Smithsonian Institution

Submetering Enables Utility Energy Savings & Cost Allocation for Smithsonian

smithsonian submetering

After more than 160 years as the national museum of the United States, the Smithsonian Institution is headquartered on the Capital Mall in Washington, D.C., but consists of a highly decentralized collection of over 400 buildings across the country and around the world. In the U.S. alone, facility managers operate some nine million square feet of floor space. Eleven of these buildings are major national museum facilities in the nation's capital, and they also house vendors and concession operators that use massive amounts of electricity, gas and water utility resources.

These 11 structures alone total roughly four million square feet of space. Throughout the various Smithsonian campuses, 10 concessionaires operate an array of tourist retail and food shops to serve tens of thousands of visitors daily. Prior to metering the Smithsonian museum concessionaires to more accurately allocate actual energy usage costs, facility managers and their staffs manually allocated bills to vendors using a formula to estimated energy consumption. Several years ago, Patrick O'Neal engineering technician for the Smithsonian Energy Management Group, decided it was time to create a more accurate system for allocating energy bills to retail and food vendors and possibly to create new opportunities for energy savings.

To assess and resolve the situation, O'Neal contacted energy the energy information and metering experts at E-Mon. While the Smithsonian campus was metered for overall utility billing purposes, the individual buildings did not have any kind of electrical submetering to collect more detailed data about the electric, water and gas services used by individual vendors. All energy consumption was being measured at the traditional utility billing meter, and using the basic kilowatt hour consumption data from the utility bill, each facility manager then estimated electrical consumption for each vendor operating in the building.

Savings by Simplification

To achieve O'Neal's goals, submeters and a data aggregation device that ties the various forms of energy service data - electric, water and gas-into a single database were installed. Overall 40 E-Mon D-Mon submeters now measure electricity consumption, while another 16 meters measure use of gas and water. data from these devices is then aggregated, allowing O'Neal to easily and accurately calculate energy consumption by the Smithsonian's concessionaires, thereby avoiding unnecessary utility charges.

Through ongoing energy data collection and monitoring, the Smithsonian Energy Management Group discovered that the concessionaires were paying too little for the energy services they were actually using.

"The submetering system is simple enough that you don't have to be an engineer or IT specialist to figure it out. Anyone with a basic understanding of facility energy management can use it," O'Neal said. "We don't even use all of the features and we're still seeing the benefits."

Fast, Long-Lasting Results

In 2003, O'Neal estimates the Smithsonian was able to allocate $1.7 million of its energy costs to concessionaires when they otherwise would have been paid with federal tax dollars. In 2004, he estimates the allocation figure to reach $2 million due to increases in overall utility rates and slightly higher estimated consumption from a new museum building that will open later in the year. Not bad, O'Neal said, considering the total investment in metering hardware and software over time has been about $100,000. The Smithsonian achieved the return on its investment in about 3 months after the first quarterly utility billing cycle.

of course, utility bill allocation isn't the only benefit when submetering buildings at the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian Energy Management group also can use meter data from around the campus to troubleshoot and identify sources of inefficient energy use, to identify capital improvement projects that will facilitate energy savings and to negotiate better energy rates from its electricity provider.

The Smithsonian Energy Management Group is currently in the testing phase of its new E-Mon Energy monitoring platform from E-Mon that allows greater data analysis capabilities and collection of meter data in increments of five to 60 minutes. The system, which has the potential to help the Smithsonian save more money and find additional opportunities for energy conservation is scheduled to go online shortly.

To download a copy of this article click here.