Many commercial and retail companies today operate in an extremely cost- and margin-constrained environment. This typically drives them to squeeze out unnecessary costs from their operations whenever and wherever possible. However, businesses in many commercial/retail buildings such as fast food stores, banks, or retailers with “small-box” stores often ignore energy management and appear largely unaware of new solutions available in this area. This results in higher-than-necessary costs for heating, air conditioning, and lighting.
With today’s increasing availability of smart, IoT-enabled energy management systems (EMS) for buildings, reducing HVAC costs (without negatively impacting comfort levels) would appear to represent “low hanging fruit” for taking unnecessary cost out of an operation. However, ARC has identified two major hurdles to doing so:
- HVAC is not a core competency for most businesses, and
- Installing a new building management system typically involves an investment in both time and money, both of which are often in short supply
But new subscription-based, IoT-enabled remote solutions from companies such as Vancouver, British Columbia-based mCloud overcome those hurdles, bringing smart building management within the reach of a wide variety of businesses, with no upfront investment required.
Cloud-based Solutions for Remote HVAC Management
mCloud has developed a cloud-based platform, called AssetCare, for remotely monitoring, analyzing, and optimizing HVAC. The company’s approach is to install mCloud-compatible smart thermostats throughout a building. These communicate remotely with the AssetCare platform via an mCloud-provided IoT gateway.
mCloud handles this initial set up with no upfront investment for the client. Then, the company remotely monitors, analyzes, and optimizes the HVAC assets on a subscription basis, using the increased visibility into daily operation and remote analytics to help ensure effective setpoint policy management and conformance, worry-free operation, technician management, and reliability of operation. According to the company, its goal is to make the client’s cost savings from reduced operating costs greater than the monthly subscription cost.
mCloud’s HVAC AssetCare solution, which includes compatible third-party products, provides 24/7 monitoring by remote experts who can dispatch support to the site for diagnostics and maintenance. AssetCare Connect provides the end user or other authorized stakeholder real-time access to building data via a mobile app. The company can also interface with utility companies as needed to coordinate areas like demand response, time-of-day pricing, and incentives for efficient building operation.
If necessary, mCloud can retrofit older buildings that have pneumatic HVAC systems with wireless thermostats. This eliminates much of the re-wiring costs that would be required by traditional EMS systems. This is significant for legacy institutional buildings (government, schools, public facilities, etc.) to take advantage of IoT-based solutions to reduce energy costs, maintain building comfort levels, and optimize HVAC maintenance.
Key Technical and Business Benefits
The mCloud artificial intelligence application uses machine learning and model predictive control technology to create a mathematical model of the HVAC and building system based on the specific rooftop HVAC units. Comparing the actual (measured) HVAC system performance to models of proper behavior allow performance assessments and diagnostics. By combining industry best practices with cloud technology, IIoT-connected smart devices, real-time data, and remote monitoring and analytics, the mCloud energy management solution can deliver key technical and business benefits that might not otherwise be available to many small-to-medium-size businesses.
The key technical benefits include:
- Always maintaining the desired comfort levels
- Early detection and repair of issues
- Prioritize maintenance scheduling based on units with normal or problematic performance
- Real-time, 24/7 monitoring of building data by remote experts
- Dispatch support for diagnostics and maintenance
- Provide decision support to asset owner to help optimize asset upgrade/replacement strategies
Key business benefits for different stakeholders include:
- Facility managers reduce costs; gain visibility into daily operation; achieve set point policy management and conformance; get worry-free operation, technicians management, and reliability of operation
- CFOs reduce energy costs with zero capital off balance sheet and positive cash flow
- Corporate energy managers improve corporate image and social responsibility regarding clean/efficient energy use and lower carbon footprint
- Service providers can provide better service at lower cost to improve profitability and increase customer satisfaction and trust
Proven in Practice
According to the company, mCloud has achieved ongoing energy and maintenance savings for a variety of clients, helping them improve sustainability while reducing costs. Some well-known clients include Starbucks, Bank of America, Dairy Queen, and Michaels stores.
Commenting on the mCloud solution, Patrick Leonard, manager – energy & resources, manager at Starbucks said: Starbucks focuses on improving HVAC performance as a key contributor to energy usage across our 9,500 company-operated stores in the US. As a software layer on top of existing hardware, mCloud’s AssetCare solution is scalable and allows us to gain energy savings with minimal additional capital investment. Also, the performance analytics allow us to evaluate store by store the equipment (roof top units) and effectiveness of the service and maintenance activities, allowing us to become more proactive.
In today’s business and social environment, business managers in commercial and retail buildings strive to reduce their operating costs while – at the same time - improve sustainability to demonstrate thoughtful, responsible citizenship. However, achieving this, is not without its challenges. Energy management projects must often compete with other business initiatives for often-scarce investment capital. Also, energy management is not a core competency for most companies, requiring them to look outside their organizations for assistance.
ARC Advisory Group research indicates that new solutions that take advantage of cloud computing, IoT-connected smart sensors; remote monitoring, analytics, artificial intelligence, and expert support offer substantial potential here. With its AssetCare cloud-enabled platform, IoT-connected thermostats, and energy management expertise – mCloud offers a solution that makes a lot of sense for a variety of companies, large and small.
The company’s zero-upfront-investment approach and goal to make the clients’ operational savings achieved greater than the monthly subscription cost appears to represent the proverbial “win-win” situation for both mCloud and its clients.
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Keywords: HVAC, Lighting, Building Management System (BMS), Asset Management, IoT, Remote Monitoring, Analytics, Subscription-based, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, mCloud, ARC Advisory Group.