SEATTLE -- (FNS) These days, to get the most out of your energy resources, you need to make savvy use of your information and real-time communication resources, said food-retail distributors at Food Marketing Institute's recent Energy and Technical Services conference held here at the Westin Seattle, Sept. 7 to 10.
Three distributors gave their perspectives on this issue in the session "The Road to the Optimal Supermarket": John Domino, vice president of real estate, design and construction for Supervalu, Minneapolis; Tracy Lindsey, director of furniture fixtures and equipment purchasing and plan development for Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colo.; and Ty Tafel, manager of energy services for Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y. Domino outlined Supervalu's step-by-step program of reducing store energy costs. The way to start is to dissect accounting data, he said. "That is the cheapest way to look at energy costs."
However, he noted, this data lacks details on rates vs. usage, for which utility bills must be analyzed. To perform this function, Supervalu opted to use a bill-paying service to electronically capture key data while giving it easy access over the Internet. The service generates reports providing rate analysis, enabling Supervalu to identify opportunities for energy savings companywide, by division or by individual unit.
Domino said the service costs $30,000 per year, but it has been saving Supervalu $60,000 to $100,000 per year, while providing data access and storage. "As we go into deregulated markets, this service will be invaluable as we look at how we use electricity and how we put programs into place," he added.
Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colo., is using online project management to streamline the design of refrigeration and HVAC systems as the chain embarks on building 55 new stores and remodeling 80 existing units. The system provides lists on a store-by-store basis of staff, contractors and landlords, plus master documents and project cost analysis. In addition, the system enables viewers to track permits, update drawings, and communicate with a particular site's construction team.
"The biggest benefit is looking at the design development, utility plans and kitchen drawings in the most recent form," Lindsey said. If an element is amiss, he said, someone on the team can catch it and alert team members. The responsible contractor notes the correction and the plans are updated, ready for use by the construction group. " Following last month's blackout in the Northeast, Price Chopper sought out an incentive-based energy load curtailment program that would work for the chain, and installed an automated notification process to ensure compliance.
"Load curtailment is prominent in the Northeast," said Tafel. "Especially after the recent blackout, there are organized efforts in New York and Massachusetts toward curtailment. These give commercial end users the option of reducing their electricity load, when asked, for a reward."
To participate, retailers and other commercial end users are contacted regarding a day and time span for the energy reduction. During a "reliability event," participants must reduce capacity on short notice. There are severe financial penalties if the commercial end user does not curtail usage when called.
"It is a high-risk, but high-reward, system," said Tafel. "There is a financial reward, which leads to lower operational costs. Plus we are a better corporate citizen. Unless we start curtailing in the Northeast, demand will outstrip supply and the reliability of the grid system will be challenged. We may have rolling blackouts and brownouts. Reducing that outcome is the best benefit of voluntary curtailment."
To achieve compliance, Price Chopper uses an automated notification process to trigger standby generators as a power source for non-essential loads. "Operators with a few stores can call each one, reaching the right person to follow the program," explained Tafel. "At Price Chopper, we knew we didn't have the time to make these calls, so we activate the automated notification process when an event is called." At the store level, he noted, the lighting load is pulled off the power grid, with half put on the generator and the other half remaining off.
"By going with an automated system, we have taken the human factor out of the equation to eliminate uncertainty," he said. "When you get the call, you better be ready to do what you said you would do."