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Utility Cost Recovery: A Two-Sided Approach

| Fred Deibel

Introduction                      

When Second Sight Systems received a call from CBRE in the Fall of 2017, it had no idea the extent of what it would encounter during an audit in the following weeks to come.

CBRE is a real estate service provider for commercial properties across the United States and manages several small office and storefront complexes in the Dallas, TX metropolitan area. One such building, Mockingbird Station, serves as a commercial and residential center for nearly 500,000 people within a 5-mile radius. Mockingbird Station supports several unique businesses and loft-style apartment buildings, strategically located near affluent Dallas suburbs and Southern Methodist University.

 

Every business in Mockingbird Station accesses water and electric service through individual submeters, consisting of 42 water meters and 34 electric meters throughout the complex. CBRE had previously hired a utility contractor to manage meter reading and invoice reporting throughout the Mockingbird Station complex.

The Problem

After some time, CBRE noticed an increase in complaints from businesses due to irregularities in their utility costs. It became clear that the contractor’s technicians were not physically reading every meter in the complex, instead relying on usage estimates for many of the businesses leasing space in Mockingbird Station. This led to customer dissatisfaction and a potential financial shortfall on recapturing utility costs for CBRE.

CBRE hired Second Sight Systems to develop an approach that mitigated the billing irregularities and costs throughout Mockingbird Station. They needed a complete replacement of their existing meter service, including an audit of all the meters in the property, to improve billing and invoicing.

Meter Reading Services: Custom Solutions                                

Due to Second Sight System’s established expertise in meter services for utilities and commercial property managers, we were able to step in and implement a comprehensive solution that corrected inaccuracies and lowered costs.

Second Sight began the process by conducting a free comprehensive audit of all meters in Mockingbird Station. Not all meters utilize the same multipliers to determine usage, so it was crucial to establish the multipliers and accuracy of each meter to ensure precise readings. Second Sight confirmed all meter locations, IDs, and multipliers to create a complete record of all meters on the property that could be used as a guideline for data collection efforts.

 

Following this, Second Sight implemented a full-scale meter reading effort in which trained technicians performed physical monthly meter reads for all units. Since the previous contractor estimated many of the meters monthly, our approach of physically confirming usage for every meter led to an increase in accurate monthly billing. Alongside our audit, we immediately and exponentially increased the accuracy of utility meter reads throughout Mockingbird Station.

To integrate data into CBRE’s existing system, Second Sight also consulted with CBRE personnel to develop a tailored data-reporting format using traditional MS Office applications. This meant that CBRE could take collected data and import it directly into CBRE databases with no conversion or translation, so data integrity was maintained across companies.

Another Problem solved

Furthermore, during the audit, it came to light that many of the water meters were in hard to access areas, as a result of the original commercial spaces being subdivided over the years by new tenants. Second Sight had to trace the lines and figure out which meters were servicing which units. The tenants were extremely unhappy and CBRE could not figure out how to solve the problem. It was a tangled web of lost meters and lost revenue.

Wireless Submeters: A Perfect Fit           

To make sure that the readings would remain accurate and that CBRE wouldn’t have to use a meter reader to access these difficult meters, Second Sight installed wireless transceivers from Next Century that attached to each water submeter. These state of the art  transceivers collect the water flow data and then transmit that data to the cloud where it can be accessed by the billing company through a web portal. All data is accessible on mobile apps which allows the end user to check the status of the equipment and other maintenance systems.

“Some of the water meters were in hard to reach places so the previous contractor completely ignored them. We now have accurate data and tenants are being billed for their actual usage. “ Dusty Phomsouvanh – Site Manager

The data can be manipulated into any invoicing system that is required by the end user. Furthermore, they can detect leaks, high consumption and other emergencies that arise. Shortly after we had installed these transceivers, we received an alert from a vacant unit showing extremely high water usage.

We alerted the engineering department at CBRE, and after they entered the unit, they discovered a toilet had a flap open and water was continuously pouring out. Since the unit was vacant this might not have been discovered for a very long time. The wireless submeter had already saved CBRE lost revenue.

Results

The two-sided approach of first analyzing the problems and instituting manual reads to capture the actual data, and then installing wireless transceivers on the difficult to access meters was a perfect custom solution. With Second Sight Systems managing meter reads, utility charges for businesses in Mockingbird station stabilized. Businesses leasing space in Mockingbird Station were satisfied that their water and electrical bills reflected actual usage and not estimates. And CBRE was satisfied that monthly utility charges would not reflect an underestimation of actual use. Not only did CBRE avoid a customer service nightmare, but they also felt confident that they had significantly cut losses in monthly revenue due to inaccurate meter reads by the previous contractor.

 

About Us

Founded in 1999, Second Sight Systems is a total solutions provider for utility communications and technical field services.  Our Utility Field Services team is a provider of outsourced utility field operations and metering services to help improve efficiency, productivity, and response time.  Second Sight Systems provides comprehensive utility cost recovery programs for multi-unit and commercial properties.  This includes electric, gas and water.  We can deliver a full solution including system design, equipment, installation, reading and billing services.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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