Energy Connections: Will Canada warm up to thermal submetering?
By David Stewart Jones
June 6, 2019 - Utility submetering for the purposes of monitoring and billing individual tenants for their energy use has been the answer to the prayers of owners of condominium towers and other large, multi-tenant buildings that include utility costs in rents—especially when heat comes billowing out from wide-open building windows on a cold winter day.
By David Stewart Jones
In contrast to typical submetering, which involves installing separate electricity meters in each space or room, a new generation of thermal submetering devices can measure the amount of energy required to heat and cool individual units. Specifically, the technology measures the temperature of a liquid flowing through a fan-coil system before and after it enters a space within a building. This process enables transparent, accurate billing for energy used to heat and cool individual units, for both residential and commercial spaces.
“Thermal metering is definitely a good choice for developers of high-rise buildings with centralized heating and cooling, who need to allocate or recover energy costs from multiple business entities,” says Ephram Spiegelman, vice-president (VP) of marketing and sales for Enercare, a Canadian non-utility submetering provider. “However, applying thermal metering to mass-market residential buildings should be decided on a case-by-case basis, following reviews and recommendations from project management and engineering teams.”
Thermal submetering delivers multiple advantages for building developers and owners, including accurately measuring energy consumption in individual building units or spaces, and real-time monitoring and tracking of energy consumption patterns to help improve overall energy efficiency.
While thermal submetering offers a host of benefits, including the consolidation of energy use into a single bill for the ratepayer, even mature, proven and well-established devices are struggling to gain traction with multi-residential and commercial developers in Canada.
One reason is the technology is costlier than other submetering solutions. Another is a lack of regulation and approval by Measurement Canada.
“Thermal metering has been regulated in Europe for many years,” explains Wilson Chung, engineering and quality management director for Enercare. “Measurement Canada will likely model requirements after the EN-1434 European standard.”
That said, he adds uncertainty about approval in the future should not stop Canadian facility managers from adopting the technology today.
“Our thermal meters are sourced from a leading European manufacturer and conform to the European standard,” says Chung. “We are optimistic they will be approved in Canada after lab testing or ‘grandfathered’ to permit their full 15 years of estimated service life. If not, we will make the necessary adjustments or equipment exchanges to meet unforeseen regulatory changes or installation requirements.”
Lower admin fees
As for the higher costs of today’s sophisticated and sensitive thermal submetering systems, which can result in unacceptably high administration fees, Enercare’s Spiegelman suggests such issues are not insurmountable.
“The higher cost of thermal submetering devices and installation is offset partially by the superior metering and billing accuracy they deliver, but we’ve noticed a few situations where cost-recovery efforts were causing the admin fees to become a significant amount of the overall utility bill,” he says. “That’s bad business, in our view. An admin fee should never outweigh the commodity charge. We intend to keep our thermal submetering fees a relatively low percentage of overall bills.”
Further, as Chung explains, thermal submetering is not ideal for all buildings and situations, but instead should be selectively applied on a case-by-case basis. Considerations include system type, unit sizes, the impact of the geographic location on heating and cooling loads and local electricity or natural gas rates.
“Our role as a trusted energy management partner requires applying our experience and expertise to educate our clients and help them make the best decisions,” he says. “We will support what we install.”
David Stewart Jones is a Toronto-based writer, who prepared this column on behalf of Enercare. For more information, visit www.enercare.ca/home/thermal-metering.
This column originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Energy Manager Canada magazine.