Sub-metering has become the new normal when it comes to managing electricity use in multi-residential buildings. By transferring the responsibility and direct usage costs to residents, sub-metering enables condo boards and property managers to better predict cash flows and mitigate the impact of rising electricity prices. Sub-metering typically leads to a decline in in-suite electricity consumption of approximately 40 per cent.
Based on the economic and environmental benefits alone, it is no surprise that the sub-metering industry is poised for continued growth when it comes to both new builds and retrofits. Condo developers and property managers can expect more innovation from the industry in the sub-metering of other utilities, including water, gas, and thermal.
This is especially true when it comes to thermal sub-metering, which is widespread in Europe, where district heating and cooling energy plants are common. These plants supply heating and cooling to single family dwellings, commercial, industrial and institutional buildings. The operators of district energy plants use large thermal meters to charge for the energy delivered to the building. The residents are then charged by building owners through sub-metering systems custom-designed for the building.
As multi-residential buildings increasingly incorporate mixed uses, thermal sub-metering can effectively measure the heating and cooling energy requirements for each entity. Much like electricity, water and gas sub-metering, this ensures transparency of utility costs across residential suites as well as retail stores, large grocery stores, gyms, shared facilities and commercial spaces.
How it works
Thermal meters are usually installed inside each unit, where they measure the amount of heat added or removed from a space. A thermal calculator processes data that is collected through temperature sensors and a flow meter. In multi-residential buildings, thermal meters are typically installed inside a fan coil unit or heat pump, maximizing valuable suite floor space.
The earlier thermal sub-metering is integrated into a building’s design, the better. During the design phase, the sub-metering system solution provider should review drawings in consultation with a mechanical engineer. From there, the fan coil unit/heat pump manufacturer is engaged to integrate the thermal meters into individual fan coil units/heat pumps.
Before construction and installation, the sub-metering provider should conduct a design review meeting with contractors and the builder to provide technical expertise and best practices for installation. Final costs vary depending on the heating and cooling specifications for each unit.
The Canadian context
The uptake of thermal metering technology across Canada varies. In British Columbia, thermal metering can be found in district heating plants and the multi-residential sector. In Ontario, installations can be found in multi-residential and mixed-use buildings.
Thermal metering is not currently regulated here. However, Measurement Canada, the federal agency responsible for ensuring the accuracy of trade measurement, has offered guidance by way of a sector review for the steam and thermal energy trade in 2010 and through recommendations, decisions and an implementation update.
When it is ready to roll out regulations for thermal metering regulation, Measurement Canada has indicated that it will adopt established European and international standards: EN 1434 of the Measuring Instrument Directive and the International Organization for Legal Metrology (OIML) R75 requirements. The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) has already adopted EN 1434 in its CSA-C900 standard for heat meters.
As such, developers seeking to integrate thermal metering should exercise caution. It appears not all thermal meters manufactured and sold in North America comply with the European and international regulations, which may result in increased compliance costs when regulations roll out.
Although the market in Canada is modest in comparison to Europe, demand for thermal sub-metering is expected to increase as the technology becomes more accessible and as developers become more familiar with it. Further, it stands to reason that once residents are handed control over their bill, consumption will decline, producing additional economic and environmental benefits.
John Piercy is senior vice president and general manager of Enercare Connections, a sub-metering provider for multi-residential, mixed-use and commercial buildings across Canada.