If you’re a sustainability professional in real estate, chances are you’ve heard a certain term crop up with increasing frequency in recent months: shadow metering.
Shadow metering has emerged as an undeniably hot topic in real estate, and for good reason. Traditional methods of acquiring and interpreting energy data (such as collecting utility bills) can be riddled with complexity, errors, and obstacles, particularly where triple-net assets are concerned.
Herein lies the allure of shadow metering as an alternative data capture strategy. Shadow metering has wide applicability, cutting across asset types and lease structures, and harnesses the power of automation to extract real-time energy data from buildings. This data, rich in accuracy and insight, can play a pivotal role in fueling a wide range of sustainability initiatives, from ESG reporting to benchmarking compliance to energy optimization programs.
In this article, we’ll cover the ins and outs of shadow metering as an energy data acquisition strategy and share pros, cons, and practical considerations to take into account.
Shadow metering is a data capture approach that enables landlords to monitor and report energy consumption without needing to access tenant-owned bills or equipment. It involves installing an additional meter (or meters) to track real-time energy consumption, either for the whole building or within specific spaces. The meter is installed in parallel with the main utility meter, often by connecting to the utility’s current transformers (CTs), hence the term “shadow metering.”
Due to its broad applicability, shadow metering is an excellent option for capturing and managing energy data across a portfolio, especially from triple-net assets where other data acquisition methods may be less feasible. It also guarantees ongoing access to automated, high-quality data; while managing bill data across a portfolio can be labor-intensive, error-prone, and subject to restrictions, shadow metering will deliver a steady stream of automated real-time data that can be used for ESG reporting, benchmarking compliance, and energy and carbon management programs alike.
Shadow metering has numerous benefits relative to other common energy data capture approaches, including:
Interested in shadow metering for energy data capture, ESG reporting, sustainability project management, or Scope 1/2/3 allocation? Aquicore can help! Learn more and get in touch with us here.
As noted above, shadow metering entails installing an additional building meter (or meters). This installation process is a key component in enabling the accurate and continuous monitoring of energy usage to support sustainability initiatives. A typical installation process may run as follows:
1. Conduct a Site Assessment
Before installing one or more shadow meters, it is essential to conduct a thorough assessment of the building's layout, equipment, and infrastructure. This assessment helps determine the optimal locations for meter installation. At minimum, the location should allow for comprehensive whole-building data capture while considering factors such as the placement of existing utility meters, tenant spaces, and areas with varying energy demands.
2. Select Meters
The next step is to determine the appropriate type and number of shadow meters for the building's specific requirements. Depending on site complexity and the level of data granularity desired, an owner might choose to install a shadow meter for the entire building, or deploy submetering to track energy consumption in individual spaces or tenant areas (e.g. for accurate Scope allocation as described above). In addition to facilitating carbon accounting, submetering can also provide more detailed insights into energy usage and allow for precise allocation of energy costs (e.g. to bill back tenants).
3. Coordinate with Utility Providers as Needed:
After conducting a site assessment, it is important to coordinate with applicable utility providers to ensure a smooth installation process. The shadow meters often connect to the utility company's CTs to measure and record energy consumption in parallel with the main utility meters. Working closely with utility providers will help ensure that the installation is compliant with regulations and relevant technical specifications.
4. Install Meters
The physical installation of shadow meters involves connecting the meters to the appropriate points in the electrical system, often near the main utility meters. This can involve wiring and electrical work, which should be carried out by qualified professionals to ensure safety and accurate configuration.
5. Calibrate, Test, and Commission
After installation, it's crucial to calibrate and test the shadow meters to ensure they are accurately measuring energy consumption. Commissioning should involve comparing the readings from the shadow meters with those from the main utility meters to validate their accuracy and recording the results.
6. Integrate and Monitor Data with Software
Shadow meters are equipped with sensors and communication capabilities to transmit real-time energy consumption data. This data can be integrated into energy and sustainability management platforms, allowing sustainability and property-level teams to monitor energy usage trends, identify anomalies, and make informed decisions to optimize efficiency. Additionally, many cloud-based platforms (like Aquicore) include automated alerting capabilities to proactively flag data quality issues and potential outages, ensuring your data remains in tip-top shape.
Shadow metering is frequently authorized under most leases, including – importantly – triple-net leases. This occurs through provisions relating to site access, equipment ownership, and affordances made to the landlord to satisfy investor needs and other reporting requirements. That said, every lease is different, and it is always advisable to review lease language carefully and coordinate with your legal team when there are questions. It is also best practice to engage tenants with your sustainability program by openly communicating the mutual benefits of energy data capture for reporting, compliance, and ongoing optimizations that reduce spend and emissions and improve building sustainability.
Shadow metering involves upfront equipment and installation costs which can vary depending on the building, region, and utility provider. However, as you consider a data capture strategy across your portfolio, it is important to evaluate one-time installation costs against the ongoing costs associated with other methods, which may come in the form of time spent on manual processes (including data collection, management, analysis, and validation), additional headcount, consultants and third parties, and incurred energy costs from missed issues and opportunities. Weighed against the lifetime of the equipment, the high-quality energy data that it will continue to deliver in support of ongoing energy optimization and sustainability initiatives and regulatory compliance, and the related risk that is mitigated by guaranteed energy data access, shadow metering emerges as a cost-effective and efficient data strategy relative to other options.
Installing shadow meters is a savvy and proactive step towards data-driven energy management and sustainability. By capturing real-time energy consumption data through shadow meters, sustainability teams, property managers and building engineers alike can make informed decisions that reduce energy and emissions, lower costs, meet regulatory requirements, enhance tenant comfort, and demonstrate a commitment to environmental responsibility