Accelerate your Net Zero journey with the right metering technology choices

Stock image ex Canva to illustrate Wattwatchers bog article in Net Zero series

In a series of articles, also available on request as an eBook, Wattwatchers explores the challenges and opportunities building owners, managers and installers face with electricity metering and monitoring for achieving and maintaining Net Zero, ESG and sustainability trajectories for the built environment. This is the final article in the series.

ARTICLE 4: Built Environment Net Zero Series

Delivering on Net Zero and being able to prove sustainability performance is becoming increasingly important as its growing impact on both CapEx and OpEx, as well as asset and portfolio values, becomes increasingly clear to businesses.

It’s important to start your journey with the insight that in many cases it’s worth considering deploying a new technology, rather than remediating, and upgrading existing systems for energy monitoring.

Utilising the right technologies – that (a) avoid the complexity of working with legacy systems, and (b) are simple, cost-effective, accurate and flexible – will enable you to get better data, faster, with less work.

Support progress to Net Zero with data

Traditional technologies can burn budgets quickly. Newer technologies can help you to measure more and estimate less, by being commercially viable at a smaller scale: for example, solar, electric vehicle (EV) chargers and efficiency projects. 

Ensuing that you select a technology with great data quality is essential to ensuring that you have the data to make disclosures with confidence. Look for Class 1 (+/- 1%) accuracy on kWh, decentralised internal logging capacity for data by phase, communications smarts like multi-telco network support, and real-time tools to understand the status of devices.

To track your progress, you’ll need to establish a baseline, which is not always a simple proposition. Take assets like industrial warehouse and logistics, or business parks, that have a large percentage of tenant loads. Or corporations occupying a lot of tenanted space in buildings. In both cases, getting the data for consumption and solar generation for tracking sustainability progress is likely to be a manual process. 

A cost-effective IoT solution that can be deployed wirelessly is a good starting point to avoid manual processes. This means operating without reliance on local communications networks and hubs to access accurate and complete data, which reduces hardware and installation complexity, minimises cost, and removes potential failure points. 

Scoping is simple because you can avoid the complexity and ambiguity of having to get into the nitty-gritty detail of legacy infrastructure.

With the right services contractor, roll-outs can happen swiftly. Once technologies are connected into a platform, the data can roll into your reporting system automatically, and manual processes are only required for exceptions. Selecting a technology with a simple, repeatable installation process is essential to scalability. Showing the tenant value is key for success (see later section).

To track progress and make public disclosures you’ll need to consolidate all of your sustainability data. This typically means having your sustainability data rolled-up into a platform that automates many of the calculations and reports. This is a different kind of platform to a real-time onsite EMS. If you select the right monitoring technology, with API-access to all data, you’re on the right path to ensuring data can be reliably ingested by a platform, and minimise manual exception handling work.

Drive asset-level implementation of ESG

Operations teams have never been so important in keeping your Net Zero journey on track and driving ESG into each asset. For Net Zero, you’ll be rating assets, investing in renewables, improving efficiency and electrifying everything. Selecting a standard electricity monitoring technology with the flexibility to be used across many use cases, and platforms, will help keep you on track and ensure that your investments are delivering on expectations.

It’s very likely that you’ll be rating assets under various sustainability frameworks like Green Star, GRESB and NABERS, and using those as a way to track progress. The key to getting the most value is selecting one hardware technology that is commercially viable to use across typical uses including: tenant consumption, NABERS exclusion, different floor space type within buildings, and at the individual equipment level (solar for example).

Hardware needs the right software Things to look for in an EMS include: KPI’s you care about automatically calculated. Prioritised alerts. Flexible notification settings. Logic that looks for efficiencies. Software that enables you to easily ‘drill down’ into the detail of interval data. Regular reports also need to be proactively delivered to stakeholders, so that they can get value from the data without logging in. Select data often needs to be shared with portfolio reporting platforms, and a scalable way to do this is required. 

