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HVAC & Plumbing
Paving the way to building efficiencies with submetering
The smart tech that’s delivering benefits
September 25, 2023 By Ilia Alexeev
September 25, 2023 – Businesses and property managers are continuously looking for ways to simplify the management of their assets while improving customer service and the bottom line. Everywhere, people employ technology (and other means) to achieve more using less.
Throughout history, the purposeful evolution of technology has played a central role in enabling such change. To put that into the perspective of our modern, highly mobile and connected world, technology and mobility have improved not just our own lives, but the environment around us. The efficient use of energy and resources, combined with sustainability and innovation, helps us achieve those ends.
The term smart has become mainstream, and we’ve certainly come a long way from the time when smartphones were so groundbreaking. Today, anything from appliances and thermostats to door locks can be smart. In fact, smart homes, buildings—even entire cities—are becoming the new reality.
The concept of a smart, efficiently operated building has been around for some time; after all, the better it runs as a whole, the greater the benefits it offers to all stakeholders. As our population is increasingly driven into higher-capacity dwellings and closer cohabitation, smart technologies offer advantages that enable us to enhance our quality of life while better managing buildings.
Submetering is smart tech that delivers benefits
Submetering is a simple yet ingenious concept: rather than splitting a building’s energy bill equally among all residents, everyone pays only for the amount they use. No one wants to be penalized for a neighbour who blasts tropical heat during the winter while simultaneously opening their windows “to air out” a room.
Developing a culture of conservation around efficient energy use is central to sustainability.
A sophisticated submetering solution will provide each unit within a building with its own dedicated meter. (In practical terms, this is the same as having individual meters for electricity, water, and/or natural gas at one’s house.) It allows residents to see exactly how much energy they use in their suite, and they only have to pay for the energy they use. They enjoy a lower energy bill when they reduce their overall load and/or shift loads to mid- and off-peak periods.
For developers or building owners, submetering contributes to predictable electricity costs for common areas, lower overall operating expenses, and reduced common area maintenance fees. In addition to these financial benefits, the solution contributes to the efficient use of space due to the compact form factor of specially designed metering equipment versus traditional socket meters.
Traditionally, submeters (and, indeed, building technology in general) have been connected through wired applications. However, running all that wiring throughout a building is costly at the construction phase, and difficult to maintain or troubleshoot in the long term as the building ages.
Furthermore, occupants of older buildings may miss out on a variety of smart benefits and other advancements because of the complexity of retrofitting a hard-wired submetering solution.
Laying the smart building foundation… wirelessly
Advancements in wireless communications, along with increasingly reliable methods of transmitting data in complex environments, enable submeter providers to enhance their smart building solutions, and extend those benefits into the world of smart building applications.
We recently completed an upgrade of a roughly 11 year-old, three-storey, 50-unit condo building in Ontario. The building’s infrastructure was wired, which made it the perfect candidate to trial a wireless submetering solution.
One (1) LPWAN access point was installed on the roof to service the entire building. The next step was the installation of submeters that communicate wirelessly directly with the rooftop access point. These submeters, which can serve up to 24 suites, boast a common form factor with the PLC-based panel meters that were already in place, which allowed us to swap out the older equipment and replace it with a new front panel specially designed to enable wireless connectivity—all without modifying any of the base wiring or back-end infrastructure.
The upgrade process was designed for simplicity, low risk and plug-and-play convenience.
The wireless network has now been running effectively and seamlessly for over seven months. One of the biggest benefits stemming from the new technology is an immense increase in data availability at the head-end—far surpassing a single (or even multiple daily) poll for data. Now, data can be provided with near real-time.
Completing the efficient building
With wireless coverage in place and, in most cases, far exceeding the needs of a single building, the stage has been set for many applications, which are now largely plug-and-play. While many condo boards, building operators and owners may not yet be ready for a full-fledged smart building, having a wireless network such as this lays an important foundation for the future.
Those applications could involve processing and validating meter data from electricity, water, gas, etc., for the purpose of billing, or even supporting sustainability initiatives—e.g. certifications such as LEED—which will become an increasingly valuable recognition for owners and buyers interested in reducing their carbon footprint.
From submetering to smart buildings
One of the earliest forays into the smart building—even the smart city—space is lighting control, which can be enabled with most modern luminaires (such as those sporting a 7-pin NEMA socket).
The controllers provide remote dimming and other controls for lights around the condominium campus, accurately measuring exactly how much energy each luminaire is consuming, alerting the building operator when lights are on during the day, and a wealth of other useful information.
Even simple smart implementations such as this provide immense efficiencies and a wealth of actionable information. What’s more, they can be monetized to recoup the initial investment—even turn a profit.
For example, a condo corporation could offer to utilize spill-over coverage from its smart building to offer streetlight control and management services to the municipality, thereby enhancing efficiency and quality of life in a much larger area.
A sophisticated wireless infrastructure also greatly simplifies the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs), enabling the connectivity and monitoring of EV applications. Building and property managers can leverage the smart building and EV infrastructure to ensure optimal energy utilization, manage demand, and monitor other building operational efficiency metrics.
With such positive social response, our collective sustainability goals, healthier living spaces and reduced impact on the environment well within reach, smart homes, buildings and cities don’t seem that far off in the future.
Ilia Alexeev is a Trilliant Solutions architect and network delivery specialist.
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