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Embrace intelligent buildings for extra revenue

Jul 2013 Smart Homes | Comments Off on Embrace intelligent buildings for extra revenue
Embrace intelligent buildings for extra revenue

The potential of smart technology and automation solutions have been espoused by industry experts for years, but many contractors and end users haven’t yet taken full advantage of the products and options available to them. With lowering technology costs and increased interoperability on the rise, the partnership between smart technology and intelligent buildings will soon be commonplace, as Jason Ng explains.

In the UK, there will be fewer new build opportunities in the coming years. This presents a challenge for the industry, but also an opportunity. Retrofit projects are likely to increase dramatically, providing an excellent up-sell opportunity for the forward-thinking contractor.

The power of Z-wave

One such opportunity is wireless lighting and intelligent automation systems, ideal for retrofit projects, as existing wiring in a building can be used. With robust protocols such as Z-Wave incorporating MESH capabilities, wireless lighting controls have never been so reliable.

The MESH capability within Z-Wave allows over 200 mains-powered devices, such as switches and dimmers, to act as independent routers. Z-Wave differs from other wireless protocols because the devices can all communicate with each other via multiple hops – up to four in total. The MESH network automatically chooses the optimum path to transmit a signal from one device to another, and because there is more than one path available between the source and the destination of the signal, these networks are incredibly reliable.

Today technologies like Z-Wave – an open protocol with over 160 manufacturer members – allow the integration of products and systems, beyond lighting control, from different manufacturers into a cohesive home automation system.

Control from afar

The app market is growing at a rapid pace, with Gartner data showing app store downloads are expected to increase by 280% from 2013 to 2016.1 For that reason, customers are increasingly looking to their smartphones or tablets to take control of their automation system – not just inside the property, but from anywhere in the world.

For example, lights or heating can be programmed or scheduled to operate at certain times, and even to simulate occupancy while on holiday. Sensors can also be programmed with dual functions. If the owner is not onsite, the sensor could trigger the alarm if movement is detected. But at night, the same sensor could be programmed to turn on the lights when someone accesses a certain room of the building.

The possibilities are endless, and the system is completely scalable, meaning you can start with something basic, and add more devices and capabilities as and when required.

A switch solution

Switch technology and automated systems that need no wiring, use no batteries and are effortless to install and commission are also opening up a raft of new opportunities for electrical contractors. The technology enables them to create bespoke, intelligent control systems for building owners and users in homes, hotels, offices and other premises.

With the ability to incorporate a range of transmitters within switches, temperature sensors and presence detectors, alongside a range of receivers, contractors can design a flexible system which can deliver safety, comfort, cost savings and energy efficiency for the building owner or user.

EnOcean-based products, using energy harvesting wireless technology, make use of the energy generated by slight changes in pressure, light levels or temperature to provide self-powered, battery-less and wireless solutions. EnOcean harvests tiny amounts of ambient energy which power a switch transmitter to send an RF signal to the switch receiver which is connected to the lighting circuit.

The installation of a lighting control and switching solution at Macclesfield Town Hall – a historic, Georgian building in the Cheshire market town – effectively illustrates the power of EnOcean technology. The installation saw wireless switches used in conjunction with a control panel. This solution which meant that no switches would run out of power when lighting was in use, saved time and cost and avoided the channelling of walls, or use of unsightly conduit in a beautiful listed building.

What’s hiding in your cupboard?

Finally, ‘forgotten’ energy stealers like storage rooms and utility areas – anywhere lights can be left on unnecessarily for long periods – are another area that electrical contractors can address using intelligent lighting technology.

Batten mounted sensors offer advanced occupancy detection technology in a package that is quick and easy to fit. This purpose-designed range of PIR detectors offers a variety of functions to suit all applications in an aesthetically pleasing design, and can deliver energy savings of up to 80%.

In summary

Electrical contractors now, more than ever, have the opportunity to include intelligent building technologies in both new build and retrofit projects in the years ahead. To take full advantage of smart building automation systems, switch technology and the use of advanced occupancy detection, they should invest in the necessary skills in order to grow their business. This is a smart approach the industry can’t afford to miss out on.

1 Gartner; Market Trends: Mobile App Stores, Worldwide, 2012, August 2012