Validating the value delivered by efficiency projects requires technology that is commercially viable to use at the project-level. A lighting circuit, chiller unit, refrigeration plant or other individual plant item. To achieve this you need cost-effective hardware, and a simple installation method to lower the cost delivered. Once it’s viable, you then need access to real-time data and status to run the numbers. You don’t want to find out in a month that you’re missing a bunch of data because a ‘logger’ was de-energised.

Electricity data is valuable in determining if assets are performing as expected. Solar is a very good example of this, where inverter systems are not accurate enough to validate performance, and an independent, accurate source of measurement is a big advantage. Can you answer questions like these with confidence: Is my solar system performing as we envisaged? Did that chiller upgrade deliver the results I expected?

BREAKOUT: Charter Hall, as an example, has used Wattwatchers technology to measure tenants’ consumption in more than 263 buildings, and develop a baseline and participate in Green Star. Wattwatchers technology has contributed to getting ~90% of all industrial assets rated. Electricity baselines have been established and are the point of reference for improvements. Source: Calculated from Charter Hall 2023 sustainability databook

Drive and support tenant engagement

Tenant engagement is a key focus for many leading property companies. 

Having happier, more engaged tenants is a great start to ensuring their ongoing participation in a building’s sustainability journey. It’s no surprise, therefore, that providing tenants with systems that they can use themselves and benefit from can be a strong positive influence.

Tenants are likely to have both technical and non-technical users. Traditional systems often cater for technical users with no regard for non-technical users who just want something simple. We advise looking for these things to support better engagement:

  1. Real-time mobile app for non-technical users that, as a base, allows tracking against a simple budget, and a real-time understanding of solar and load.
  2. The ability to share data without logging into the system either via push reports, or live pages that don’t require login.
  3. The ability to publish live data to displays in the premises.
  4. Rich data that can support deeper technical engagement to evaluate solar feasibility, examine power quality and more.

Get insights into the hands of broad range of decision-makers and stakeholders

You want to select technologies that give the best chance of the system being used by the many stakeholders involved in owning and operating today’s buildings. It’s unlikely there’s one system that is used by all stakeholders. So, in practice, this means having good off-the-shelf software options that deliver insights, and have the ability to share real-time data with other platforms that are used in businesses.

Find technologies that help to surface the insights that help you. Stakeholders need to know what to take action on, and not be slammed with non-prioritised alarms.

Web-enabled technologies, mobile functionality and cable-free wireless technologies not only make it more cost-effective to achieve or outperform sustainability targets, or meet code compliance, but can also enhance stakeholder access to data for decision-making.

We all want to avoid systems that are ‘noisy’ and that cause ‘alarm fatigue’.

In new-build, choosing technologies that cost-effectively scale from basic code compliance to higher sustainability levels is important. 

If you choose technologies that give more bang for the buck, you are setting up the path to deliver on higher levels of sustainability compliance.

Having a fast-to-deploy technology such as IoT and Cloud-based solutions, can open up new opportunities, including streamlining the retrofitting of a metering and EMS system to a building, where traditional systems are outrageously expensive.

Future-proofing your solution investments

Software development happens much faster than hardware development. Every year there are new players, new capabilities and different flavours of UI and analytics. 

The best thing you can do to ensure your hardware is future-proofed is to make sure it’s as interoperable as possible, and can be used with different software platforms. For real-time data, this cannot be CSV files, but a good API will give you the flexibility that you need.

If you change platforms, or introduce another platform that needs electricity data, ensure that you have the means to ‘feed’ the new platform the granularity and frequency of data it requires.

Simple rules for choosing electricity metering solutions

Here are some simple rules to follow that will help make the solution you choose more useable and cost-effective:

  • Connecting electricity metering to your BMS is rarely the right choice. These platforms tend to be inflexible and lock you in, when you really want the opposite (i.e. flexibility).
  • Find systems that give you great out-of-the-box software options, but play well with other software platforms.
  • For ultimate flexibility, ensure that all data is accessible in a standard way, and definitely not a way that is bespoke for every site – because that will cost you in professional services and software integration costs
  • When comparing technologies, look at the whole project cost for installation, commissioning and the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

James Clements is Director Net Zero Property with Wattwatchers.