Self-powered wireless technology adds flexibility to smart buildings

Future trends in building automation solve many problems with increased flexibility and wireless technology.

By Neil Cannon, EnOcean Inc., Cottonwood Heights, Utah February 9, 2017

The Internet of Things (IoT) is becoming increasingly important in the construction sector. Interoperability, flexibility, and automation are essential requirements for smart buildings, whatever the building’s intended purpose. Construction always requires looking ahead, often anticipating a 50-year life. Therefore, remaining flexible and able to react to major future trends and new building uses is paramount in choosing building technologies.

The future of building automation

Flexibility is the greatest potential factor that investors can tap into for commercial buildings. The days when a finished building served only one customer and one purpose are long gone. Particularly in large cities, builders must be able to remodel commercial buildings as quickly as possible.

Although rapid remodeling is not new, it comes with a number of problems, especially in terms of cabling. Ceiling wiring and floor tracks for electricity, networks, and lights may enable investors and planners to change walls dynamically. However, once classic room thermostats, doorbells, switches, or sensors are added and wired in, changing the layout becomes difficult and expensive.

A new generation of building-automation solutions based on self-powered wireless switches and sensors is the answer-retaining flexibility and adaptability and allowing the needs of a succession of occupiers to be addressed fully at minimal expense. They rely on modern wireless protocols for communication and, more important, generate the necessary electricity themselves, which means they are not dependent on batteries. As a result, they give investors unprecedented flexibility in outfitting new or existing buildings. Spaces for which the purpose or use is not yet known can be placed into service with one- or two-room thermostats, relays and switches for lighting and shading controls without having to lay any new cables. A tenant can add to these systems easily, at will and integrate them into the overall building control technology.

Smart scenarios, intelligent data analyses

Self-powered wireless technology is practical. It also permits entirely new smart scenarios. For example, it is possible to mount light switches directly on workstations or place a master “all off” switch right at the entrance. In addition, the economical sensors enable the room climate to be precisely monitored. All end points can transmit their data to a central system, which evaluates the information and makes decisions according to the rules that minimize energy and optimize occupants’ comfort. The system is not limited to temperature. With the right sensors air quality, energy consumption values, or usage frequency can also be detected by the minute and made available to the building owner, operator or tenant.

The best part is that the data itself is not tied to a specific purpose. Tenants or the operator can use the information for their own analyses. Investors can track the performance of their property over time. It is even possible to evaluate the data again at a later point, for example, when technologies such as IoT make it possible to develop new business models.

Flexibility, time savings, and future viability

Studies have shown that decoupling the inner walls and electrical system alone saves up to 3 months of time during a renovation. This means 3 months of more income or 3 fewer months of limitations inherent to older wired solutions. Thermostats, sensors, and other end points can be removed and relocated, and larger systems installed in ceilings can be easily repurposed numerous times. The actual intelligence lies in the building control system and, once installed, needs to be changed only when maintenance or an upgrade is needed. Tenants can change floor plans in the system with a minimum amount of effort, and the building systems are adapted accordingly.

Neil Cannon is the president of EnOcean Inc.