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Energy Connections: Clearing up residential submetering


September 30, 2019
By David Stewart Jones

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A sure sign of an emerging business trend going mainstream is a sudden smokescreen of confusion and misinformation about its facts and benefits. Today’s rapid adoption of utility submetering is no exception.

Utility submetering typically replaces utilities-included rental arrangements, enabling multi-unit residential building (MURB) owners and managers to measure energy consumption for each suite or space. By delivering full transparency, submetering enables tenants to take direct control of their personal consumption and costs.

However, many people still have questions. Is submetering new? Is it a fair way to bill tenants? Has it been proven to lower energy consumption? Is it regulated and measured accurately and, if so, by whom? Is it expensive?

It’s been around a while

Many people now hearing about submetering naturally assume it’s a recent innovation, but it has been around for more than 40 years.

“Adoption in North America is running a bit behind Europe, where submetering was fully embraced decades ago,” says Ephram Spiegelman, vice-president (VP) of sales and marketing for submetering provider Enercare Connections, “but what’s important is it will stay around for the foreseeable future.”

It’s fairer for residents

In ‘bulk-metered’ buildings, where utilities are included in rents, tenants typically share energy costs. A person living alone is essentially subsidizing the consumption of the family of four living next door.

“Sharing is a good thing, except when it comes to energy costs!” says Spiegelman. “Submetering puts consumers in control. They don’t have to pay for their neighbour’s consumption.”

It’s proven to lower utility consumption

Just as submetering empowers tenants to cut costs by reducing their own energy consumption, it also frees property owners from excessive utility costs incurred by tenants who would otherwise have no financial incentive to curb unnecessary electricity or water use when utilities are included in the rent.

Submetering can deliver monthly savings in net operating expenses simply because residents are paying directly for their own consumption, instead of the building owner.

“Submetering and savings go hand-in-hand,” says Spiegelman, citing a Navigant Consulting study showing a long-term 40% reduction in electricity use after bulk-metered buildings switched to submetering. “Tenants pay more attention to their consumption and use less energy when they are billed more accurately using submetering. It encourages them to make conservation part of their everyday lifestyle.”

It’s regulated and accurate

Submetering in Canada is highly regulated at both the provincial and federal levels. In Ontario, for example, providers must obtain licences from the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) and comply with billing, collection and disconnection requirements of its Unit Sub-Metering Code, as well as the province’s Energy Consumer Protection Act, Residential Tenancies Act and other applicable legislation.

“Submetering is subject to rigorous requirements, exacting standards and continuous review and oversight,” says Spiegelman. “It is also monitored and regulated by Measurement Canada to ensure metering and billing accuracy.”

It’s not expensive

Submetering ensures tenants pay only for their actual consumption. Fees charged for delivering a submetering program will vary by provider and number of services, but government rebate programs assist low-income households and special rules protect them by preventing disconnections, waiving security deposits and allowing longer payment times for those in arrears.

“Submetering service charges in Ontario are almost always lower than the fees charged by local utilities, with no hidden price markups,” says Spiegelman.

David Stewart Jones is an environmental technology writer and researcher based in Toronto. Correspondence can be addressed to metersales@enercare.ca or davidstewartjones@outlook.com.