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Building automation today brings greater functionality with lower carbon emission

May 2013 Smart Homes | Comments Off on Building automation today brings greater functionality with lower carbon emission
Building automation today brings greater functionality with lower carbon emission
 

In this article, Richard Hayward, discusses today’s significant shift in emphasis in building automation specification from ‘wow factor’ to low carbon using both hard-wired and wireless technologies, as well as systems that are interoperable across varied protocols.

Even in a sector as fast moving as electrical specification, building automation is the new kid on the block. Not so very long ago it was largely regarded as ‘techno-bling’ for the homes of the rich and famous…but that’s no longer true.

Legrand’s experience, both in Europe and the USA, indicates that many specifiers still select their smart automation systems for the cachet of being able to switch their home to welcome scene from the other side of the world or have the lights switch on for them when the sun goes behind a cloud.

However, in these carbon conscious times, building automation has a much more serious purpose than providing novelty factor for prestige buildings. For example, specifiers across Europe can be helped to enhance load shedding capabilities, reduce energy consumption and drive down carbon emissions.

As specifiers in the UK address the need to meet Government targets for zero carbon buildings and corporates consider the effects of environmental performance on their reputation and their share price, building automation has become an important tool in managing energy consumption and reducing carbon footprint here too.

Growing demand

While the economic climate has made ‘value engineering’ into the construction sector’s most popular buzzword, the value of smart controls in terms of both wow factor and energy conservation means that it hasn’t been engineered out of the specification for luxury homes or prestige offices. Indeed, there has been a steady growth in adoption of smart homes technology over the past few years, and the growth in smart TVs, laptops and mobile devices has helped consumers embrace advances in smart technologies.

In the commercial market, meanwhile, we’re now seeing significant potential in the retail, hospitality and office sectors from SME level upwards. Much of the reason for this is that smart building automation provides a flexible and scalable answer to the problem of conserving energy and reducing carbon emissions, without incurring a nuisance factor for occupants. The key to achieving the optimum benefits from this technology is to design the building automation into the building at the earliest stage, taking into account the layout, orientation, location, thermal performance and function of the property to ensure that the system’s capabilities are aligned to the needs of both building and occupier.

Specifying the system

By considering the building automation requirements early in the design process, the specifier can ensure that they create a bespoke solution that fits the needs of the end user. However, those requirements can change, so the system should be as flexible as it is tailored.

In order to achieve this, it is best to work with a manufacturer that has designed its systems to be interoperable across varied protocols so that the system can be adapted and scaled as required. Technological advancements over the past three or four years have made this multi-protocol approach more achievable and the growth of ‘plug and play’ products with improved design values to aid ease of installation and configuration have also helped deliver flexibility.

We have pioneered this cross-protocol approach by combining protocol gateways and devising an open web language to enable communication between devices from most manufacturers and facilitate easier selection of functions and application systems.

While the best approach for a new build property is to install a wired infrastructure that can be adapted with the addition of new controls and re-programming of pre-set scenes and linked events, when refurbishing an existing property, a wireless system may be more practical. This avoids the cost and disruption of re-wiring and by using the ZigBee wireless protocol that works on a mesh network, yet with similar levels of functionality.

Carbon savings

The development of smart building automation technology has not only enhanced the end user experience, but has also greatly improved energy saving functionality: a key product development focus for manufacturers. The optimum system should combine pre-set scenes, sensors, timers and manual switching, encouraging good energy saving behaviours backed by an automated system.

The most carbon-efficient systems are now incorporating daylight harvesting capabilities that are aligned to pre-set optimum lumen levels. Here, the lights will dim if the natural light entering the room increases, reducing the draw on the grid. This functionality can also be linked to temperature monitoring, so that if the temperature in the room rises higher than the pre-set acceptable level, the system is programmed to recognise that the rise is because of solar gain. Therefore, it will close the blinds rather than switch on the air conditioning – a much more energy efficient way to maintain an ambient temperature.

Next…

As use of building automation grows and pressure continues to mount on the grid, the next big advance for the sector is likely to be selective powering down via a combination of smart controls and smart metering.

By linking smart meters to the building automation system, energy companies would be able to power down non-essential systems during times of peak consumption or peak tariff. While this could seem to be intrusive, it may only mean reducing the lumen level by a small percentage and may just provide one more answer to tackling the low carbon agenda.