The challenge: Build sub-meters and we will buy them

Dept. of Energy wants all the sub-$100 meters we can manufacture to cut energy consumption


A coalition that includes the U.S. federal government and over 200 major commercial building sector partners has issued a simple challenge to U.S. manufacturers: If you can build wireless sub-meters that cost less than $100 apiece and enable us to identify opportunities to save money by saving energy, we will buy them.  

A group of at least 18 manufacturers has already agreed to take up the challenge, pledging to produce devices that will meet the specifications outlined by the U.S. Department of Energy and its private sector partners that have signed letters of intent to purchase the wireless sub-meters. 

“This is a perfect example of how government can team up with industry to identify a problem and promote the innovation needed to solve it,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “Affordable, accurate sub-metering of electricity use will give building managers the critical information they need to find and eliminate waste that hurts their businesses and costs billions of dollars a year. Even a small improvement in efficiency will mean huge savings for companies as well as for taxpayers.”

Electricity sub-meters don’t save energy by themselves, but they provide building operators with the information they need to identify opportunities for savings. For example, a large commercial building might pay $10,000 a month or more for electricity, but not have any way to detect which systems are consuming the most electricity.  

A wireless sub-meter could be installed at various electrical panels throughout the building to give a more detailed picture of where the electricity is being used, helping to identify savings. It might also allow commercial building operators (at a strip mall, for example) to bill individual tenants for their electricity usage, creating an incentive for energy efficiency. Wireless sub-meters are available today, but typically cost about $1,000 per installation, so the goal is to reduce the cost by about 90%. 

The Energy Department worked with members of its Better Buildings Alliance and Federal agencies to develop a performance-based manufacturing specification. The specification recommends minimum performance requirements for one or more multiple wireless measurement devices, or sub-meters. The metering system addresses energy consumption; measuring and monitoring granular electric energy consumption data at the panel-level to support the implementation of energy efficiency improvements. The Department’s Washington, D.C. headquarters, the James A. Forrestal Building will be used as a testing facility. Energy data will be collected from within the facility’s eight occupied floors, basements, and 1,754,800-square feet of floor space.

Partners that have signed letters of intent expressing interest in purchasing the meters include:

  • Bullitt Foundation
  • CBRE
  • Enterprise Green Communities
  • Fitzmartin Consulting
  • Jonathan Rose Companies
  • McKinstry
  • Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Prologis
  • Stanford University
  • University of California – Berkeley
  • University of Maryland Medical Center
  • U.S. Federal Energy Management Program
  • U.S. General Services Administration
  • Vermont Energy Investment Corporation
  • Whole Foods Market
  • Yum! Brands

Participating building sensor and controls manufacturers have committed to producing cost-effective wireless building metering systems through a signed letter of intent, and the Department will offer third party verification that the wireless building metering systems meet the performance specifications. These manufacturers include:

  • BLUEdev
  • Continental Controls—Micro Strain
  • Dent Instruments
  • Eaton Corporation
  • Energy Aware Technologies
  • Energy Detective
  • IE Technologies
  • Ingreenium
  • Inoscope International
  • Lem
  • Leviton
  • LoadIQ
  • Negawatt
  • Obvius
  • Powerhouse Dynamics
  • Schneider Electric
  • Smart OES
  • Universal Devices

While energy usage and energy intensity varies widely based on the size and usage of the building, the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s survey of U.S. commercial buildings found that in 2003, commercial buildings spent roughly $1.15 per square foot of floor space.  That would mean that a 100,000 square foot commercial building – the size of a typical big-box store, for example – might have an electricity bill of over $100,000 a year.  

The same survey found that the largest commercial buildings (those with over 500,000 square feet) had electricity bills exceeding $1 million a year.  Even a small increase in building energy efficiency can help a business improve its bottom line and become more competitive.  

Nationwide, the Department of Energy conservatively estimates that if commercial buildings could utilize sub-meters to identify energy savings of just 2%, it would represent actual cost savings of $1.7 billion. 

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