The Rise of Electricity Submetering and Energy Analytics

06 Jul 2016

Energy management “behind the meter” is beginning to be recognized as a major area of opportunity in a variety of sectors including energy retail, facility management, energy management, energy service companies (ESCOs), and maintenance and service companies. As energy costs continue to rise, the level of waste is becoming more and more significant. The cost effective management and reduction of this waste is a good fit with the service mix and vision of these sectors. With the level of energy wasted in buildings and facilities estimated to be as high as 30 percent or more, and the annual value of this wasted energy estimated to exceed $75 to $80 billion in the U.S. alone, the size of this untapped market is now attracting the attention of those who are positioning their companies to attain an early leadership position and capture a greater market share. 

Historically, it was typical to install utility meters which captured the total electrical consumption for the entire building. Some of the more advanced and aggressive operators would also make limited use of submeters to measure the major pieces of equipment in their HVAC plant. A more comprehensive submetering strategy was employed in high value manufacturing facilities, where the high cost of submetering solutions could be justified due to the substantial value of reliability and the cost of equipment maintenance and replacement.

Recently, major advances in submeter technology have been made, and significantly lower cost, more sophisticated submeters are now available. This technology includes integrated cloud communications and Big Data software analytics. With these submeters, companies can monitor their energy on a per circuit basis, enabling them to more effectively pinpoint problem areas. With high powered, energy analytics software encompassing real time communications, this new technology precisely analyzes energy usage and identifies the location and the timing of wasted energy. Submetering, therefore, now provides value by isolating specific equipment requiring troubleshooting at a reasonable cost and ensures accountability on a divisional or managerial basis with respect to energy use and cost. Additionally, these new submeters identify the exact time of peak demand and relative contribution of each piece of equipment, leading to more cost effective demand management strategies.   
The granular reporting generated through circuit level, real time metering, can be used to increase awareness of energy use. This, in turn, can drive down consumption and create synergies within departments through competition to reduce energy or associated reward systems. Recognition programs can increase awareness and interest. 

Energy savings can be expected if facility managers are held accountable for knowing and controlling energy costs. Metering data allows for better transparency in the shared savings process and encourages partnerships between facility managers and the C-suite while providing quantifiable data that can be used as part of the decision-making process for various projects. Monitoring, controlling, and reducing energy consumption is of growing importance to today's facility managers. Submetering at the circuit level yields key data for operational baselines, project development, and savings validation. It also provides ongoing information with respect to the sustainability of specific projects.

Typical electricity smart meters monitor electricity usage every 15 minutes. This usage information can be sent to energy management software for analysis. Using the analytic capability of the software and proprietary energy use models, external consultants, vendors, on-staff personnel, or some combination, can identify energy savings opportunities, which can be as much as 30 percent of current energy consumption levels.  

With real time, circuit level submetering, a completely new level of insight into the exact areas of energy waste is generated. Savings can be achieved through simple no-cost, behavior changes such as turning off unneeded equipment and correcting improperly set or programmed control systems. Granular submetering highlights the fact some systems and equipment are running when it is not necessary, and once identified, the software notifies the operator if the condition occurs again. Just as significantly, equipment operating with a low power factor, or with a higher energy consumption than benchmarked, can be identified and flagged for maintenance or replacement. With this level of energy analytics, significant cost savings can be achieved by reducing operating costs, and greatly enhance the potential that comes from traditional upgrades of lighting, motors, chillers, and other systems.

This overall analytical capability is sometimes referred to as “continuous energy audit”. The term captures the concept that advanced submeter technology identifies energy “drift” in real time, and minimizes the degree to which building efficiency declines with time from initial commissioning. These losses in efficiency can be as much as 20% over the first two years. Some of the causes of this degradation can include:

  • temperature and time overrides by occupants or operators;
  • improper control system programming;
  • seasonal changes which disrupt mechanical equipment operation;
  • failures of temperature sensors, relays, filters, or controls; and
  • malfunctioning of complex electrical, mechanical, and HVAC components. 

In summary, there is a wide range of benefits for organizations embracing the new, advanced submetering technology and related energy management services. Commercial building portfolio management, the manufacturing sector, and institutions can all benefit by:  

  • Eliminating the operation of equipment running unnecessarily due to mistakes in control systems and mis-set programs;
  • Eliminating the operation of equipment for hours longer than necessary through inattentive employee actions;
  • Minimizing the inefficient operation of equipment in need of maintenance or replacement; and
  • Implementing improved operational strategies to limit peak demand and the associated charges. 

New, advanced submetering technology enables the energy management service industry by helping those who play a major role in determining facility energy usage to identify areas in which they can schedule corrective action. As a data-gathering tool for a facility's energy-using systems, submeters can improve an organization's bottom line by placing greater visibility on its overall energy footprint. By introducing energy profiling down to the individual piece of equipment, organizations can begin to understand the importance of changes in their operational strategies. As more and more companies find energy savings opportunities based on submetering their facilities, interest in submetering technology will continue to grow. 

Paul Mertes is president & CEO of Circuit Meter

CircuitMeter |

Volume: 2016 July/August