It's no secret that commercial buildings are massive consumers of energy. In an effort to curtail that use, cities all over the nation have begun implementing regulations that require energy use reporting. Seattle has taken that a step further, illustrating the future of electrical metering and highlighting an exciting new direction for electrical contractors.

Seattle's Ambitious Approach
Since 2010, Seattle has required all commercial buildings of more than 20,000 square feet to install not only whole-building metering, but also submetering for HVAC, hot water, lights, plug loads, and process loads. Although the results aren't reported to the city, they feed directly to a graphics display that the building manager can access at any time. The tool has proven incredibly useful for tracking energy patterns and identifying areas of waste. Why such a granular approach to metering? Seattle has set the ambitious goal of being a carbon-neutral city by 2050, and submetering will play a key role in attaining that objective. Meanwhile, this year the rest of Washington state has adopted similar regulations for buildings of 50,000 or more square feet.

Submetering certainly represents a promising technology. It's attracted the attention of the White House National Science and Technology Council, and the US Department of Energy recently introduced the Low-Cost Wireless Meter Challenge. Participants are invited to design a wireless electric submeter that can track energy usage for $100 or less. And according to "World Market for Power Measurement Trends," a report from IMS Research, the global market for power measurement hardware are projected to exceed $4.2 billion in the next five years. Submeters accounted for 65% of global metering revenues in 2012, and this figure is predicted to outpace the market for meters with power quality.

Implications for Electrical Contractors
Seattle isn't the only city to mandate submetering; multiple cities across the country are following suit, and soon submetering will be the rule rather than the exception. For qualified electrical contractors, this trend will translate into plenty of business opportunities. In the immediate future, submetering will be driven by multiple factors:

  • Increased energy usage, despite efforts to reduce overall consumption
  • Government mandates like those in Seattle and Washington state
  • Increased adoption of system-level control schemes like energy management systems and building automation
  • Wider understanding of the benefits of submetering among building professionals

The boom in submetering work will likely remain concentrated in a few key industries. Submetering customers will generally be single-payer clients with extensive facilities, which are prime candidates for building energy monitoring.
  • Colleges and universities: The University of Pennsylvania recently installed 400 next-generation meters across its Philadelphia campus. And University of California Berkeley used smart meters to pinpoint an equipment failure that wasted electricity. Electrical contractors who have worked with institutions of higher learning can use these universities as case studies to suggest smart metering installations.
  • Manufacturing: Equipment malfunction can be a serious electricity sucker, and manufacturing facilities are usually full of equipment. As corporations face increasing pressure to reduce their carbon footprints, submetering offers an ideal means for identifying faulty equipment and reducing energy usage.
  • Commercial real estate: The economy has bounced back, and commercial construction is again on the rise. Today's commercial clients expect the latest in environmentally friendly construction, which includes submetering. Countless case studies that support submetering are easy to find; one of the best known is when Bank of America installed submeters in their San Francisco building in 2008. They installed 120 submeters and saved $1million in the ensuing year. The submeters paid for themselves in a matter of days!

Seattle electrical contractors have already discovered the benefits of submeters for both clients and their firms. And electricians who anticipate this trend will position themselves well to address new clients' submetering needs and to market the new technology to existing clients.