Be A Hero With Submetering -Electrical Contractor Magazine

This New Energy Management Tool Promises Savings for Facility Managers and Profit for Electrical Contractors.

Are you in on one of the hottest new contractor sales opportunities in years?

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Electrical submetering is emerging as a profitable venture because, despite all the hoopla about deregulation, rising energy costs continue to pressure facility owners, managers and engineers to do what they can to more effectively manage their precious energy resources. A concise energy management tool, submetering can maximize energy savings by addressing each energy user as an individual component and as part of the total facility load. It's this improved energy management that has facility managers crowing.

"Submetering is an awesome device for property managers and other end-users to distribute costs by departments or tenants," said Dan August, a technical division manager for Mona Electric in Clinton, Md. "Submeters are excellent tools in the energy field and need to be utilized." Submetering efficiently monitors a facility's energy via comprehensive energy profiling-information needed to determine a facility's energy demand and usage levels. Offering submetering to a commercial, industrial, and other facilities is a significant profit opportunity for electrical contractors, who are becoming convinced of submetering's value and operation, particularly their low cost, ease of installation, and safety (electricians don't even need to power down the load to connect them.)

Submeters: What Are They?

Submeters are essentially metering devices with monitoring capabilities, and they are installed after the master meter in a building or facility. Their purpose is to define the energy use of a specific location, user or circuit. The three types of submeters are electromechanical (socket or current transformer (CT) version) and electronic. The electronic submeter wins out over the other submeters when initial (and installed) cost, size, functionality, flexibility, and other points of comparison are considered. (See table.)

The installation of a submetering device provides the customer with energy consumption data showing how slices of the "energy pie" are subdistributed to the various departments, tenants or processes within the facility. From here, an energy savings plan can be devised, because submetering lets the consumer precisely define energy usage all the way down to a single branch circuit. Such precise metering happens from simply monitoring demand (kW) and usage (kWh) to provide aggregate data. With the appropriate software, the user can manipulate and display this raw information on a centralized or remote Windows-based PC. Automatic meter reading (AMR) capability allows the submetering system to be read from anywhere, anytime and in any weather from the convenience of a computer. Time-of-use graphs and charts gives the user the data necessary for real-time pricing, event analysis, demand side management programs and energy management system performance analysis.

As a system "watchdog" the submetering base informs the user of any changes in energy use patterns and flags possible anomalies in expected electrical system performance. As mentioned, at the enterprise level, submetering allows facility managers to accurately assess energy usage by facility, floor or department; to highlight energy efficiency opportunities; and to implement electrical demand "shedding" or "rolling" In plant floor settings, submeters allow engineers to precisely evaluate the performance of individual machinery and processes, and to identify inefficiencies and opportunities to increase productivity.

"In fact," says Phil Johnson, vice president of Certified Wholesale Electric in Glendale, CA, "the reason people buy submeters in general is because it's a cost effective way to monitor electricity without doing major changes inside a commercial or residential building." Indeed, installation is simply a matter of hooking three current sensors around the electrical feeds to be measured-and it doesn't require shutting down the load. And the meter can be mounted anywhere. In this way, the contractor can perform a very profitable installation in a fraction of the time needed to install an older style socket-based meter. All told, the time and cost to install an electronic submeter typically runs less that 25% of the cost of having the utility put in a dedicated meter on the same circuit.

Contemporary electronic submeters eliminate the need for meter pans and CT cabinets, and are much easier to install. Their compact size allows installation in areas too cramped for previous metering methods. It's not uncommon to install 40 or more electronic meters in the same amount of space occupied by fewer than half a dozen electromechanical submeters. Because no feed through wiring is required, subpanels aren't necessary for proper monitoring. In fact, multiple meters can be used to monitor individual circuits in a breaker panel without having to rewire the panel.

Why Use Submetering

"It's Easy," says Mona Electric's Dan August, "and very profitable. many of our installations have been noncompetitive bids." Phil Johnson explained, "only 3 percent of the people are even aware that submeters are out there, and only about 30 percent of the contractors really understand the pluses of submetering." Even so, electronic submeters have been widely used for more than 15 years in a variety of industrial, commercial and institutional facilities, including airports (to monitor power panels and lighting, monitor jetways and air handling equipment with pulsers, and allocate tenant costs in terminals); commercial offices and multifamily dwellings (to bill tenants and recover energy costs); and educational institutions, government facilities, hospitals, industrial plants and shopping malls (to monitor HVAC, profile demand and bill tenants.)

These institutions have saved up to tens of thousands of dollars per mont. How? Unlike a single demand charge, which is always billed at the highest rate, submetering allows multiple loads from several facility locations to be aggregated to reduce costs by leveling overall demand. Savings on aggregated demand can average up to 20 percent, especially in applications where loads are diverse as in hospitals, schools and manufacturing plants.

Submeter Popularity is Growing

Although submetering has been around awhile, it seems to have recently caught on. More people are aware that they need to get a grip on energy consumption, and by monitoring it they can reap the energy savings. For the contractor, this becomes a win-win situation, as the contractor makes money installing the submeters that allow the rate-payers to save money on their energy bills.

The primary beneficiaries of submetering and AMR will continue to be the industrial plants, office buildings, airports, malls and other mass energy consumers concerned with cutting costs. submetering provides a cost-effective, easily installed building-block approach to energy savings, giving consumers a greater degree of control in dealings with energy service providers. The contractor who knows how to sell to this group will be in demand as awareness of submetering grows.

As awareness increases, so will the diversity of applications for electronic submetering. This, in turn will foster the development of a correspondingly broad selection of hardware and software products. The following types of submetering products are generally available through most major electrical wholesalers:
  • Single- and three-phase solid-state electronic kWh meters
  • Three-phase solid-state kWh/kW (Demand) meters
  • Interval Data Recorders and software for Automatic Meter Reading (AMR)
  • Multiple Meter Unit (MMU) cabinets for mounting up to 25 individual meters inside one enclosure
  • Low-voltage, split-core current sensors
  • Advanced meters with communications and/or load control
  • Outdoor single- and three-phase solid-state meters
  • Wireless RF based meters with communications

Sales Through Suggestion

Most contractor opportunities to sell submetering to the user will occur in upgrade situations. For example, if a contractor were called in to add a 200A service in a high-rise office, he or she might ask if the owner or supervisor would like to submeter that service to see if it would be running at 20A or 200A for all 24 hours or for any part of the day. Because of the very low installed cost of electronic submeters, payback is surprisingly rapid.

"Its like putting in high-intensity discharge lighting," Phil Johnson explained, "It's something that, if you make the jump and install it, your customers will thank you for it." Dan August agreed, "I bring things to my customers' attention. Most of the jobs I've handled recently come from a customer request and my making submetering a need."

August continued," Submetering is a viable sales opportunity if done correctly. But the true opportunity is building a relationship with the customer over time. We offer complete tech support after our installations and maintain contact. From this, I can tell you that client comments about submetering [after installation] have been very positive."

What it comes down to is this: The higher their energy costs, the more important it is for facilities to manage their energy resources to remain profitable. This is why sales opportunities are better than ever for the purveyors of electric submetering equipment and software. Many contractors are already on board and doing a brisk business with what they consider to be one of their most profitable and fastest-moving inventory items. Are you?

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