It’s hard enough keeping one thermostat where its needs to be. Try it sometime with 229 of them. That’s what Dan Karam, CIO of MUY Brands, a large-scale franchise holder with 161 Pizza Hut stores, 47 Long John Silver seafood outlets, and 21 combination stores offering mixes of Taco Bell and KFC brands, was trying to do when he was looking for ways to keep overhead costs under control across these multiple storefronts from his office in San Antonio, TX MUY Brands’ headquarters.
“This is a business where the margins are cents on the dollar,” he says. “Even small savings a day on energy costs become meaningful when you scale them across this many locations.”
He says that experience had taught them that relying on the human element to effectively manage the HVAC systems in each store wasn’t working, which sent them looking for a cost-effective automated solution. He had examined the idea of applying VERA, an automation control system developed for residential applications and that rides on the Z-Wave wireless protocol, to the stores with the goal of automating the control of each store’s thermostat. It quickly became clear that residential solutions weren’t capable of scaling up to meet MUY Brands’ needs. However, the company’s existing systems integration partner, St. Louis-based Interface Security Systems, pointed out that Z-Wave technology, which operates in the sub-gigahertz frequency range around 900 MHz, away from interference from cordless phones and Wi-Fi, had evolved to the point where it can reliably accommodate larger commercial applications. The integrator proposed a system that would be based on the Internet infrastructure they already provided for MUY Brands, adding broadband service that incorporated 3G/4G mobile wireless standards (the same technology behind cellular carriers’ LTE service) that would also support both a new monitored security system for all of the stores as well as preprogrammed control of the RCS Technology TCS-RZ45 Z-Wave thermostats that were specified for HVAC control. The incorporation of the 3G/4G support was critical in order to give the security system a backup in case the primary Internet connection was to fail. The Cisco ISR G2 is the broadband router. The thermostat control is provided by a 2Gig alarm panel. An interface deploys and manages both devices.
Internet capability is crucial to the stores’ operation on other ways; remote training is done through Internet videos, and at some point the service may be extended to the public within certain stores if the parent brands permit. But the integrated security and energy control functions were the most immediate goals, and Karam says the approximately five percent of MUY Brands’ locations that they’ve been rolled out to thus far have shown it to be a good move, taking responsibility for turning a store’s thermostat to a neutral setting (based on location and season) overnight away from employees and making it part of the security system’s functionality. Karam expects that once all of the locations have been upgraded, by Q1 2013, it’s projected to save each location as an average of $400 a month on heating and cooling costs, resulting in over $1,000,000 annually in reduced HVAC operating expenses. With the cost of the system components and installation estimated at about $400 per site, the new systems would be amortized in a little over a month—before the installation project is even completed. Interface Security Systems charges a monthly fee for 24-hour security system monitoring as well as a managed Internet maintenance agreement, but those costs are part of regular operating overhead.
Collateral to the use of the new Internet infrastructure for security and energy control is that VOIP phone service over that broadband has allowed the company to cancel its conventional phone services, resulting in additional cost savings. “We average two analog lines cancelled in each store,” Karam says. “With stores spread all over the state, and our HQ in San Antonio,