Technology designed, installed and commissioned by Wireless Energy Management Systems (WEMS) International is paying significant dividends for retail giant Matalan. The world’s first truly web enabled wireless Building Energy Management System (BEMS) is in the process of being installed at 206 of Matalan’s 216-store estate. Impressive average energy savings of 18% are reported from a recent measure taken across 141 completed stores, while the annual financial saving is estimated at a staggering £668,676.

Like most modern businesses, a key driver and strategy for Matalan is energy reduction. Combined with the regulatory pressures of the CRC (Carbon Reduction Commitment), the company recently embarked on a ‘switch it off’ campaign as the basic first step in better managing its energy use. Around the same time, the management team began to scrutinise more closely the company’s energy data. This led to some wiring changes and the replacement of high-bay lighting with more efficient T5 lighting.

Another eminent fact to emerge from this scrutiny was the need for a more robust level of control over environmental comfort, varying levels of lighting and electromechanical equipment. With the Matalan estate registering a combined energy cost of over £12m per year, energy consultants Inenco suggested that the company consider the UK-manufactured WEMS’ wireless system. Opting for wireless is a big deal for a retail organisation where the floor space is populated by customers, as a conventional hard-wired system would undoubtedly disrupt trading.

Wire-free technology

In a bid to revolutionise the market and remove the expense attached to cabled BEMS, WEMSystem is an innovative wireless BEMS designed to be as simple to install and use as possible. The system is completely wireless, infinitely scalable, developed using open source platforms and can be controlled from anywhere in the world via the internet.

Matalan decided to implement WEMSystem at five trial stores. At the end of the trial phase in May 2012, the company was suitably convinced that a full roll-out would deliver significant savings. Obviously an investment such as this must compete with other important capital projects, but with “incredibly sharp payback periods” of only 6-7 months, justification was straightforward. Another phase of 35 stores commenced immediately, before the final phase – completing soon – of the remaining stores.

“We’re committed to reducing our energy consumption across our entire estate,” explains David Derbyshire, Environmental Manager at Matalan Retail Plc. “Matalan has made the commitment to install WEMSystem in all our retail outlets. The installed stores have shown a considerable reduction in energy consumption of circa 18% and this is reflected in our energy bill which has decreased dramatically since implementation. We’re continuing to work with WEMS to optimise our estate and drive further savings.”

The project

The ‘WEMSystem’ directly controls and monitors Matalan’s lighting, heating and cooling plant, removing the possibility of human error and minimising waste energy. This incorporates sales area lighting, back-of-house lighting, external lighting, air handling units (AHUs), over-door heaters, gas-fired heaters, split air conditioning units and electric panel heaters.

Among the innovations at Matalan, is a wireless key switch to ensure a minimal overnight base load with regard to lighting. When the keyswitch is unset, WEMSystem enables a level of lighting adequate for stocking and cleaning prior to the store opening. Furthermore, modulating control oversees any heating or cooling actuators and dampers with regard to the AHUs, while gas-fired heaters are manipulated on a trading time versus temperature dead band basis. This means that when the stock temperature drops to a level 2°C below the set point, the heating is activated to heat the room back to the required temperature.

In terms of financial return, measuring across 155 completed stores,) financial savings to date are estimated at a staggering £761,441 (taken from the April 2013 report), whilst annual savings once all 206 stores are live, are projected to be in excess of £1.7m.

Once fully rolled-out, the company says it will “close the loop” in terms of its approach to energy management by seeking certification to ISO50001.

Benefits stack up

Aside from energy savings and carbon reduction, there were plenty more reasons that attracted Matalan to WEMSystem. For instance, the technology costs around 40-50% less than a conventional hard-wired system, while installation times are also reduced by around 75%. The non-intrusive installation is attractive to sectors such as retail and leisure as it minimises trading disruption.

“We complete a lot of the engineering work, both hardware and software, at our own premises to reduce time on site,” says WEMS Project Manager, Darren Blower. “Information collected at an early stage site survey allows us to pre-configure a large proportion of the equipment.”

WEMS is keen to stress that the company is far more than a supplier of products: the support services available are paramount in delivering project success and as such, Matalan is signing a 3 year support and management contract with the company.

“One of the key factors with Matalan is to treat each site individually,” says Mr Blower. “For instance, some are much further north than others so there isn’t a single temperature that’s applied to all stores. Once a site is ‘comfortable’, through our WEMSupport service we can help make adjustments remotely (online) and maximise savings year-on-year. Each system we install is specifically supported. This web-enabled technology also has the potential to reduce unplanned maintenance calls and costs.

Available for all

Ultimately, simple, fast and low cost retrofitting of BEMS is now a reality. Due to complex operating systems and substantial wiring costs, retrofits in the past have only been viable for companies with high energy bills. But now, the cost of BEMS has fallen dramatically due to the eradication of wiring costs, and is viable for customers with energy bills as low as £8,000 per annum.

WEMSystem uses a frequency below the regular range to avoid interference with other office or retail wireless equipment, and uses a narrowband signal that gives the distance required (up to 8km) to cover even the most challenging of building structures.

At the centre of the system is WEMSprogrammer. This features an embedded Linux-based computer that hosts WEMS’ building management software, and the bespoke energy saving strategy required to control plant and reduce energy consumption. The programmer communicates with wireless controllers and sensors placed throughout the estate to create a virtual ‘mesh’ network across the controlled space. It is constantly receiving valuable environmental data from sensors that enables the building stock to consume energy in as lean a manner as possible.