Electrical Metering and the Building Internet of Things

Gordon Echlin

Why You Should Meter, and How to Prepare for the Future of Building Services Metering

The thoughtful instrumentation of buildings for control and monitoring is an indispensable tool in facilities management today. Two key concepts currently receiving play in the industry are the Internet of Things (a broad term, with a corollary, Building Internet of Things) and electrical submetering.  Here we'll describe the convergence of these two domains — showing the synergy between them that can supercharge your electrical submetering to becoming an essential element of your building information plan.

Electrical Submetering — Supercharge Your Buildings Infrastructure

Electrical submeters are used to measure the electrical consumption of specific loads behind a building's bulk meter. The benefits of submetering have been proven over and over again (to the point of becoming conventional wisdom), but how, specifically, do you gain from submetering multi-tenant, mixed-use buildings or across a corporate building fleet?

Let's count the ways.

Allocating Cost According to Use

In multi-tenant buildings, cost allocation is a must. Electricity is expensive and the disparity between tenants too great to depend on estimated per square foot usage for billing purposes. Tenants (and increasingly regulators) demand accountability for actual energy consumption. For this to happen, you need approved electrical meters.

It goes much beyond merely allocating costs fairly, however. Accountability is one of the best ways to encourage conservation. By assigning bills to specific accounts, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates up to a 5% decrease in the overall energy consumption of a building.

Increased Energy Efficiency

Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP),
U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)

Determining energy consumption based on building use (plug loads, tenant equipment, operations, workflow), and building infrastructure (heating/cooling efficiency, lighting) can result in a further 10% to 20% reductions in energy use. Moreover, as a bonus, proper sizing and allocation of equipment is a spin-off of this analysis — ensuring optimal performance and tenant comfort while minimizing capital and operational costs.

Detection of Faulty Equipment

An accurately metered building allows you to discover faulty building equipment more efficiently. This analysis, not always possible with simple equipment alarms, can result in significant cost reductions while avoiding tenant inconvenience.

As identified by the California Energy Commission, inefficient HVAC systems require 25% to 35% more energy than efficiently run ones. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), recognizes that HVAC systems account for 22% of energy consumption. Therefore, a savings opportunity for maintaining efficient HVAC systems can result in 6.25% to 8.75% of total electricity costs for a building.

Reduced Energy Bills from Reductions in Peak Energy Use

A significant component of electricity cost is the Global Adjustment rate (in some jurisdictions called the Installed Capacity Tax). This rate component is based on a consumer's highest electricity use at the point of peak global demand. Being able to minimize the Global Adjustment is a crucial goal for many organizations — which can only be accomplished by understanding the ongoing use of electricity.  A key aspect to reduction in multi-tenant situations is being able to identify who is responsible for the use and to minimize “co-incident demand.

Qualifying for Sustainability Incentives

Triacta and LEED and BOMA Best

Regulators are willing to offer incentives for improvements in how an organization uses energy and offer monetary incentives to do so through best practice programs such as LEED and BOMA Best. Qualifying for these programs depends on an organization's ability to trace the results of their energy management programs to action — and how they compare against established baselines. In both of these cases, accurate, verified measurement using approved electrical submeters is required.

The Reality of Buildings and the Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things (IoT) as the information architecture of the future receives much attention — conjuring up images of internet savvy devices connecting directly to web-based applications. Moreover, being wireless, it would seem, is the secret sauce for any modern device.

Buildings offer several unique challenges for IoT based technologies, however. They are not great for consistent, uninterrupted wireless communications, have multiple stakeholders with varying degrees of information needs, and are full of shared equipment and networks that require "gatekeeping" for security, confidentiality, response time, and vendor mobility reasons. All of these complications mean a pure IoT vision is not practical in a building environment — nor is it needed.

Wireless IoT Ideal vs. Current Building Reality

Devices used in a building environment should be able to live simultaneously in a wireless and wired IP network. They should have the capacity for reporting to cloud intelligence and be able to respond to multiple local building controllers and servers that may need to utilize these devices for control or sensor information. These devices should also be equipped, perhaps simultaneously, with a range of wireless interfaces and protocols so they can be used both today and tomorrow as technology evolves.

The Building Internet of Things (BIoT)

A Flexible and Pragmatic Approach to BiOT

This hybrid environment is the Building Internet of Things — with in-building devices and gateways that reflect building-centric goals and multi-stakeholder needs.

