Sub-metering – Dangerous for Energy Savings

Article by Hugues de Milleville
Initiatives from all levels of government indicate that we are finally becoming serious about energy conservation, and are looking for solutions to ensure that corporations and individuals alike take responsibility for the future of our energy supply. Sub-metering for multi-residential buildings is presently being touted as the answer to many of our energy concerns. The following article will show why sub-metering is at best a very short term band-aid solution, which will negatively affect Ontario’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) and CO2 emissions and to conserve our energy resources.

A building is a complex assembly of different technologies which interact together, many with the potential to bring energy savings. For example, installing tighter in-suite HVAC controls can save more than 30%. Installing a loop water temperature control can bring another 10% energy savings, new windows can also contribute another 10% to 30%. By taking into consideration the efficiency of a new boiler (perhaps 15% more efficient than an older model) a significantly smaller boiler will be required. Of course all of the above mentioned energy savings are not cumulative, but they can still be calculated by taking into consideration how much energy the previous measure saved

These measures seem to have been eclipsed by the erroneous assumption that sub-metering is the better way to go. In fact, several years ago sub-metering may well have been an excellent solution. However, sky-rocketing energy prices has spawned new R&D. Together with existing products, the resulting emerging technologies address high energy costs and offer a much better alternative to sub-metering in both the short and long term.

Why then is sub-metering in multi-residential so popular? Most importantly, sub-metering removes the “ownership” of paying the energy bills from the owner and passes it on to the tenant. Considering the uncertainty and volatility of energy prices, this is in itself a tremendous incentive for owners to buy into this strategy.

The whole issue of sub-metering begs the question: why would an owner choose to spend valuable dollars on energy conservation measures when most of the burden of energy bills falls squarely on the tenants’ shoulders? Property Managers and Building Owners embrace this strategy because the tenants will ultimately have to pay for all the inefficiencies of the different components in the building and the owner will have very little incentive to improve the system as they would pay only a small portion of the energy used . This is the main reason why sub-metering will actually greatly minimize energy savings which would have been otherwise achievable.

There are many existing products (and more coming on the market) that can bring several times the in-suite energy savings compared to the savings sub-metering could bring.

Nova Scotia Power conducted a very thorough test with the Log-One Intelligent Thermostat / Energy Management System (EMS) and found that by installing the EMS:
a) “There was above average savings of 33% in those apartments where the building owner pays for the utility bill.”
b) “The average savings dropped to 16% in those apartments where the tenant paid the utility bill.”
This test very clearly demonstrates that a smart controller like the Log-One can bring another 16% energy savings on top of sub-metering.

The Log-One EMS is not the only product on the market. There are many other products that complement the EMS and save in other areas for greater building or in–suite energy savings, which is a lot more than sub-metering itself could do:
- Novitherm hydronic baseboard reflectors: 10 to 15% energy savings, pay back usually less than 2 years
- Safe-T-Element: controls the exact amount of energy required to cook meals on range heating element (75% savings on “high setting”)
- Newer in suite lighting can save 75% energy.

The above is only a summary. The list of Energy Saving devices and products will continue to grow in the next few years as technology improves.
With existing and future products, most of us in the industry are convinced that 70% energy savings or more are easily achievable. Sub-metering will bring approximately 15% (20% max). As tenants pay for their utilities, the owners will have little or no incentive to implement the other measures which will bring the extra in-suite 50% to 55% savings. All of these factors will severely hamper Canada`s attempts to reduce GHG and CO2 emissions, and will delay the McGuinty government`s plans to close coal power generation plants as promised. Is this really what we want?

More information is available by contacting:

Hugues de Milleville
President Log-One Ltd.
Tel. 905-729-4380
Fax 905-729-2910
hdemille [at] log-one [dot] com

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