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Remote access for the smart consumer

May 2016 Smart Homes | Comments Off on Remote access for the smart consumer
Remote access for the smart consumer

The Internet of Things promises a brave new world of connected devices, smart cities and homes and – ultimately – better living, says Schneider Electric’s channel marketing engineer Asad Zaidi

According to technology research firm TechNavio, the number of connected devices is expected to pass 17 billion in the next five years. The ability of devices to connect to each other and feed back important information should lay the path for a smarter, more holistic, way of managing and interacting with our environments, where continual improvements and efficiencies can be gained.

For the consumer market, smart thermostats such as Nest and Hive have already hit the headlines. And Drayton by Schneider Electric is also set to launch its smart thermostat with an attractive mobile app. These instruments enable users to remotely control temperature and boiler activity in their homes and promote better energy management and efficiency.

They are among the first products to demonstrate the true potential value of connected buildings and remote access to home infrastructure. They give users the knowledge and power to optimise their home environment to best suit individual preferences, reduce energy bills, and even alter behaviour towards energy saving and the sustainability of the planet.

Increasing affordability

Intelligent building systems are not just for offices and commercial buildings; decreases in the price of technology have made home automation a reality for consumers. This has come at a time of dramatic change in customer expectations: they want to control their energy usage by managing electrical devices in their home from a single hand-held device – marking the new era of smart, connected homes.

An automated home brings together control of aspects such as security, lighting, temperature, audio and video systems, blinds and curtains, and sprinklers. You get home from work and unlock your front door using your smartphone, find the temperature perfectly set for your arrival and that the lights have turned on as the sun went down – the possibilities are endless.

Language of protocols

There are different systems in the market capable of automating single products, but a fully integrated system can incorporate disparate systems and combine them into a single point of control or application. The connected elements work together to make the home more energy efficient, more convenient and safer for the homeowner.

However, these devices need to be able to talk the same language for the connected home to run as smoothly as possible. In a similar way to commercial building management systems, smart devices can run on a variety of different protocols.

ZigBee is an IEEE 802.15.4-based protocol for wireless communication systems. It consumes a small amount of power and is built on a mesh network to offer excellent range and communication interoperability between devices, with no need for a complicated web of wires. It saves both energy and raw materials while significantly reducing installation and maintenance costs.

In mesh networks, each wireless node communicates with the one adjacent to it. Should one node fail, information is automatically rerouted to allow devices to carry on their respective functions. This dynamic node link redundancy contributes to ZigBee’s low maintenance needs and high reliability.

Thanks to this rerouting capability, nodes on a ZigBee can “walk through” walls and even communicate with each other through a building’s floors. Furthermore, even when they are not in line of sight, nodes are still able to form networks. Mesh networks such as ZigBee and its nearest competitor Z-Wave do not experience signal loss — partly because of their very low bandwidth, which makes these standards ideal for simple devices such as window and door motion sensors, or smart lightbulbs that only need data connections to turn on, off or set a dimming level.

Information is power

In the home, systems such as lighting, heating and cooling can be automated to improve energy conservation, convenience and safety. Households can get even more benefit if these home automation systems can provide information on usage trends, enabling users to optimise their energy consumption while being aware of the cost and scale of their use.

Home automation systems such as Schneider Electric’s C-Bus Wiser Home Control System give homeowners an insight into their energy usage, allowing them to reduce or shift energy use during peak times, saving money in return and ultimately helping electricity providers reduce load on the grid and improve network reliability.

Schneider is looking to drive changes in what homes can do for their owners. Together with architects, engineers, electricians and other partners, it is bringing connectivity to homes through solutions such as the C-Bus and KNX home control systems.

These technologies connect a variety of devices, allowing home owners to control everything from lighting and temperature to entertainment systems – to create a perfect environment for every moment.

By integrating energy management with other home control functions, the KNX and C-Bus home control systems go beyond automation to turn homes into smarter living spaces.

The devices enable consumers to monitor and manage homes to maximise energy efficiency and reduce bills, either locally or remotely. Along with wireless KNX capabilities, the central control unit can communicate with other devices via a wired connection.

From an energy saving perspective, home automation has some key benefits, particularly with programmable thermostats. Turning down a thermostat by just one degree can reduce heating bills by up to 10%, and most UK smart/programmable thermostats promise a reduction in heating bills of up to 20%.

C-Bus Wiser lets customers programme, monitor and operate their heating and air conditioning, lighting, appliances, electronics and security systems while at home or away and adjust them according to what they want to pay each month. Schneider says that, without sacrificing convenience or comfort, residents could save up to 30% of their home’s annual energy costs.

Integrating technology

There’s both a growing need and desire for people to be more energy efficient. Global warming and energy costs are always in the headlines, and homeowners are concerned with keeping their utility bills in check. However, those looking at installing a smart home system also want flexibility, so a connected system that can be updated and added to over time is very much in line with people’s habits and needs.

Energy efficiency is all about controlling habits more readily and lowering our carbon footprint, but without compromising on style and aesthetics. So much of our lives is already integrated with technology – and today’s consumer is looking to extend it into their home.