Beyond Measure

Ideas and news about electrical submetering.

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How to Choose the Right Electrical Submeter

It's well established that the best way to reduce energy consumption and save on building operating expenses is to give tenants full visibility of their electricity use.

It's well established that the best way to reduce energy consumption and save on building operating expenses is to give tenants full visibility of their electricity use. It's equally well established that the primary instrument for doing that is the electrical submeter.

But how do you choose the right submeter for the job?

Thinking in Three-Dimensions

Choosing the right type of meter means asking yourself three questions:

  1. Do I need single-point or multi-point meters?
  2. Should my meters be networked?
  3. Do I need a revenue-grade metering platform?  

Single or Multi-point Meter

Single-point meters are useful for measuring specific points of interest in a building and have long been used in building management applications. But to gain enough knowledge to make successful energy management decisions, more granularity is required. Doing this using single-point meters would require a tremendous number of them.

In these situations, multi-point meters offer several advantages over single-point meters related to hardware cost and deployment.

One multi-point meter replaces multiple, single-point meters

Multi-point meters have a much smaller footprint than multiple banks of single-point meters, and lower per meter-point deployment and maintenance costs. Additionally, in commercial settings where building configurations often change, tenant moves are more easily accommodated when multi-point meters are deployed.

Networked, or Not

This seems like an easy answer, but many meters are still being deployed today that need manual reading — costing time and money. And “orphaned” meters that have been forgotten completely is not an uncommon story in many facilities.
So the answer is networked, of course!

But the question is not just about the absence of networking. It's also about what kind of networking you choose. Integrating with other systems (financial, building operation, IT, energy management, billing, etc.) is critical in today's connected world. Choosing submeters that are local area network-based (ethernet or wireless) and IP-centric allows them to "speak" to other systems and enables integration today and tomorrow.  

Open protocol + Non-proprietary Data Formats =
Free Flow of Information + No Vendor Lock-in

The language your meters speak is an important consideration too. The free and unobstructed flow of meter information to all stakeholders, systems, and applications with a need to know should be your goal. To ensure that your data remains in your control and can be easily used today and tomorrow, your meters should use open protocol, non-proprietary data formats.

Revenue-grade, or Not

There is a growing wave of regulation throughout North America focused on the metering of electrical consumption. Simply put, if money changes hands (as with government incentive programs or tenant billing), certified meters are becoming a legislated requirement.

Regulatory bodies are using the tried and true ANSI c12.20 0.5 accuracy class as the standard meters must meet — and requiring third-party laboratory certification to prove that they do.

There is a growing wave of regulation focused on the metering of electrical consumption

To be clear, if a meter is only being used for internal purposes and not to bill tenants or receive financial remuneration, it does not have to be a regulated meter. In fact, there are no such rules for certification in some jurisdictions, even on financial transactions. But this is not a viable approach long-term — and regulation is destined to be introduced across North America.

So What's It Going to Be?

When planning a project that requires metering or monitoring, property managers and building owners need to understand current requirements while keeping an eye on what the future might hold.

Ask yourself how many meter points you need to measure — today and down the road. If it's just a few, then single-point meters are likely the best route to go. But suppose you have several circuits to measure, and the allocation of those circuits is likely to change over time. In that case you might do better by taking advantage of the lower deployment, integration, and maintenance cost of multi-point meters.

Meters deployed today should be connected to a building's network. The cost-savings gained by avoiding manual meter reads and orphaned meters is reason enough alone. More compelling, however, are the benefits property managers and building owners gain when their energy data can flow freely to all of their building systems. Benefits that include sending meter reads and pulse collection information to a billing agent while also sharing it with an energy management service for ongoing monitoring. Or being able to trial a new energy management analytics service while continuing to use your current vendor. You can only realize these benefits if you use IP-centric, open systems meters.

Lastly, there are many reasons for property managers and building owners to consider using regulated meters over non-regulated. The primary one being the requirement for an approved instrument of measure when allocating energy costs to building tenants. But even if current objectives are not for billing, goals change. With the small total incremental project costs associated with using approved meters versus unapproved — it makes sense to keep your options open.

[1] Making the Case for Energy Metering, ASHRAE

[2] Evaluation of the Impact of Sub-Metering on Multi-Residential Electricity Consumption, Navigant Consulting Inc.

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