Your Systems Specifier May Be Ignoring Your Building Data Information Plan

Gordon Echlin

But Can You Afford To?

The need for accurate, reliable electricity usage information in an energy management age is well documented. What is less understood is the key role your electrical meter plays in your overall building data information plan, and how choosing the wrong meter can cost you money and time — lots of it.

For both energy management and billing purposes, electrical meters need to return data that is accurate, reliable, persistent, and usable across multiple platforms and programs — now and in the future.  An electrical meter is extremely expensive to replace (involving deployment of electrical contractors and potential electrical shutdowns), so it’s critical that the right meters are deployed from the start.

If your meters can’t return reliable data to any and all your building system platforms and programs — and aren’t able to adapt to the future networking and communications requirements that will inevitably arise —  then you could be facing an expensive transition down the road when you need to make use of your critical building information.

It Starts with Data Integrity

Data integrity, of course, is a key first consideration. This is best delivered using a meter that is certified as an “instrument of weights and measures” by a rigorous regulatory body. This certification ensures the meter is accurate, reliable and tamper-evident. Data integrity is the foundation upon which all downstream actions are based — therefore it must be unimpeachable.  

(For more on the many reasons for property managers and building owners to consider using highly accurate, regulated meters see Show You the Money, Show Me the Meter!)

But while data integrity is the starting point (and the point at which many meters stop), it’s certainly not the only metering requirement you need to pay attention to.

Your Data is Great, but How Accessible is It?

The free and unobstructed flow of information to all stakeholders, systems, and applications should be the goal of any building information management system — so the right information gets to the right place, at the right time. For this to be possible your electrical meters must have the proper networking protocols built-in (including interfaces) to ensure that your meters can work with any information collection system —both today and in the future.

If it can’t then you’ll be resigned to one of two outcomes. Either your electrical information will be trapped in proprietary systems and difficult to access, or you’ll need to make the costly transition to a metering platform that can free your building services information and make it available to the people and systems that need it.

(For more on submetering systems, information flow and data accessibility, see Whose Data is it Anyway?)

Persistence is Not Futile

It may be a bad play on words, but it’s certainly not a bad thing to keep in mind when thinking about your building information plan.  Using a meter that has its own data storage capability (without an external collector requirement) and the ability to format data for any application requirement, alleviates the need to support legacy equipment like proprietary collectors and old Building Automation Systems. It also provides a “data safety net” should equipment in your system fail.

A meter should have the ability to store data until it can be “pulled” or “pushed” to other storage mediums. This ensures critical information is maintained if communication is lost or external systems taken off line for maintenance purposes.  Information loss can be extremely detrimental to your building information integrity — especially when money is trading hands based on the outcome.

Looking Out for Number One

It’s safe to say that architects and engineers have a lot on their plate — which often means they have little time to pay attention to some of the information management features of the meters they are specifying.  Additionally, the building tender process frequently reduces the electrical metering requirement of a building to an “M” icon on a single-line drawing — with the critical data management aspects of the meter getting filtered out, and insufficient equipment substitutions being made.

Not All Meters Are Created Equal

To avoid future cost outlays and to ensure your metering equipment supports your critical building information data needs both today and tomorrow, ask yourself these three simple questions:

  • Are the meters highly accurate and certified ?
  • Do the meters use open protocols to allow direct communication with multiple building information systems and programs — so information will be available for those who need it both today and tomorrow?
  • Can my meters store data directly on the device (without costly external collectors) ensuring my critical data is safe ?

Submetering Beyond Measure

At Triacta we have been making open system, multi-protocol electrical submeters since 2003. Networking is in our DNA, so the critical information and communication aspects of a meter are marque features of all our electrical submeters —and  where we continue to innovate.  

Highly accurate and certifiable

Triacta multi-point electrical meters are among the most accurate and reliable meters available today. The fundamental metrology that we build all of our meters on is designed for regulatory approval. Triacta meters supports all parameters that can be considered a legal unit of measure, and are designed to be sealable and tamper-evident.

Free and unobstructed flow of building services information

Triacta’s meters are web-centric devices with collectors built-in, so there’s no need for additional proprietary on-premise collectors. Additionally, all Triacta products have multiple internet and BAS protocols built-in for communicating with cloud-based servers or building automation systems.

Triacta PowerHawk meters have been our mainstream product for almost a decade and were designed with flexibility and long-term networking and interface capabilities in mind. PowerHawk meters have ethernet interfaces “out of the box” and are compatible with BACnet/IP and MODBUS TCPIP.  

BACnet/IP and MODBUS TCPIP are 2 of the most popular field-bus building protocols in use, and ethernet is an Information Technology physical interface staple. For older compatibility, an RS-485 interface can be added that can be used in parallel with the ethernet interface for access from older building automation systems.

The Triacta PowerHawk introduced web-centric push reporting utilizing FTP as well, giving the choice of using in-building BAS data collection or web-server data collection — or both. This is important as any of these methodologies can be used, simultaneously, ensuring flexibility as your information management strategies evolve.

Our newest meter, the Triacta GATEWAY, builds upon all of these features by adding 2 additional communication capabilities — an optional built-in WIFI interface, and a field replaceable communications card. The WIFI interface can be used in “network” mode for joining existing WIFI networks, or in “access point” mode for easy and immediate access to meter information from authenticated wireless handheld devices. Any IP-based protocol can be used to access meter information — including BACnet, MODBUS, SFTP push and HTTPS.

The field-replaceable communications card expands this flexibility to facilitate many new interface capabilities, including wireless technologies such as cell-modem for wide area networking and IoT technologies for in-building networking. 

Data persistence and formatting

Triacta meters have data collection and storage built-in, reducing equipment cost and management issues, and providing a fallback should building systems be disrupted. Triacta’s meters can store metering information for considerable amounts of time — making it available once communication is restored.

A Triacta PowerHawk meter can store kWh information collected on an hourly basis for 2.5 years. The new Triacta GATEWAY is at another level of capability entirely — with the ability to collect, at a minimum, kWh information on an hourly basis for 20 years!

Triacta PowerHawk meters use an open, non-proprietary CSV flat-file to transfer meter information to cloud servers. This is a common mechanism for this type of data “pushing” and is easily consumed by most applications.

The future of building information management will be about embedding additional building intelligence into the data being stored (analytics, alarms, standards compliant tagging, demand response). 

Triacta GATEWAY meters have a powerful software/configuration update facility that will allow upgrades to its data capabilities — including the addition of future meta tagging standards such as Project Haystack, Brick Schema or the nascent ASHRAE 223P. In short, anything that can be defined and becomes a standard will be supported by the meter via software update.

The Best Laid Plans

The free and unobstructed flow of building services information to all stakeholders, systems, and applications should be the goal of any building system — so the right information gets to the right place, at the right time. But it doesn’t happen by accident, and it certainly won’t happen if proper attention isn’t paid to a building’s data information plan.

The recipe for defining the metering equipment you need to support your building data information plan is pretty straight-forward, but getting the right equipment in place has its obstacles. If your building systems specifier isn’t focused on your information plan you need to help them get there. To avoid future cost outlays and to ensure your metering equipment supports your building information data needs both today and tomorrow, remember this simple formula:  

Data Integrity + Accessibility + Persistence = Reliable, Future-Proof Building Information

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.

Recent Posts