A new approach to metering

Tim Hooper believes a new approach is needed to sub metering. We need to sweep away the assumption that it is a fit-and-forget item but focus on a long-term strategy 

Like many existing energy management technologies and techniques, sub-metering is not new or particularly cutting edge. Yet there is still a frustrating number of large organisations not reaping the benefits that metering data can provide and smaller companies simply not utilising their data at all. 

There are many reasons why metering data is under-utilised, these range from poorly specified systems to systems designed to a price without due consideration to how the data must be used. Also, the lack of knowledge in both operating metering and using metering data often results in degradation and neglect of the metering data. And it’s a bad assumption to think metering is ‘simple’ or ‘fit and forget’…

Make Metering Easy

Many organisations make metering more complicated than it has to be. Tim Hooper offers some guidance to getting the best from a metering system.

Why are there so many unfinished, unused, or ‘in disrepair’ sub metering installations? Worse still, why are there so many new meters fitted as part of the building regulations without any useful connection for remote reading, or connected to a BMS and completely ignored? Meter data has never lost its usefulness but it’s fair to assume it may have lost its appeal to energy managers due to previously challenging projects, failed sub meter roll outs, poor maintenance and degradation of old systems.

Download PDF to read the full article.

Data the Key to Air Quality

Concerns over the health and productivity impact of poor air quality have led to a growing demand for monitoring solutions. Tim Hooper weighs up the options available to energy managers. Wellbeing standards are driving property owners, property managers and tenants to consider the impact their employees. Air quality of the building fabric as well as building operation over the long term, need to be measured.There are benefits for many stakeholders, so getting the monitoring right is increasingly important. One thing that is clear, having fit and productive employees is beneficial for the both individuals and organisations alike.  Download PDF to read the full article.

Achieve More With Sub Metering

Metering at a ‘sensible’ level of detail and granularity may be a theoretical no brainer, but in practical terms the need for a sound business case remains in place, says Tim Hooper. There is a great deal of highly effective energy management that can be achieved without any additional meters – the tariff gas meter will often suffice for optimising the space heating in a commercial building for example. But there is a great deal more that can only be achieved with a properly designed sub-metering system in place. It is not a coincidence that the revised more forceful with regard to “Planning for Collection of Energy Data (Section 6.6)” compared to the “Energy Measurement Plan” of the original 2011 version.  Download PDF to read the full article.

Bill Gysin Speaking at the Dexma Energy Management Summit 2015

At the 2015 Dexma Energy Management Summit Bill’s presentation focused on ‘The Dashboard Effect’, which was to look at the wider role that cloud-based Energy Management software is playing in the environmental awareness strategies for businesses in the UK, and the implications of that for the wider market. Bill explains how the UK market differentiates from the worldwide market, and how the very mature market in the UK has seen the growth of M&T software over the past forty years. Bill went onto explain how legislation is advanced in the UK, and where the specifics within that legislation have made a difference to the demand for Energy Management software in the UK, and how this has driven software purchase and a wider acceptance of energy management within business, which was the key focus of the presentation. With readily available and attractively presented information being the first step towards successful behavioural change.

Energy Management Platforms: great investment or a total waste of money?

There is no shortage of so-called energy management platforms. A quick web search will reveal a long list of providers claiming great energy savings, increased building efficiencies, simplified carbon reporting or tenant billing and cost allocation. In many cases, all these features are promised within the same solution.  The increasing use of cloud technology has allowed any new entrants to the ‘energy platform’ market. The installation of AMR for commerical properties, Part L building Regs for sub meters and the smart meter roll-out have increased awareness of the potential value in using metering data for analytics.  Download PDF to read the full article.

Sub-metering Systems – Getting It Right

EM Magazine: Sub-Metering Systems – Getting it Right Elcomponent MD Bill Gysin looks at getting real value from aM&T systems Advances in smart metering and networking of both the wired wireless variety have made sub-metering systems easier to install, and more cost-effective too, but that has not necessarily resulted in an increase in performance. If ever there was an energy management device that must be viewed as a complete package, sub-metering (aM&T) systems are that device. Like all systems, they are only as good as their weakest link, and there are many links to consider. Elcomponent celebrates thirty years in the business this year, and in that time everything has changed and everything has stayed the same! It is perhaps a good time to take a brief look at how to guarantee that your investment in sub-metering pays immediate and substantial dividends.

