How traditional electricity metering falls short for operations and data

Stock image from Canva for Wattwatchers blog post about compliance in the built environment

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 building code compliance.

ARTICLE 2: Built Environment Compliance Series

The previous article in this series (Article 1) considered problems for the installation and setup of clunky old-tech electricity metering, in order to achieve building code compliance.

But the problems don’t end with installation and setup. 

Post establishment, they can continue through the operating life, and impact negatively on data quality, availability and usability.

Once in operation

Often data is not as readily available as it can and should be.

It seems hard to believe in today’s connected-age, but there are still property companies that get an EMS in brand new buildings that can only be accessed onsite, and worse still sub-metering that can only be read manually by someone walking around monthly. 

Upgrades are then required to make them available remotely, and such retrofits don’t come cheap!

All of this can be avoided by adopting newer, more nimble cloud-connected solutions from the outset.

Data has multiple users

In operating today’s assets, many stakeholders need access to electricity data. Think landlords, facility managers, tenants, sustainability managers, consultants and more.

But it’s not just about having some data.

Data needs to be timely, relevant to the user, and delivered in a way that improves decision-making. 

EMS systems may have ‘the data’ inside, but typically fail in getting it out to all of the relevant stakeholders in digestible formats that support good business decisions across multiple use cases.

Contemporary API-based solutions are much more flexible, whether for one or many users, because data can be easily made available in multiple platforms.

It’s hard to revalidate readings

EMS systems often display a summed three-phase value. 

If you suspect there is a dodgy reading, in most cases you have to go back to site to physically access the meter, then scroll through various menus to expose real-time readings per phase and check CT settings.

So once in operation – guess what – meters are rarely re-checked, and often they are just assumed to be correct year after year. 

Being correct over time, however, depends on how well the installer worked through a series of awkward, inconvenient steps to set up the meter, including validating it against another meter.

Data portability is an issue

Old-style solutions typically don’t ‘play well’ with other systems.

The business model of BMS and EMS companies is to lock you into a proprietary hardware solution – one that needs highly skilled people to operate and maintain it –  because this is service revenue. 

It’s true that things have improved on this front over the years due to customer pressure. Nonetheless, it remains true that BMS systems are not known for their ability to share data, and they tend to make access difficult by design.

In order to use data in other systems, it’s business as usual to engage professional services through BMS contractors to get data out. Additional features are often required to be added, like BACnet gateways, and this adds time and cost to get data in the format required. 

For property portfolio owners trying to roll up a mix of different BMS systems, or seeking to extract specific points for reporting, taking this path is slow, complex and costly. 

Updates and ongoing subscriptions

It’s common for old-style solutions to require manual updates, often including truck-rolls to revisit sites.

Renewing certificates and upgrading BMS/EMS software, if required by an onsite event, can mean having specialists in the building.

By contrast, SaaS services mean you always have the latest application version – whether updated already, or readily available to run an update – and there’s continuous deployment of fixes and new features.

While it’s often claimed that EMS solutions don’t have an ongoing subscription cost like modern SaaS services, they still tend to have significant ongoing costs, including service contracts, points licences and hardware-based upgrades. SaaS models are actually more transparent in their Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

Again, all of these challenges can be addressed with today’s cutting-edge technology choices, and through smart design, which is outlined in the next article in this series (Article 3).

James Clements is Director Net Zero Property with Wattwatchers.