Where network architectures flatten to eliminate intermediate controllers and management systems, these devices must supply building contextual information directly as needed. They can do this using semantic tagging schemes such as the developing ASHRAE 223P standard.  

A building environment that has the capability to adapt to a corporation’s changing building information plan allows corporate managers to take full advantage of Big Data through cloud intelligence — all while maintaining another essential success factor: vendor independence.  

Organizations can achieve vendor independence by insisting that all of their building devices use open, standardized protocols and industry standard information tagging, and can easily change reporting configurations to adapt to evolving vendor circumstance.

BIoT Capable Electrical Submetering

Not all electrical submetering is created equal. Often it is not networked at all (has to be read manually) or may be performed by meters that require extra aggregation equipment that may be proprietary and closed — unable to support third-party or cloud application integrations.

This type of environment is not acceptable in a modern, networked world. If you choose this route, you are guaranteeing a costly replacement in the future. Today BIoT compatible electrical meters are a must, and need to:

  • Act as an approved instrument of weights and measures where regulations require it for billing or incentive qualification purposes.
  • Report to multiple aggregation platforms via standard BAS protocols and IP based reporting, simultaneously (multi-homing).
  • Have significant in-device persistence (storage) as protection against loss of communications or information availability (either through network failure or issues with vendors).
  • Be future-proof and vendor independent. In the rapidly changing world of BIoT, communications interfaces and protocols, tagging standards, and metering configurations can evolve quickly, and installed metering devices need to adapt just as rapidly.

Be up-gradable in-situ and if possible, remotely as meters are expensive to connect to the circuits they are designed to monitor — and once in place, you don’t want to revisit them with an electrical contractor.

Triacta Meters and BiOT

Triacta PowerHawk Electrical Meter

Triacta’s products are designed to help future-proof your metering for a rapidly changing information environment.  Triacta has two styles of meters, the PowerHawk and the Triacta GATEWAY. The PowerHawk series, now in its fourth release, has been deployed in multi-unit residential and commercial buildings for energy management and billing applications since 2003.

 

Triacta's PowerHawk meters have the following attributes:

  • Revenue and Utility Grade:  PowerHawk meters are approved for billing in Canada (Measurement Canada), NY (NYPSC), California (CDFA) and Maryland (MPSC). PowerHawk meters can be configured as 8, 3-phase meter points, 12, 2-phase meter points or 24, 1-phase meter points — with two pulse inputs for integrating information from pulse-generating mechanical meters. There is a smaller six element version of the PowerHawk as well.
  • Four quadrant Metering: PowerHawk meters account for all legal units of measure, as well as delivered and received registers for Distributed Energy Resources applications — for example, local generation back to the grid would be recorded in the received registers.
  • Building Automation Compatibility: PowerHawk meters have support of MODBUS TCPIP, MODBUS RTU over RS485, and BACnet IP.  
  • Internet Protocol (IP) Native: PowerHawk meters have built-in Ethernet ports and can acquire IP addresses over DHCP or be programmed with a static IP address. PowerHawk meters can push reporting files to any local or remote server specified as either an IP address or Domain Name. The data files are CSV based and "pushed" via FTP.
  • Simultaneous Protocol Support: PowerHawk meters can be read by multiple BAS masters, either MODBUS or BACnet, coincidently. Only one master can read the meter at any one instant in time, but when the meter is not being read or transmitting information on its own initiation, any device with jurisdiction can access the meter using any of the protocols it is capable of supporting. PowerHawk meters can also report to a server over FTP when not being read by a BAS master.
  • Remote Configuration and Software Update: When pushing its data payload, PowerHawk meters report and then look for configuration or firmware updates that can be “pulled down” in the same FTP session.
  • Cloud-based Meter Configuration and Management: Triacta Cloud is a cloud-based management OAMP (Operations, Administration, Maintenance, Provisioning) platform which can be used to configure and manage PowerHawk meter devices, as well as assist in meter deployment. As well, Triacta Cloud provides a graphical view of energy consumption and meter hierarchy to authorized users. User visibility is associated with the specific set of meters a user has been given access to view.

Triacta's next-generation meter is the Triacta GATEWAY — built from the ground up for a BIoT world. Triacta GATEWAY features include:

Triacta GATEWAY Electrical Meter

  • PowerHawk Revenue and Utility Grade Metrology: The Triacta GATEWAY utilizes our tried and proven Triacta PowerHawk metrology on its dedicated metering processor (see Dual Processor Architecture below), allowing it to match the electrical metering accuracy and "legal units of measure" of the PowerHawk family with regulatory certification.
  • Dual Reference Voltage: A single Triacta GATEWAY meter can measure circuits on two different power sources — on a circuit by circuit basis.  This is very important in mixed building applications for measuring services in various panels and risers without the additional cost of separate meters.

