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Sat 16 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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A metered approach

Are you up to date with the latest metering technologies? Hans Peter Kyk outlines what you need to know about sub-metering and automatic systems.

Are you up to date with the latest metering technologies? Hans Peter Kyk outlines what you need to know about sub-metering and automatic systems.

With the rising emphasis on energy efficiency, there has been concern over how to make future energy monitoring and reading easier, more accurate and more reliable.

This has lead to concepts for implementing sub-metering and automatic meter reading (AMR) in a number of countries.

The products used for sub-metering are now generally based on ultrasonic principles.

The US and Scandinavian countries, for example, have been active drivers behind the implementation of these concepts.

Sweden in fact has passed a law stipulating that electricity consumption must be read monthly based on the actual rather than anticipated use.

In the Middle East, sub-metering with manual reading of electricity and water consumption is now being implemented in high numbers across various sectors.

Building owners and property developers now understand the financial and operational benefits of implementing sub-metering, both for themselves and their customers.

Why implement sub-metering and AMR?

There are many reasons for implementing AMR systems and sub-metering, with most of them being quite simple and logic:

• To cope with increasing energy prices;

• To reduce the overall energy consumption;

• To avoid manual reading, thereby reduce operational costs;

• To base billing on actual consumption rather than the anticipated use;

• To implementing tariffs;

• To reduce fraud, theft and the problems caused by customers in bad debts;

• To ensure and protect utility revenues;

• To improve customer service and satisfaction.

AMR systems are now being implemented in a number of sectors in the Middle East.

The district cooling industry is now a major user of the technology, but there is also a growing interest for AMR systems that will read all energy meters in a building such as those measuring water, electricity and gas use.

But who will benefit from implementing AMR systems, besides the providers? Results so far show a clear tendency towards lower energy consumption; easy reading with no manual interactions; improved data authentication; a reduced number of bad payers and reduced debts and a fast return on investment.

So the answer is that all will benefit, in different ways - the tenants, building owner, energy provider and, not least, the environment.

System operation

AMR systems automatically collect the data from the energy sub-meters and transfer it to a centralised database that is typically located within the utilities operation centre or in the individual building.

From here the system performance can be monitored and bills for the individual tenants can be generated collectively or individually if needed.

The energy meters used for sub-metering of chilled water are today generally based on ultrasonic measuring principles.

These replace the traditional mechanical meters, which tend to be unreliable and slow down over time. The electricity meters that are used in AMR systems are electronic and may include built-in shut-off functionality.

The communication from the meters can be wired or wireless. M-Bus communication is a typical form of wired systems, whereas two-way RF communication (radio communication) is considered standard for wireless systems.

RF technology is now implemented in many countries based on international communication protocols.

The benefits to tenants

The tenant's main focus is the periodic bill being presented to them from the utility firm or building owner.
Traditionally, bills were based on estimates and an annual check reading that resulted in any correction being made on the bill for the following year.

If the tenant is billed regularly based on their actual consumption it will raise their awareness, therefore their cautiousness about consumption.

AMR systems have shown a clear tendency towards lower energy consumption.

With fixed costs for utilities, tenants will see no need or incentive for shutting off services such as air conditioning in periods when they are not needed.

Tenants previously had to be present at the time of reading, however AMR systems eliminate this need. This gives the end-user - the tenant - a more convenient operation.

Readings in connections with changing tenant occupation can be done at a specific time determined by the tenant, giving them the actual status and final bill instantly.

In general, sub-metering and AMR systems have shown reductions in the energy consumption by 10-20% and improved tenant satisfaction in regards to the services and provisions delivered by the utility firm or the building owner.

Building owner benefits

The building owner has to protect their revenue and ensure the overall spending on energy is reimbursed. They also have an interest in providing a seamless service to tenants and reduce disputes over presented energy bills.

In lease contracts where consumption is included in the rent, it is difficult for building owners to raise energy prices as those from the utilities increase. Usually the rent is fixed and has been prepaid, making it very difficult to pass additional energy bills to the tenants.

Also, the building owner may find that the overall consumption suddenly exceeds the estimated value for which the rent calculation has been based. With AMR the tenant can be billed regularly based on their actual consumption and these problems will be diminished.

Benefits to utilities providers

The region's utilities providers are facing a number of challenges, one being the unobstructed access to the meter for manual reading, making access agreements with tenants, plus rescheduling and returning if the tenants do not keep their agreements.

Human errors may also occur when using manual readers, automatic meter reading provides increased performance in the data collection. In avoiding manual data entry or manual data transfer, a potential source of error is eliminated from the process.

Fraud and theft are also frequent problems, and with difficulties of gaining access to properties it might be impossible for the utility firm to check the installation. In addition, outstanding debts and late payments are added to the daily challenges the utilities face.

New technology provides the possibility of simply shutting off the supply if the tenant does not pay their bills. Before AMR this could be a slow process, but now it can be done via a keyboard at the utility firm's control centre without the interaction of any personnel.

Environmental benefits

The global warming debate has recently escalated worldwide and there is no doubt that the debate and the political interaction to challenge the issues of emission of greenhouse gasses will be further enforced in the future.

There is a general belief that there is a relationship between increased global temperatures and energy production, and thus our energy consumption.

And following the global agreements in Kyoto and Bali it must be realised that global warming is a general challenge and not only related to some countries.

It affects all and therefore all nations must contribute to the challenge and reduce their energy consumption.

As focus is directed on energy consumption worldwide there is no doubt that the deployment of automatic sub-metering will escalate.

We are also likely to see a further integration between various services in buildings. A seamless integration between the metering systems and the building management systems will be a must and this carries a huge potential for optimising operations and investments.

The need and demand for monitoring and controlling own energy consumption such as via the internet is also expected to arise and pave the way for true AMR systems.

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