A Shot In The Arm
Point-of-use energy consumption measurement removes bias against hydronic systems.
The terms BTU metering and energy metering are used interchangeably in the context of buildings with central production of hydronic heating or hydronic heating/cooling energy. Effectively, BTU metering is the downstream measurement of energy consumption at point-of-use, functioning as a sub-set measurement for the purpose of user-pay billing (pay per use) in private, closed-loop mechanical systems. This is opposed to the traditional arrangement where total energy consumptive costs as billed by the public utility (gas or electric), are apportioned based on a per cent of the total square footage, or some other equal cost sharing formula.
HOW IS THE MARKET EVOLVING IN CANADA?
Recent BTU metering projects in British Columbia were carried out on the authority of the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC). Fortis Energy (FEI), along with other industry stakeholders, made application to BCUC to permit the use of BTU meters for billing purposes. This was necessary as private companies providing billing services are acting as “Private Utilities” and must operate under exemption from the Provincial Utilities Commission.
On June 14, 2007, the Commission issued Order No. G-65-07, which approved amendments to the FEI general terms and conditions to include definitions to allow for thermal metering. This opened the door for non-utility energy consultants to supply and monitor BTU meters for billing purposes. Further to this, Commission Order No. G-65-07 directed FEI to file reports annually on the Thermal Metering Pilot project by July 15 each year starting in 2008 and each year thereafter through 2012 inclusive. Subsequent to that, on November 5, 2012 the Commission received an application- Application for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the TELUS Garden Thermal Energy System and for Approval of the Rate Design and Rates to Provide Thermal Energy Services to Customers at TELUS Garden Development. This was the first of what are now many projects that include the use of BTU meters for billing purposes. It should be noted that an application was made to BCUC and the initial pilot project received an extension through 2017.
WHAT IS DRIVING THIS TECHNOLOGY?
Design knowledge and the product supply chain have both evolved and these functions are no longer concentrated solely within the traditional plumbing and heating or HVAC supply chain. This has opened the door for new companies to enter into the design and supply of heating/cooling products and systems. Further, a new emphasis on evolved green building methods (more efficient building envelopes as an example) and design Standards such as LEED are contributing to this trend.
The drive to conserve energy and penalize over-consumption or waste was motivated by rising energy costs. Those factors now bear significant influence in making life-style choices or purchasing decisions. The next evolution in this is an awareness of the capability to facilitate equity in billing for consumers, homeowners and tenants who share common spaces in public and private buildings. The development community see this as an opportunity to increase the profitability of their projects. Energy utilities see it as an opportunity to encourage conservation, increase system (especially distribution) efficiencies and manage demand.
Fortis Energy noted the following in its 2011-2012 Thermal Metering Annual Report dated July 13, 2012:
“Through consultations with developers and property managers, the Company has discerned that the use of central hydronic systems is often discouraged by property managers and developers of vertical subdivisions in favour of electric baseboard heating, to more easily allow for the individual metering and billing of heating costs. The bias is driven by consumer demand to manage and control their own energy use (and discourage free-ridership within a complex), as well as the perceived competitive advantage that comes through reducing the costs that must be included in monthly strata/condo fees. Many complaints and disputes brought to property managers are a result of the inability to individually meter each suite’s energy usage. The introduction of thermal metering to strata developments provides the Company and consumers with a natural gas solution for individual metering within strata units. Further, providing sustainable energy management and encouraging conservation and demand side management continue to be key values for FEI. Thermal metering will provide British Columbians with a sustainable and conservationist approach to residential development by providing them with an option to take control of their energy use.”
These observations point to a great opportunity for hydronic heating, including combined radiant heating and radiant cooling to move into the popular lexicon. The challenge for our industry is to ensure that we have a seat at the table as new regulations and requirements are developed to bring this technology into the mainstream. To date, this has not been the case.
regulatory and product approval landscape
What is new here is that BTU meters are moving from the realm of simple measurement into use as billing devices. That raises some regulatory questions on the municipal, provincial and federal levels. The issue is analogous to a gas pump that is measured and calibrated in accordance with the prescriptive requirements governed by Industry Canada – Measurement Canada under the mandate of the Weights and Measures Act.
There is no specific legislation or guideline in place from Measurement Canada to govern the suitability or certification of BTU meters in Canada, thus these devices are not currently regulated under the Weights and Measures Act. To help clarify, Carl Cotton, manager–weighing and measuring division, Measurement Canada, explained:
“Regulation of trade measurement is a federal jurisdiction set out in section 91 of the Constitution Act. Consequently, Measurement Canada will not be required to enact new legislation in order to implement the recommendations that came out of the trade sector review for the Steam and Thermal Energy Sector. Some regulatory amendments (specifications related to this type of technology which will likely be based on existing international requirements like OIML or EN) will need to be put into place. Many of the provinces may have legislation/requirements related to utilities and metering. It is possible that some of these requirements are more stringent than Measurement Canada’s. Our position has been not to interfere with the provincial authorities in these instances, so long as their requirements do not contradict Measurement Canada’s or attempt to set laxer requirements. It looks like BC is using the notion of pilot projects in order to allow the introduction of thermal energy metering. I am not familiar with the British Columbia Utilities Commission Act and regulations so I couldn’t comment on whether this is within the commission’s purview. Part of what we will need to look at when we begin our work on implementing the trade sector review recommendations will be what each province is doing to allow/prohibit the use of this type of device and ensure that our requirements do not conflict with provincial approaches.”
It should be noted that CSA has published the C900 Standard for Heat/Energy/Thermal Meters (see Figure 1), which is based on the European CEN-1434 2007 standard. There are six major components to the Standard. C900.1-13 and C900.6-13 appear to be relevant to the involvement of our industry, most likely represented by the Canadian Institute of Plumbing and Heating through the Canadian Hydronics Council.
We have a long way to go before BTU metering becomes ubiquitous and hydronic heating/cooling are mainstream. A fully-vetted, consensus Standard, along with guidelines requiring manufacturers meet a single stated accuracy level to ensure ongoing “in service” accuracy (to protect consumers from erroneous billing) are what is needed to advance this technology. Engineers, contractors and ultimately consumers would trust that they have a reliable range of products to choose from and can choose what best suits their needs. <>
Mark Evans has held positions of increasing responsibility at the regional and national level of the wholesale supply, rep agency and manufacturing sectors of the plumbing and heating industry.
See Mark at the Modern Hydronics-Summit 2015 on September 10, 2015. For more information, see www.modernhydronicssummit.com.
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May 11, 2022