IoT makes metering for building compliance flexible and effective

Stock image ex Canva for Wattwatchers blog post series on 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 3: Built Environment Compliance Series

The earlier articles in this series highlighted the clunkiness of traditional electricity metering for building compliance at both the installation and setup phase (Article 1), and how this can continue into the operational phase including data (Article 2).

The good news is that new technology alternatives are now available.

Modern wireless IoT technologies can simplify electricity monitoring, lower costs, and make data much more usable. 

Not all Internet of Things (IoT) technologies have great data quality, however, and many are plagued by data gaps, unreliable communications, and the need to set-up device management systems.

So it’s still buyer-beware, and you need to take care in choosing new and emerging technology solutions.

What to look for in hardware

Whether from international suppliers or Australian-made, look for solutions that have put data quality front-of-mind. 

Solutions that are designed for electricity utility use cases, as well as for building submetering, are a good option because they need to have robust design and great data quality. 

For energy and carbon management in the built environment sector, you also need to look for use case flexibility, with smart design to simplify the deployment of electricity metering for both new-build and retrofits.

Pay attention to the solution’s whole ‘ecosystem’, across hardware, software and data services.

In particular, try to avoid technology ‘lock-in’, such as where the hardware only works with one or very limited software options, with no possibility of changing over to different – and potentially improved – applications. Many players say that data can be used in other applications, but when you get into the detail this is not commercially viable.

Best-in-class solutions will ‘work with’ multiple software options and make data portable between different softwares, including API-enabled access to data so that it can be pulled into an existing BMS or EMS.

On the communications front, look for communication types that don’t require you to deploy a local communications network. Network cellular 4G is a good example, and it also has the added benefit of not needing to connect to secure corporate WiFi environments.

Consider the size of the metering you are using – The larger the meter, the larger the panel boards need to be, adding to cost. How much space does your current solution require?

Modern SIMs are getting smarter all the time, and can include multi-carrier capabilities, with global options, and a range of IoT features that support great fleet management.

This includes automatic selection of the best network for any given location, based on signal quality, and continued evaluation of signal quality in order to update to the best available if anything changes.

What to look for in data transfer

Getting data out of an EMS system is increasingly required to deliver on the needs of multiple stakeholders involved in owning, operating and occupying an asset. Every technology supplier will tell you that they can give you data – but the devil is always in the detail!

Many systems will require professional services to create a way to send data out, often with onsite work.

The most common transfer method is via CSV, or other flat-file format. This is OK for occasional updates, but is not suited to real-time data transfer. Software platforms tend to have specific formats that they can ingest, and so it usually costs money to get data into a format that can be handled by each software platform.

In many systems you can create a ‘Scheduled report’ to send data out. In reality, however, sometimes scheduled reports don’t arrive. If a software platform is expecting the data and does not receive it, the next step is to pick-up the phone or send an email to get the issue resolved.

API’s have the advantage that they can be used for real-time data transfer or less frequent transfer. If data does not arrive as expected, software platforms can easily retry automatically. If an API has an issue, you want that rectified quickly, so ensure that your vendor considers their API a core technology not just an ‘add-on’!

Core requirements for your solution

Compliance and performance tools should augment the BMS and/or EMS, or even replace them.

It helps to have the in-built flexibility to both meet basic compliance, such as for NCC Section J8/9 requirements, while also enabling beyond-compliance upgrades to Green Star and similar sustainability requirements.

Underlying core requirements should include:

  • Real-time and historic dashboards to manage electricity (and water and carbon) with target tracking
  • Rapid roll-out: no communications cabling and conduit required. No local communications networks.
  • Lower-cost through use of more flexible solutions
  • Push reports to tenants and other stakeholders
  • Prioritised notifications, so you know where to focus
  • Future-proof SaaS (with cloud-based, integrated real-time data, and AI + IoT platform technology that makes sure you always have the latest version)
  • Complete interoperability – established data connections to common portfolio reporting platforms used in property (avoid legacy integration issues).
  • No onsite computers, saving on space and cost, eliminating potential failure points, and delivering greater convenience

Tenants need data too

For comprehensive energy management reasons, such as the emerging trend towards grid-interactive efficient buildings, and cutting-edge carbon management too (think Scope 3 emissions, for example), you’ll want to have a mobile app option for tenant engagement.

Look for a familiar-style of mobile app for non-technical users that enables the user to see their own site load and any solar in real-time, with the ability to examine historical periods with ease. 

If tenant users are motivated to manage energy they should be able to set a budget and track against it day-to-day.

This way, they will be alerted if they are off-track, rather than have to wait for a month to find out via the next bill.

With the best outcomes firmly on the radar, the final article in this series (Article 4) explores what to focus on to get the building code compliance and sustainability performance you need.

James Clements is Director Net Zero Property with Wattwatchers.