Reading Into Meters - Part 1
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Reading Into Meters - Part 1

Jack White
Author: Jack White February 25, 2016

If you lease, rent or own a property, it’s highly likely you’ll have a meter installed somewhere. Meters are found in nearly all commercial and domestic buildings. The most common meters are those which measure utility services, such as electricity, gas, water and heat networks. Other metering technologies are used for sensing e.g. air quality, temperature, light and so on.

This post explains the different types of meters prevalent in buildings today (commercial and residential) and what they can be used for. Later on in this series we will go into more detail on metering technologies, metering installation project management and last but not least benefits and insights good metering can provide.

What does a meter do?

Meters serve a very narrow purpose, simply measuring and recording various units of a service, including gas (ft3), water (L) and electricity (kWh). The information from the meter allows a utility supplier to bill a customer, provides an energy manager the information to help reduce a property’s energy demand or a facilities engineer the measurements to care for a building’s environment.

What types of meter are there?

Utility Meter

Highly accurate meters used for billing. Typically a single meter for electricity, gas, water and (sometimes) heat will be installed at intake level. You may have heard of ‘smart meters’, they fall within this category.

Sub Meter

In addition to utility meters, sub meters are installed throughout a building. They measure and record services and energy usage for individual areas and assets, e.g. a floor, a server room, lighting or a chiller. Meter types range from oil and steam to condensate and air pressure.

Environmental Meter

Used to measure and report building conditions, for example; temperature, humidity, CO2, lighting, noise, vibrations and so on.

Are meters difficult to install?

Yes and No. Utility meters require a total building service to be isolated/interrupted for up to a full day, but let’s keep in mind that these meters are often only installed once in a building’s lifetime (when it is under construction), or in intervals of several years when meters have to be recalibrated. On the other hand, environmental and sub meter systems are becoming very simple to install. The installation is non-intrusive and often consists of fitting a simple clamp (current transformer) around the main supply and connecting it to a data logger. Normally within 15 minutes it is possible to fit a simple sensor - e.g. for electricity, water and gas - without disrupting any services.

How can I access the data stored on my meter?

If your utility meter is Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) enabled, the information will be transmitted to your supplier, they will be able to provide you (and others with your permission) access to this data. Large sub meter systems are often connected to an onsite meter server or Building Management System (BMS). Data can be extracted with help from the building engineers. It is possible to connect almost any meter to a data logger - these systems effectively convert a meter into an AMR device.

Utility Meter AMR

Meter readings are sent to the energy supplier’s database. They are usually sent once per day over a standard mobile communications network (GSM/GPRS).

Readings can be accessed via an online portal, or can be transferred by the supplier via email or FTP.

Problems with missing data must be resolved directly with the utility provider.

Existing Meter Server/BMS

If a building has sub meters they may be connected to a data collection platform. A ‘head end’ PC (usually a very old one) can be found in the facilities office within a building. This PC might contain some, if not all sub meter information. Special permissions and licenses are usually required to gain access to the head end.

Data can be extracted from these systems via BACnet (a meter communications standard), FTP, email or manual outputs.

Adding or changing meters on these systems requires specialist support.

Data Logger

Data loggers connect to any meter if they are not already AMR enabled. They can be installed by non-specialist engineers making them a cost effective solution.

Meter readings can be stored in the data logger ready for manual extraction, they are more commonly connected to the building LAN (corporate internet) or wirelessly, sending the readings to the cloud, i.e. an offsite database.

Confused yet?

It looks complicated, but don’t worry! It’s actually pretty standard stuff. Using modern internet technologies along the way helps tremendously. In essence, once you’ve defined your requirements in terms of which metrics you want to track and how you want to report them, it is in most cases relatively straightforward to identify (and install) the most suitable metering technology for your type of asset.

In part 2 of this series we will do a deep dive in metering and data transmission technologies, and shed some light on how to plan and implement a successful metering project.

Where does EnergyDeck fit in?

EnergyDeck is an Internet of Things platform that captures the entire range of energy, resource and environmental data relating to the built environment. Users benefit from highly flexible data management, automatic performance benchmarking and effective stakeholder engagement, all delivered through a powerful and intuitive interface.

We are hardware agnostic, meaning we can integrate with almost any data source. Utility meter data can be automatically imported into our system, existing sub meter systems can be integrated, BMS data can be extracted and entered automatically and new hardware can be installed and connected. We provide support with collecting data from utility providers (including Data Collectors in the UK), hardware recommendations and system integrations.

Using EnergyDeck will allow you to connect hundreds and thousands of meter points, data sources and buildings to a single platform, easily. And most importantly, EnergyDeck enables you to make sense of all this data through automatic validation, benchmarking and generation of insights into building and equipment optimisation opportunities.

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