Recent advances in wireless network technologies have opened up a large segment of new business opportunities for commercial HVAC contractors.

What is being heralded as a new class of “drop in” energy management systems (EMS) for small to mid-size commercial buildings has arrived, made possible by the recent advances in wireless technologies. Quite simply, an entire segment of commercial buildings that was previously unable to afford a sophisticated EMS, now has some very compelling options.

These affordable, feature-rich EMS products offer real energy savings that will enhance profitability, and a reduced carbon footprint in line with increasing demand for companies to employ green business practices. What’s equally exciting about this technology is its operational simplicity and ease-of-use.

Until now, most businesses that occupy a space in the 10,000 sq.ft. range have had no affordable option to implement a building management system of any notable scale. And ironically, a large portion of this building-size segment uses more energy per square foot than any other commercial space. These are the hundreds of thousands of quick serve and fast casual restaurants, convenience stores, banks and retail spaces across the U.S. As you might imagine, HVAC equipment on the roof is the largest source of energy drain for these small to mid-size businesses.

For restaurants in particular, these systems can be responsible for fully 40% of their total energy bill. And, until recently, there have been no practical energy management solutions to better control these HVAC and other mechanical systems and, therefore, no opportunity to save money.

So how does wireless technology rectify this situation? In much the same way a wireless network in your home can support multiple devices, like a laptop, desktop, printers, and handheld video games, a wireless network system can now be deployed into a commercial building. These wireless networks will support multiple controls for that building’s main energy using equipment — HVAC and lighting. The system also allows for real-time wireless monitoring of the total electrical consumption (KwH) for the entire building. More importantly, it takes the entire process straight to the Internet, enabling remote monitoring and control from a central location.

Easy Installation
What makes these wireless EMS systems so attractive is their simplicity, effectiveness and affordability. Most HVAC contractors can install these systems in just a half-day or less by replacing the existing thermostats in the building with radio equipped wireless thermostats. A factory accessory will allow wireless control of up to eight other circuits for lights, ventilation or cooking equipment. Basically, any equipment that could benefit from having an operation schedule applied can usually be joined to the network. Next, simple current transformer clamps are slipped around the main electrical feed lines to the building, and they are joined to the network. Then, a real-time graphic interface touch panel display is installed on the wall in a manager’s office. This panel is actually the new local central control and monitoring point for all HVAC equipment, lighting, refrigeration and other mechanicals. Simply enable the power and Internet connection button on the back of the touch panel, and the building is now saving energy, saving money and controllable remotely via the web.

The value propositions for the HVAC contractor are many.
First and foremost, a wireless EMS solution can actually transform your current relationship with these small to mid-size business owners from reactive to proactive. Instead of waiting for your commercial customer to call when something breaks down, or making a minimal profit on the twice yearly PM checks, you’ll champion and foster your customers’ profitability, thus strengthening your relationship.

This new class of wireless drop in energy management systems will typically provide business owners with a payback on installed cost (ROI) in less than one year. After that, all electrical savings transfers directly to the bottom line profits of that business.

In addition, these systems can even provide your firm with a recurring income stream by offering you the opportunity to be the remote “gatekeeper” of each building you upgrade with these products. From setting schedules through the Web interface, to being the contact that receives and responds to any over temperature alarms, to creating monthly comparative energy consumption reports, your firm will become a vital part of your customers’ success. All this for a small yearly fee paid to you that can easily be integrated with other services or PM contracts.

In this business segment desperate and clamoring to control energy costs - the only discretionary expense that can be better optimized for enhanced profitability in this sector – wireless EMS systems offer unprecedented opportunity. And you, the HVAC contractor, are uniquely positioned to capitalize on this opportunity, since you already have the relationships with this segment and, even better, there is virtually no competition from the big controls companies that cannot provide a scalable solution that can be affordably deployed.

As the economic picture gets a little brighter, try not to fall back into old habits and complacent business practices that have limited fiscal upside. Continue to look for new strategies and technological opportunities that will help differentiate your company and not only maintain, but increase, your profitability. But most importantly, do some research on emerging wireless energy management systems that will undoubtedly help you become a true solutions provider to your customer base hungry for ways to easily and inexpensively cut their astronomical electrical costs. In doing so, your company can finally assume its rightful place in the controls business.

Davis Watkins is Vice President of Commercial Sales for Advanced Telemetry, developer of the industry-leading EcoViewTM smart energy and resource efficiency system for business and residential applications. He may be reached through the company’s Web site located at www.AdvancedTelemetry.com or via email at davis@advancedtelemetry.com.