The Data

It sounds obvious, but it still has to be stated that it’s the data that matters most, and it’s not just a question of accuracy, imperative as that may be. It has to be the right data, delivered at the right level of detail, and delivered reliably for years into the future with the minimum of maintenance. That is not just down to the right hardware and a good quality installation. Before those choices are made, the system has to be designed so that the meters are reading the right loads or supplies, ensuring that the picture thus obtained is easily understood and readily provides the information needed to save energy. And remember – a lot of little savings is harder work and generally less effective than a few big savings, so the meters must be installed to follow the money. The right data then, but also the right frequency of data. ‘Half-Hour’ interval data is the UK norm and for good reason, it has been shown to be right in the ‘Goldilocks Zone’, but if your processes need more granularity, make sure your system can provide it. Don’t consider anything that cannot at the very least provide ‘HH’ profiling, and whilst we’re on the subject of intervals, the data update interval is also critical. Systems that update their software on a ‘day plus one’ basis (i.e. the most recent data available is yesterday’s) can still provide good basic information, but there is a whole lot they cannot do. As the demand for interactive dashboards continues to grow the case for realtime (or close to realtime) data becomes more and more compelling. You want to engage with a wider audience to foster energy and carbon awareness? That’s tough to do if the best you’ve got is yesterday’s data. If you would like to see alarms and alerts before it’s too late ‘day plus one’ has its drawbacks. The case for a 30 minute update to match the 30 minute meter read interval is not hard to make, and with today’s technology it’s entirely doable, so why settle for less? The data acquisition system as a whole must be fit for purpose and robust, and there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution for this. The networking solutions should fit the requirements on the ground cable is cheaper and more reliable than wireless links until you have to dig up the car park, at which point cabling makes no sense. The key is to tailor the system to the application, not the other way round. Tailored solutions work better and are far more cost-effective, and as the data is the foundation of the system, it’s worth spending time getting this element right.

The Installation

Installing a sub-metering system isn’t rocket science, but it’s not easy either. At Elcomponent we’ve lost count of the number of systems that we’ve replaced over the last (30) years that never quite worked or sometimes didn’t work at all, and not all were badly installed by any means. They just weren’t installed and commissioned as well as they needed to be. No two installations are the same of course, but there are some common threads that bind most of them together. Most are a combination of new and existing meters, most are multi-utility, and most involve a variety of meter outputs (pulse, MODBUS, M-Bus etc). Almost all involve a tariff meter connection or two. An extensive list of what can go wrong would take up the remaining pages of this magazine, and would almost certainly try the patience of any readers who have made it this far, so here’s a short list of a few of the more common pitfalls
  • Pulse Values: How hard can it be? Harder than it looks is the answer! The combination of ‘units per pulse’, ‘pulses per unit’, imperial and metric units and the sheer inaccessibility of some pre-existing meters means mistakes are easy to make. Religious attention to detail at both installation and commissioning stages is the only antidote.
  • Misidentified meters or loads: Reading meters automatically is one thing. Ensuring that they are all correctly identified is also important!
  • Incorrectly installed or programmed existing assets: The world is full of meters that have been there for years and never worked properly!
  • Tariff meter data connections: The professional sub metering/ AMR installer needs more than qualified staff. They must also hold MPU (Meter Pulse Utilisation) agreements with all the relevant Meter Operators, Meter Asset Managers and Utility providers to allow them to connect legally and properly to tariff meters. Otherwise the tariff meter connections end up as one of those pending jobs that never get done, or worse still are carried out without proper authorisation.
Any one of the above can wreak havoc with accuracy and once confidence is lost, it is difficult to regain. As already stated, accuracy is a key requirement!

Future Proofing

Nothing, it is said, lasts forever, and that is certainly true of M&T software. In fact there is a wider choice of software on offer now than ever before, and as web-based solutions become the norm new ‘web tools’ have hugely increased the functionality delivered by the latest products. That in turn creates a need for portability at the data level, as users seek to take advantage of the latest and best products available. This does not alter the fact that aM&T systems must be viewed as a package, but it does mean that all the important data must be readily transportable to whatever software solution fits the client’s needs now and in the future. It should be borne in mind that those needs may change at some point after the initial installation.

The Software

Notwithstanding the desirability of ensuring portability of data, if the right choice is made in terms of software there should be no need to change at least for many years into the future. So how should that choice be made and what factors should be considered? The core requirement for effective energy management is one of the things that hasn’t changed, but the need to address a wider and non-expert audience is one of those that has. That fact significantly alters the must-have functionality list compared to a few years ago. The traditional functionality list is as it always has been, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always present. It’s surprising how many products either don’t cover the basics, or don’t cover them in a confident manner. The list must include easy normalisation of data (one click preferably) because there is a limit to how much can be achieved through waste elimination and the harvesting of the traditional ‘low hanging fruit’. At some point the impact of degree days, floor area, occupancy and production (to name but a few) must be assessed, and it must be easy to do. Similarly, regression analysis must be present to provide additional power to the more usual presentation of consumption and cost profiles. Measurement and verification (M&V) is a relative newcomer but it is increasingly important because it quantifies savings in standard in a repeatable way, which is one of the requirements of ISO50015. Without the above functionality hard-core energy management cannot be done, so it has to be present, but there are now other ways in which good software is being used to improve energy and carbon performance. The umbrella term often used is ‘behavioural change’ and it addresses the biggest challenge of them all the impact of people on that performance. It is people who override controls designed to optimize energy use, it is people who switch on heaters and open windows contemporaneously, and it is people who are almost always a significant factor in the gap between expected and actual energy performance in buildings. The jury may still be out on the best way to encourage a workforce or users of a building to consider the impact of their actions on their organisation’s carbon footprint and utility bills, but one thing is certain providing accurate and relevant information in a simple and accessible form is a key component, and the right software can do that very effectively. The term ‘dashboard’ is used fairly loosely to describe presentation screens that inform stakeholders of various aspects of performance in many key areas, but in the case of energy management the detail is important. Information has to be attractive, accurate, relevant and meaningful, which in the case of Elcomponent’s MeterWeb 2 is achieved by allowing an unlimited number of dashboard configs and login credentials to be created. This takes care of the relevance, and considering the subject matter above we can hopefully take accuracy as read, which only leaves ‘attractive’ and ‘meaningful’. The former is to some degree in the eye of the beholder but if the ‘standard’ presentations are readily customisable, all should be well. Opinions also vary on what is meaningful in this context, but it should be borne in mind that non-expert does not mean stupid, and such favourites as league tables must be available in normalised format or their impact will be limited! However, once the audience is convinced that the data are accurate and fair, interest is much easier to maintain. If these criteria can be met (and they can) M&T software finds itself with a whole new audience and an additional new role. It has to be up to the task. If it’s combined with a properly designed, installed and commissioned metering package it will be.

