Meter Reading Technology Makes Submetering Practical, Attractive
By Teresa Hansen, Managing Editor
Thanks to today`s technology, reading meters is becoming easier, quicker and in many cases, cheaper. Utilities, cooperatives and municipalities have long been interested in improving their meter reading processes and strategies. However, these traditional entities are not the only ones interested in metering technology. Many owners and managers of large residential and commercial buildings, as well as established meter reading companies, are also looking for technology that can be used in submetering applications.
Submetering is individually metering each unit or tenant of a multi-family housing unit or commercial building, thus making tenants responsible for their utility consumption. Submetering is beneficial to many different types of residential buildings including apartments, cooperatives and condominiums, as well as commercial buildings such as shopping centers and office complexes.
Up until the last few years, tenants in these type buildings often split the cost of the various utilities (electric, water and gas) evenly, regardless of individual consumption. This was necessary because most of the buildings had nothing more than a “master meter” installed at the main service entrance, which measured the usage for the entire building. The utility service was then distributed to the building`s tenants with no other metering involved. Since there were no other meters, there was no way to determine when, where and how the tenants were consuming the services. Not only was this unfair to many tenants, according to Richard Fazio, New York City-based Bay City Metering Co.`s operations director, it was also not practical, at least not with electricity.
The cost of electricity makes it necessary, at least in large commercial buildings, to take advantage of bulk rate savings, Fazio explained. The only way to do this is to use a master meter. However, it is no longer practical to charge each tenant a flat rate, such as one dollar per square foot. With the increasing use of electrical and electronic equipment in commercial buildings, most tenants want to know how much electricity they are consuming and they expect to pay only for that amount.
Submetering and Metering Companies
In the past decade technology advancements have made submetering a practical and attractive solution to this dilemma for building owners and meter reading companies alike. For example, Bay City Metering Co. is currently reading more than 1,200 meters a day with only five meter readers. “Fifteen years ago, we were delighted to read 800 to 1,000 (meters) each month,” said Jim Carey, Bay City`s president. The meter reading company has made these strides by investing in a handheld meter reading solution.
According to Fazio, with the new system, Bay City can read a meter, generate the customer`s bill and handle all customer complaints for about $2.75 per month per meter. Basically, the meter reading company serves as the utility, he said.
Prior to implementation of the handheld system, Bay City had been reading 23,000 meters manually with pencils and cards. The human errors and keypunch mistakes became obsolete when the company bought the new system. After learning to use the system, the five meter readers found handhelds easier and faster. However, the units began breaking and servicing them became intolerable.
“It got to the point that we would try to repair the units internally because it would take weeks to send in a handheld and wait for it to return,” said Tony Lasquadro, Bay City`s computer operations director. “We knew we had to upgrade our system or look into getting a new solution. We looked at all the systems that were available. We wanted a probing device and a system that could take us into the future from start to finish. More importantly, we wanted to marry together technology and the after sales support.”
The company chose Schlumberger`s MAPS Handheld System. “We took our new technology to a new level of business U and once we made a decision to work-out the intricacies, we took each step one at a time to make the programs better and more efficient with the data we were collecting and downloading from the reads,” Fazio said.
According to Carey, with the new system, the 25-year-old metering company now has the potential to look for opportunities to expand its business. “Double it, triple it, and with confidence–take off and grow,” said Carey.
Submetering and Owners/Managers
Submetering and advances in metering technology are also important to owners or managers of commercial buildings. Shirley Lemmon, apartment manager for 150 West 55th in New York City, is an example of a building manager who recognized the importance of submetering. She aggressively researched methods to save the 10-story, 52 apartment unit building money. As a member of the apartment housing board of directors, she had a mission to help her shareholders save money and improve the 80/20 rule in New York. The 80/20 rule states that one cannot receive a higher income within the apartment complex than 80 percent above the total revenue earned by the shareholders. Her goal was twofold. She wanted to save money for the building and she wanted to save money for her building`s shareholders.
She targeted her estimated utility bills and tried to deal directly with Consolidated Edison, the investor-owned utility that services her building. “Our utility was not responsive,” Lemmon said. “So I thought I would contact the meter manufacturer–Schlumberger. Although I didn`t know how to pronounce the name, I spelled it out and through a few telephone calls, learned how to get in touch with Atlantic Meter Supply, Schlumberger`s distributor in New York.”
“When Shirley called I was actually surprised that this woman was interested in buying a radio frequency submetering system for herself,” said R.J. Carey, Atlantic Metering`s president. “She wanted to automatically read the meters in her building without redoing the wiring, or incurring extra expense.”
According to Lemmon, she was tired of trying to get keys from her apartment dwellers, and she wanted to save everyone money. “It wasn`t fair for a retired woman who rarely plays the radio to pay for John Doe`s stereo, television, computers, refrigerators and video games soaking up the electricity. And, combined with the 80/20 rule in New York City allowing apartment boards to help everyone benefit from this investment, it makes sense. I didn`t have a problem discussing the issues with our board and disclosing the plan to our primary residents.”
Using money from the building`s reserve fund, Lemmon invested in Schlumberger`s R300 radio frequency electric watt-hour meters and MAPS handheld meter reading systems. “We can`t believe the system is paying for itself so quickly,” she said. “We are saving approximately $1,500 a month in the winter months and expect a higher savings in the summer months. Every utility in the world should be doing this.”
Lemmon takes great pride in reading all her meters with the handheld system in the elevator and downloading the data directly into her personal computer. “I don`t always trust things either,” she said. “After reading all the radio meters in our facility, I manually read the meter in my own apartment and check the read from my handheld. It checks out exactly.”
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Currently, Bay City is reading 25,000 electric meters and a few water meters with six handheld units.
By investing in a handheld meter reading system, the residents of 150 West 55th Street Apartments are collectively saving more than $1,500 each month on their utility bills.