Submetering is very much the dark horse of smart metering, usually out of sight and out of mind to the end beneficiary and more likely installed not for billing but for energy efficiency purposes.
But that is starting to change, particularly in the United States, where the role of submetering in meeting broader energy efficiency objectives has been recognised. This resulted in the release by the US Department of Energy (DOE) and its Better Building Alliance in 2010 of a low-cost wireless submetering challenge with the goal to develop a $100 wireless submeter.
And to date, since the DOE announcement in May 2017, the only company to meet the challenge out of the 18 that started out is the Greek submetering specialist, Meazon.
Wireless submetering challenge
“When we saw the specification for the challenge, we realised that our submeter was about 90% of the way there and with some design modifications, could be adapted to meet it,” explains CEO Stelios Koutroubinas.
“Among these were the addition of a couple of LEDs and an external antenna as well as UL certification.”
The challenge was clear on two points. One was the potential for energy saving, with large commercial buildings paying $10,000 or more per month on electricity but much of that consumption going unmeasured or unmanaged.
The second was the need to do this in an affordable way, with a targeted 90% cost reduction in wireless submeters, which were typically around $1,000 per installation.
A key opportunity envisaged with the challenge was to gain a better understanding of when and how energy is used in order to help building owners reduce costs by taking actions based on metered data.
Another was that the metering system should be scaleable, allowing small initial installations that can be expanded inexpensively to measure additional loads in the future.
The system also should be able to be used independently or to complement a building automation system.
Meazon’s system is based on open standards and utilises ZigBee and sub-GHz bands (169MHz in Europe, 900MHz in US) for data collection and transmission.
US submetering market
“With this initiative, we perceive a greater commitment to energy efficiency in the US than in Europe, where we haven’t seen a technological approach to support the development of the submeter market,” says John Gionas, Chief Commercial Officer for Meazon, commenting on the company’s interest in the market.
“The other point is that the US market is less fragmented than in Europe, where each national market is slightly different in its approach to energy efficiency.”
As a result, the market potential is significant, with a 2013 assessment indicating less than 5% submeter penetration, he adds.
Using metering systems to enable energy efficiency actions are estimated to deliver minimum electricity savings of at least 2%. For all commercial buildings in the US, this corresponds to annual primary electricity energy and cost savings of 71tr BTU/yr and $1.7bn/year respectively.
The Better Buildings Alliance was established by the US DOE to promote energy efficiency in commercial buildings and comprises more than 200 members representing almost 1bn m2 of commercial space.
Under the Better Buildings Initiative, which was launched in 2011, 20% energy savings is targeted by 2020.
At the launch of the submeter challenge, several alliance members indicated their intent to purchase the submeters.
“With this challenge and a legal push gathering momentum in various states to introduce submetering in non-residential buildings, we expect the US market to grow fast in the coming years and we want to be there with a leading solution.”
Navigant Research has estimated the submetering market globally to grow from about $950m in 2015 to $2.5bn by 2024.
Gionas says that the main targets are non-residential, including commercial and industrial operations and the enterprise segment comprising large, multi-site organisations such as banks and supermarkets. These are serviced primarily by energy service companies and large system integrators offering energy efficiency services such as facility management and energy performance contracting.
Nevertheless, the multi-residential building sector, which is normally serviced through utilities, also is an important growth area with energy saving potential.
As an example, he cites as a customer Endesa in Spain, which through the multinational IT company Indra, is providing an app for energy monitoring and management in multi-residential buildings.
For its part, Meazon, with the outcome of the DOE challenge and the potential this offers, is about to embark on a second round of funding to support its expansion and future development, both in Europe and the US.
Currently the company undertakes its manufacturing in China and Greece, with final assembly and testing in the latter country, but plans to investigate shifting part of the manufacture to the US, Koutroubinas says.
“A full presence including distributors and value added resellers in the US will be critical to meeting the expected demand of that market,” he concludes.