The Complexities of Higher Education

Universities have high expectations when it comes to meter reading systems and there are complex drivers influencing energy consumption, explains Bill Gysin. Managing energy in a university environment is not an every day task. In fact it is a major challenge. Having worked closely with dozens of universities and colleges of all shaped and sizes over the last twenty years designing, installing and supporting automatic meter reading systems, sub metering systems and associated software, we know that the challenges start with design and installation. While some universities comprise a single modern (or even brand new) campus, most do not, and many incorporate listed buildings and sensitive areas that require a flexible and sympathetic approach to hardware retrofit.  Download PDF to read the full article.

Elcomponent Keeps An Eye On Energy In The Antarctic

The brief

In support of its strong commitment to minimising the environmental impact of its operations, the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) is making extensive use of energy sub-metering equipment and software supplied by Elcomponent, a leading developer of energy monitoring systems and solutions. Elcomponent equipment is installed both at the BAS UK headquarters in Cambridge, and at the organisation's research stations in the Antarctic.

The main installation in the Antarctic is at BAS's Rothera research station, a research centre that is operational all year round with a staffing level that ranges from around 20 people in the winter up to 120 people at the height of the local summer. The research station derives all of its electricity from on-site marine gas oil powered generator sets, with the demand varying from 180 kW in the winter to as much as 360 kW in the summer.

The principal loads on the electrical system are the research station's IT and communications equipment, its kitchen installations, its drinking water plant and lighting. To determine exactly where the energy is being used with a view to identifying opportunities for making savings, BAS has installed ten Elcomponent sub-meters, with an additional 14 meter being connected to the system this year.

Our solution

Fortunately, the Elcomponent equipment was designed with ease of installation in mind, which meant that BAS electricians were easily able to install the equipment itself, prior to final commissioning by the IT dept. A decided advantage bearing in mind that the site is one of the most remote on the planet!

Data from the Elcomponent system at the Antarctic research station is monitored at the organisation's Cambridge headquarters via a satellite link. Analysis of the data is also performed in Cambridge.

Currently, a major area of focus for the BAS energy-monitoring programme is the reverse-osmosis unit that supplies the drinking water for the Rothera research station. This is one of the largest electrical loads, and the BAS team are using data from the energy monitoring system as an aid to finding ways in which its overall consumption can be reduced.

The Elcomponent system is also proving useful at the BAS headquarters in Cambridge, where it is, for example, being used to generate baseline data for a lighting installations before it is converted to use LED bulbs and luminaires. After the conversion, the data currently being gathered will allow an accurate assessment to be made of the energy saved by the new light sources prior to site-wide roll-out of the scheme.

The sub-metering system is also providing invaluable data about the energy used by the organisation's IT installation, as it yields information that is sufficiently detailed to allow the power consumption of the servers to be monitored separately from that of the air-conditioning plant. This is making the task of optimising the rooms cooling much easier and it will also allow the savings to be quantified.

BAS installed the first phase of its Elcomponent sub-metering system almost three years ago, and has found that the data it produces is an invaluable aid to enhancing energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions. In the near future, the organisation plans to extend the system to include detailed monitoring of a facility currently being constructed in the Antarctic on behalf of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research. This will incorporate a roof-mounted a solar PV installation which has the potential to make a significant contribution to the building's energy use during the summer period and BAS are keen to ensure that this is utilised to maximum effect.

Elcomponent's managing director Bill Gysin commented saying...

"It's a privilege to be associated with an organisation with the credentials of BAS. They are right at the cutting edge of the effects of Climate Change, and that awareness is in the forefront of everything they do. The fact that they use Elcomponent systems to assist them in their own energy and carbon management strategies is something we're very proud of."