  • Flexible Configuration: The Triacta GATEWAY has ultimate flexibility in its configuration of 3-phase, 2-phase, and 1-phase meter combinations. There are no limitations in the number of each type of meter point beyond ensuring there are enough metering modules and inputs available.
  • Dual Processor Architecture: The Triacta GATEWAY has two processors — a communications/system processor and a metrology processor. The metrology processor allows the meter to be “locked down” for sealing purposes, while still maintaining flexibility on the communications/system processor side. This gives the Triacta GATEWAY limitless evolution possibilities for installed protocols and applications on its dedicated Linux system platform. The Triacta GATEWAY can be constantly upgraded in-situ to support any evolving tagging specification, or new IoT protocol.
  • Modular Metering Capacity: 4-meter module positions expand capacity from 12 Current Transformer/Transducer inputs or 12 Pulse inputs (for mechanical meters) to 48 inputs — in 12 input increments. Note: Small format 12-point versions of the meter are due by the end of 2019.  The code stream and metrology are completely compatible with the larger meter.
  • Built-in Ethernet and WIFI Communications: The Triacta GATEWAY expands on the PowerHawk’s "out of the box" communications abilities by adding a built-in WIFI port as well as the Ethernet port. The WIFI port can be used as an access point for operations/facilities personnel to communicate directly with the system on site or operated in network mode to use any existing WIFI network for communication via the “the cloud.”  The access point can be switched between these 2 modes of operation at the meter's face panel.  Importantly, all IP communications with the Triacta GATEWAY use TLS 1.3 (SFTP, HTTPS etc.).
  • Multi-homing: As a BIoT device, it is important to serve application information to multiple cloud applications. The Triacta GATEWAY can push to multiple cloud applications in parallel, while also being read by multiple BAS servers.
  • Socket Style 2-piece Enclosure with Meter and Utility Seals: Physical security and flexibility is extremely important. The Triacta GATEWAY has a sealed meter system (meter seal sealed at a meter shop) for regulated metrology applications, and a surrounding enclosure with an equivalent “utility seal.”  The outer enclosure can be opened without breaking the meter seal, and cables to loads inserted and removed.  The meter can also be removed without breaking its seal — leaving the enclosure in place on the wall.
  • Flexible Comms Card Outside the Seal: An external communications card that can add communication flexibility for future protocols, interfaces and networking sits in the enclosure outside of the meter — allowing for the evolution of communications options while the meters continue to be "permanently" connected to the loads they are measuring. This communications card can be installed at any point post initial installation of the meter, providing the ability to adapt to changing situation in networking architecture in the building.
  • Triacta Cloud Management: Triacta GATEWAY works with the Triacta Cloud OAMP (Operations, Administration, Maintenance, Provisioning) platform which can be used to configure and manage PowerHawk meter devices, as well as assist in meter deployment.

Thriving in a Constantly Changing Networking  Environment

The use case for metering in building management are well known and past the point of being questioned — with countless studies showing the benefit.  In fact, governments and watchdog organizations are validating this principle by continuing to regulate the application of metering in building code. Consequently it’s becoming standard practice to deploy electrical metering for billing and for energy management purposes.


How meters are deployed, however, dramatically affects their utility. Meters that are installed without considering an information plan that needs to adapt to evolving analytical tools and available services will ultimately be replaced in a costly refurbishing.


From the outset a building's metering design should contemplate the evolution of networking. This is dramatically exemplified by the rapid rise of the Internet of Things and the requirement to continually adapt in a rapidly changing landscape — all  while avoiding costly “truck rolls” in the process. Triacta’s metering products are designed with these issues in mind and reflect all the elements required to design a best practices, future-proof metering plan.

About the Author

Gordon Echlin is Vice President Marketing and Business Development for Triacta Power Solutions LP, where he has been a management team member since 2009. Prior to Triacta, Gordon was a partner for a boutique venture capital firm, Venture Coaches from 2006 to 2009, and started a telematics company, Netistix Technologies, in 2002. Gordon is a Computer Scientist and technologist by education, and prior to Netistix worked in technical, management and sales roles in Mitel Corporation, Newbridge Corporation and several small startups, since graduating in 1982.

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