The Evolution of Technologies Empowering Submetering in Canada

Revolutionizing a Greater Toronto Area condo building with wireless submetering technology delivered immediate benefits and future opportunities

By Ilia Alexeev
Trilliant Solutions Architect/Network Delivery

Businesses and property managers are continuously looking for ways to simplify management of their assets while improving customer service and their bottom line. Expending less resources and utilizing technology and other means to achieve more is certainly not new. Throughout history, the purposeful evolution of technology has played a central role in enabling such change. To put that into the perspective of our modern, highly mobile and connected world, technology and mobility have improved not just our own lives, but also the environment around us. Efficient use of energy and resources, sustainability and innovation combine to achieve those ends.

The term “smart” has become mainstream, and we’ve certainly come a long way from the time when smartphones were so groundbreaking. Today, anything from appliances to thermostats to door locks can be smart. In fact, smart homes, buildings and even entire cities are materializing into reality.

The concept of a smart, efficiently operated building has been around for some time – after all, the better it runs as a whole, the more benefits it offers to all the stakeholders. But as our population is increasingly driven into higher capacity dwellings and closer cohabitation, “smart” technologies offer advantages that enable us to enhance our quality of life while better managing buildings.

Submetering is smart technology that delivers real benefits

Submetering is a simple yet brilliant concept – rather than splitting the energy bill equally among all residents of a building, everyone pays only for the amount of energy they use. Ultimately, no one wants to be penalized for a neighbour who blasts tropical heat during the winter, and opens windows to “air out” a room. Developing a culture of conservation around efficient energy use is central to sustainability.

The Trilliant Submetering Solution provides each unit within a building with its own dedicated “submeter.” In practical terms, this is the same as having an individual electricity, water or natural gas meter at your house. For building residents, this lets them know exactly how much energy they use in their suite, so they have to pay only for the energy they use – thereby enjoying tangible benefits in energy costs while practicing sustainability or shifting loads to mid- and off-peak.

For developers or building owners, submetering contributes to predictable electricity costs for common areas, lower overall operating expenses and reduced common area maintenance fees. In addition to the financial benefits, the solution contributes to efficient use of space due to the compact form factor of specially designed metering equipment versus traditional socket meters.

Traditionally, submeters and, indeed, building technology as a whole have been connected through wired applications. However, running all that wiring throughout a building is costly at the construction phase, and difficult to maintain or troubleshoot in the long term as the building ages. Furthermore, occupants of older buildings may miss out on the “smart” benefits and other advancements because of the complexity of retrofitting a hard-wired submetering solution.


Laying the Smart Building foundation

As one of the world’s leading solutions providers for utilities and municipalities, Trilliant’s technology is key to so many of the benefits we deliver for our customers. Advancements in wireless communications, along with increasingly sophisticated methods of reliably transmitting data in complex environments, have enabled us to consistently enhance our smart building solutions. The ability to take advantage of wireless technologies and applications has enabled us to transform submetering into the launch pad to the world of smart building applications.

For example, Trilliant recently had the opportunity to upgrade a building in Ontario – a three-storey, 50-unit condo building just over 11 years old, built with the wired infrastructure common to many buildings today. This building, serviced by Trilliant, was the perfect candidate to pilot a revolutionary submetering solution. Deploying wireless connectivity in the building enabled us to increase the availability of data, stop relying on the aging copper infrastructure and, most importantly, open the door to greater capabilities and benefits than just submetering provides:

  • Wireless backbone throughout the building — One (1) SecureReach® LPWAN Access Point was installed on the roof to service the entire building.
  • Clean and elegant retrofit — This condo building already had PLC-based Trilliant panel meters in place. The Trilliant MiniCloset-5c (MC-5c) meter can serve up to 24 suites and features a small footprint, is easy to install, and provides real cost savings. A common form factor and modular design allowed us to swap out the older equipment and replace it with a new front panel specially designed to enable wireless connectivity – without modifying any of the base wiring or back-end infrastructure. The upgrade process was designed for simplicity, low risk and plug-and-play convenience. Today, each of the MC-5c panels communicates wirelessly directly with the Access Point.

The result: Over the past seven months, the wireless network has run effectively and seamlessly. One of the biggest benefits of the new technology is an immense increase in data availability at the Head-End – far superseding a single or even multiple daily polls for data. Now, data can be provided with near-real-time frequency, and with any resolution a meter can support.

Completing the “efficient” building

With wireless coverage in place and, in most cases, far exceeding the needs of a single building, the stage has been set for many applications which are now largely “plug-and-play.” While many condo boards, building operators and owners may not yet be ready for a full-fledged smart building, having a wireless network such as this lays an important foundation for the future.

At Trilliant, we offer a comprehensive suite of products and solutions to submeter all primary commodities including electricity, water and heat – the priority applications to maximize efficiency. As Canada and other countries continue to implement sustainability initiatives, certifications such as LEED will become an increasingly valuable recognition for homeowners and buyers interested in reducing their carbon footprint by living in a sustainable home.

To speed up the evolution, Trilliant has developed the Meter Interface Hub – a small in-suite device that interfaces with water and heat meters. It securely sends data, via the same Access Point as the electricity submeters, to the Management System where the date is processed, validated, converged with other relevant data, presented to the operator and made available for billing.

The evolution from submetering to smart buildings

One of the earliest forays into the smart building and even the smart city space is lighting control, which can be enabled with most modern luminaires such as those sporting a 7-pin NEMA socket. The controllers provide remote dimming and other controls for lights around the condominium campus, accurately measure exactly how much energy each luminaire is consuming, alert the building operator if the light is on during the day, and a wealth of other useful information. Most importantly, this lighting control requires no additional infrastructure thanks to the high node management capacity of the SecureReach® Access Point.

Even simple implementations such as this provide immense efficiencies and a wealth of actionable information. What’s more, they can be monetized to recoup the initial investment, and even turn a profit. For example, a condominium corporation could offer to utilize “spill-over” coverage from its smart building to offer streetlight control and management services to the municipality, thereby enhancing efficiency and quality of life in a much larger area. Furthermore, with the growing use of electric vehicles (EV), connectivity and monitoring of EV applications using wireless greatly simplifies the adoption of this technology. Building and property managers can leverage the smart building and EV infrastructure to ensure optimal energy utilization, manage demand, and monitor other building operational efficiency metrics.

With such positive social responsibility, our collective sustainability goals, healthier living spaces and reduced impact on the environment well within reach, smart cities don’t seem so far into the future.