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Government Issues Building Energy and Water Submetering Report

WASHINGTON, D.C.—A new interagency report recommends systematic consideration of new metering technologies that can yield up-to-date, finely grained snapshots of energy and water usage in commercial and residential buildings to guide efficiency improvements and capture the advantages of a modernized electric power grid.

While the return on investment (ROI) for these monitoring and measurement technologies—or 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," concludes the report,Submetering of Building Energy and Water Usage: Analysis and Recommendations of the Subcommittee on Buildings Technology Research and Development. "Further, submetering provides the necessary infrastructure for more advanced conservation and efficiency techniques."

The report is a product of the Buildings Technology Research and Development Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), a cabinet-level council that is the principal means within the executive branch to coordinate science and technology policy across the diverse entities that make up the federal research and development enterprise. The subcommittee is currently co-chaired by Roland Risser, manager of the Buildings Technologies Program at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and William Grosshandler, deputy director of the Engineering Laboratory at the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

The report notes that devices to monitor and measure resource use can be deployed at successively finer levels of resolution, from individual buildings and rooms in a complex down to specific building systems or water and electrical outlets. As compared with one-time, large-scale audits of energy or water use, submetering provides specific, real-time information that can be used to pinpoint variations in performance, optimize automated building systems, and encourage building managers and occupants to adopt energy-conserving behaviors. Each of these potential outcomes can dramatically improve building performance and lead to reduced resource consumption.

Commercial and residential buildings consume vast amounts of energy, water, and material resources. In fact, U.S. buildings account for more than 40 percent of total U.S. energy consumption, including 72 percent of electricity use. If current trends continue, buildings worldwide will be the largest consumer of global energy by 2025. By 2050, buildings are likely to use as much energy as the transportation and industrial sectors combined.

Formally, submetering is the installation of metering devices to measure actual energy or water consumption at points beyond the primary utility meter on a campus or building. Submetering allows building owners to monitor energy or water usage for individual tenants, departments, pieces of equipment or other loads to account for their specific usage. Submetering technologies enable building owners to optimize design and retrofit strategies to energy and water management procedures more efficient and effective.

"Submetering is essential to getting the best performance out of buildings—both new and old," said DOE's Risser. "By providing designers, building managers and occupants with more information about their energy use, submetering helps improve building efficiency, which reduces energy waste and saves money for families and businesses,"

Shyam Sunder, director of NIST's Engineering Laboratory and former subcommittee co-chair who led the report's development added: "This report provides the basics that building owners need to make the most of these 'smart' energy-measuring technologies—to help them weigh benefits and costs and to determine which applications at what scale will work best for them."

The NSTC report provides an overview of the key elements of submetering and associated energy management systems to foster understanding of associated benefits and complexities. It documents the current state of submetering and provides relevant case studies and preliminary findings relating to submetering system costs and ROI. The report also addresses gaps, challenges and barriers to widespread acceptance along with descriptive candidate areas where additional development or progress is required. It also surveys policy options for changing current buildings-sector practices.

The report responds to provisions in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005, Public Law No. 109-58) and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EIS Act 2007, Public Law No. 110-140) to enhance federal R&D that could enable more efficient and higher performance of residential and commercial buildings. The report also will assist federal building owners in meeting energy and water conservation and reporting requirements set forth in Presidential Executive Order 13514, "Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance."

The 74-page report can be downloaded from:

Read Smart Buildings = Better Buildings, by Nick Sinai, senior advisor to the U.S. chief technology officer, on the Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog:

Released November 8, 2011, Updated February 2, 2023