leading sustainability partner for all in the years to come.