Electrical sub metering at Defence

How do you turn around growth in electricity consumption in an organisation as dynamic as the Department of Defence?

Key Facts

Client: Department of Defence
Location: Canberra
Industry: Government
Project: Sub metering
Lead consultant:


Setting the scene

It is hard to imagine a more complex organisation than the Department of Defence. With over 21 000 individual facilities and a combined floor area of around 6 000 000 m2, it accounts for more than half of all stationary energy used by the Australian Government. It is also one of the most diverse agencies, with facilities ranging from accommodation, laboratories, docks, airstrips, to messes.

Operational requirements are also always changing due to new troop deployments, training activities and the procurement of new equipment like Abrams tanks for the Army, Joint Strike Fighters for the RAAF or advanced information and communications technologies to support Australian troops in training or in deployment overseas. At some bases, energy requirements can fluctuate more than 50% month to month depending on operational requirements.

With electricity prices forecast to double over the next 10 years and network constraints driving higher network and demand charges, Defence can anticipate a $120 million increase in its total annual electricity spend by 2020, as shown in

Electricity prices are rising as a result of a range of factors:

  • Major investment in our national electricity infrastructure is needed to keep pace with growing demand;
  • Volatility in the wholesale energy prices are resulting in higher retailer margins;
  • A number of new mandatory environmental charges, from the cost of renewable energy and energy efficiency targets, are increasing;
  • Scarcity of water and higher prices for gas, water and coal are driving up the costs of generation; and
  • The potential introduction of a price on carbon.

For Defence, reducing electricity consumption is central to achieving cost reductions through its Strategic Reform Program and in turn reduce greenhouse gas emissions for climate change mitigation. However efforts to set ‘gross consumption targets’ in the past have had limited success due to increases in operational requirements (demand for electricity), as well as a lack of reliable, disaggregated information on how electricity is used across the Defence estate.

Taking action on electricity growth

In response to these challenges, and with some support from consulting firm Energetics, Defence has been implementing a national strategy for energy efficiency improvement which will start to turn around growth in electricity consumption and deliver substantial cuts in costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

"Without sub metering we 'don't know what we don't know' - any energy efficiency efforts are merely a guess which is not sufficient basis for effort and investment." Energy and Sustainability Officer, ACT REGION

At the heart of the strategy is the roll-out of a national sub metering and performance management and reporting system. A trial installation of 320 new electrical sub meters has been completed, with each meter connected to a national energy and carbon reporting platform called CarbonScope. The system is web-based so Defence personnel and contractors, regardless of their location, can login securely, view, analyse and benchmark performance of individual buildings or groups of buildings by facility type. Information can be organised at a whole-of Defence level, and viewed down to the individual meter.

Building information is loaded into the system so that facility and environment managers can look at facility electricity usage by floor area for a range of facility groups and facility types, as listed in Figure 3. Down the track, in addition to floor area, other KPIs may be incorporated such as Mega Joules (MJ) per meal served, or MJ per training day.

Defence stakeholders can also access historical 30 minute interval data up to the previous day. Tariff information is being loaded to support demand management planning and business case development for new energy efficiency initiatives. The system also lets you compare current performance to expected performance to identify areas where equipment or control systems may have failed. Reports and charts can be queried or emailed to other users for follow-up. The outcome is that all stakeholders get a high degree of visibility of current electricity performance and trends so they can take the initiative on electricity reduction measures regardless of their background or level of technical expertise.

CASE STUDY 1: A Defence environment manager at Garden Island NSW is now able determine which ships are properly powering down when in berth over Christmas. Ensuring all ships are properly powered down can save Defence $170 000 per annum. No capital investment is required.

CASE STUDY 2: A simple timer control was installed to fix a problem where a small office building air conditioning system was running on the weekend [A]. This worked for a few weeks [B] however the timer was then manually overridden by a contractor resulting in 24/7 operation of the air conditioning plant [C]. The CarbonScopeTM reporting system allowed the Defence environment manager to pick up on the problem and correct it. Without sub metering and a user-friendly analysis tools, Defence might have wasted $14 000 per annum. No capital investment was required to stop this wastage.

CASE STUDY 3: A simple desktop review has identified opportunities to improve shut down procedures at a mid-sized administration building.

Over Christmas the building achieves a shut down load of around 120kW while normal weekend and after hours loads only reduce to 160kW. Improving weekend and after hours shut down procedures at this building can save Defence over $20 000 per annum. No capital investment is required.

The results of the trial have been very positive in terms of identified savings and stakeholder engagement. Regional personnel are already starting to use the CarbonScopeTM system to identify new energy efficiency opportunities, many of which are simple behaviour or control system changes that do not require any upfront capital investment (see the listed case studies for examples).
"The ability to see and analyse the submeter data on a database such as the CarbonScope system, has been so powerful in validating the business case for the Defence Submeter Program and proving the capacity to find real and immediate savings on a daily basis." Defence Submeter Program Manager

Lessons learned from the trial

A number of issues and opportunities were identified through the trial which Defence has considered in the design of the program going forward:

  • There is a high demand for timely, well presented sub metering data from the regional personnel, by both technical and non-technical groups across Defence.
  • User-friendly data management and reporting systems are critical to realising value from sub metering. Without a user-friendly reporting interface, sub meter data is only used infrequently and by technical users.
  • Strong centralised control of the program is required, in both a project management role, but also facilitating engagement of, and support by staff working in regional offices.
  • Centralising procurement hardware and reporting services to the national level has enhanced Defence’s buying power and produced consistent outcomes.
  • Making good progress on the sub metering program and broader strategy requires resourcing and cross-organisational commitment from environment, property and procurement groups as well as service personnel themselves. However, applying greater resources also increases the net benefits.

Next Steps

Over the next two years Defence expects to complete the roll-out of over 2 000 electrical sub meters, all connected to the national host. The next steps include setting performance benchmarks for facilities groups and exploring potential energy efficiency targets.
The sub metering and data management system will enable further advancement in the investigation of opportunities such as:

  • Development of site-wide energy management plans.
  • Green building verification – are they working as well as they were designed?
  • Green building design optimisation studies for Defence- specific facility types.
  • Renewable energy opportunity reviews.
  • Cogeneration/trigeneration portfolio reviews.
  • Facilitate energy performance contracting (EPC) / Gain sharing arrangements.
  • Demand management/contract optimisation.
  • Operation and maintenance contract optimisation.