The Fourth Utility Promises Big Energy Savings For Building Managers and Consumers Alike

January 6, 2012

Marthin De Beer, SVP of Emerging Technologies and Consumer Business at Cisco, calls the telecommunications network the "fourth utility" and "the platform that connects everything". Whatever the name, an integrated telecommunications network holds the promise of two very big energy saving wins for building managers and consumers alike.

The first win is the elimination of multiple, multi-technology networks (building automation networks) in a building. The elimination of network duplication saves cost in equipment, software, and provisioning. It also removes artificial silos that result in replicated servers, disjointed operations, and the lack of information flow.  Once information is allowed to flow freely, building managers and consumers are setup for their second big win — widespread access to energy consumption information.

Exposing energy information to all stakeholders is essential for delivering on the promise of energy reduction in the Intelligent Building. To encourage participation in energy reduction programs, stakeholders need the motivation that comes with information — information on energy use and how an individual's actions affect costs and the environment. An integrated network that measures consumption information at a detailed level is essential for delivering on this promise.

The US National Science and Technology Council recently released a report calling for the "fine-grained" and "real-time" measurement of energy in buildings — recognizing submetering as a key enabler for improved performance for both new and existing properties. You can read more about the report and it’s findings here.

Submetering for Energy Consumption Detail

The typical metering scenario used in commercial buildings today consist of a single point meter connected to a building automation system (BAS) using a 2 wire MODBUS RTU network. This approach lacks meter granularity — typically only able to deliver energy consumption information at a very high level (total energy per floor or building level as opposed to the more granular lighting or per outlet usage level).

Stakeholders remain unaware of their own responsibilities and opportunities to reduce consumption and save money. Compounding the issue, consumption information has a difficult time getting beyond the BAS — trapped in the domain of Facilities Management and typically only used for simple alarms.

Submetering is a critical tool for obtaining detailed information on energy consumption and exposing it to all stakeholders. Traditional BAS submeters (single-point and multi-point) solve the measurement granularity problem by offering more metering points — but end up adding to network complexity and costs by requiring an additional aggregation device to poll the meters and act as an intermediary information store for the building management platform.

Extending Information Access with IP-based Submeters

IP-based sub-meters solve both the measurement granularity problem AND the information accessibility problem as they are directly connected to IP networks — allowing for easy and direct flow of information. IP-based submeters can be configured to work with any number of cloud-based energy management solutions — circumventing the BAS silo. This is a big win for information mobility.

Unlike pasting an IP bandaid on a meter designed for building automation, having a native IP sub-meter means:

  • Meters can have static IP’s or acquire an IP address from DHCP
  • No aggregation box is required (JACE, Building Mediator,  etc)
  • Meters are firewall friendly — sending energy information in CSV flat files over FTP
  • Meter software is upgradeable from a central server, easily updatable and future proof

Ultimately, a building can be covered by a network of IP-connected meters reporting consumption information to web-based dashboards and energy managers that give all stakeholders the knowledge and motivation to contribute to energy reduction. Information can also be sent to financial packages for tenant billing, to Demand Response applications, or to Certified Carbon Footprint applications for appropriate action.

IP-based meters like the PowerHawk 4x06/4x24 are not one trick ponies, they can be accessed simultaneously by MODBUS TCP and BACnet IP. This allows facilities to access meter information through building management systems while business systems are accessing that same information directly through IP.

IP-based submeters extend the Fourth Utility to encompass the energy instrumentation of the building itself, allowing it to become another valuable and innovative service enabled by IP in ways that are not possible using traditional metering methods.

Gord Echlin, VP Sales and Marketing, Triacta