In June, the surprise stars of a White House event on smart grid policy were a couple of high-school seniors who had convinced their school to finance the installation of submetering technology and software that allowed them to measure their school’s energy consumption in unprecedented detail. They discovered that the air conditioning was needlessly running in the gym at night, which led to an operational change that helped the school earn a 250% return on investment.
What those students discovered was the potential benefit of submetering—the use of monitoring and measurement technologies to provide real-time information about resource use that can help pinpoint variations in performance, optimize automated building systems, and encourage building managers and occupants to adopt energy-conserving behaviors.
Today, the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC)—a cabinet-level interagency group of scientists and engineers—released a new report (pdf) that recommends systematic consideration of submetering technologies that can yield up-to-date, finely grained snap shots of energy and water use in commercial and residential buildings to drive energy efficiency and capture the advantages of a modernized electric power grid. The approach is complementary to the Obama Administration’s Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future, released in March 2011, which stressed the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and cut energy bills by increasing the efficiencies of homes and buildings.
The report, Submetering of Building Energy and Water Usage: Guidance and Recommendations of the Subcommittee on Buildings Technology Research and Development, concludes that submetering can dramatically improve building performance and reduce resource consumption. Submetering devices can be deployed at successively finer levels of resolution, from individual buildings and rooms down to specific building systems or water and electrical outlets.
And while the return on investment (ROI) for submeters depends on specific energy-efficiency strategies that may vary by climate, building type, and other factors, "numerous case studies provide evidence that the ROI can be significant,” the report concludes. “Further, submetering provides the necessary infrastructure for more advanced conservation and efficiency techniques.”
The increased use of submeters—especially when combined with software solutions developed and deployed by innovators, entrepreneurs and students—can play a significant role in the President’s Better Buildings Initiative to make commercial facilities 20 percent more efficient by 2020.
Nick Sinai is Senior Advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer