Global business communities have set energy efficiency as one of their major goals and building automation is a key factor in the drive for more sustainable energy use. Numerous related products and solutions already exist on the market, increasingly also for the smart home. However, although these solutions achieve enormous savings of up to 30 percent, they have not yet become well established among the general public. An important component is missing: user acceptance. Flexible, intuitive and automatic systems are needed to change this situation.
By Armin Anders, Vice President Business Development and co-founder, EnOcean GmbH
The much touted intelligent networking capability of the smart home currently founders on the fact that the automation solutions use different standards for individual disciplines, are manufacturer-specific and above all, wired solutions can only be upgraded with a great deal of effort. As a result, consumers find it difficult to choose the most suitable system from a highly fragmented assortment. Furthermore, until now, they have only rarely seen added value in a smart home, since the ideal coordination between the individual components, and thus the actual intelligence, is still lacking. This means that the smart home has not yet been widely accepted by the users.
The industry however is beginning to rethink its approach and increasingly, suppliers are finding ways to combine products, standards and disciplines into an integrated solution. This willingness to work together enables open systems that connect the products of different manufacturing partners. Customers can choose from a wide range of different solutions, all of which communicate with the same control unit. As a result, all components across all standards can be controlled with a single app.
Wireless makes for easy installation
Most consumers would like to be able to install a start-up system easily by themselves and therefore, more and more wireless systems are replacing classic cabled solutions. The solution is wireless technology, which makes it possible to flexibly place, network and upgrade the individual components. Even existing buildings can be upgraded with a minimum amount of effort and thus save complex conversion work. Modern solutions also work without batteries. “Energy harvesting” allows small energy converters to generate electricity for sensors, switches and actuators from the immediate surroundings, using movement, light and temperature differences as energy sources. These devices completely eliminate the onerous and frequently impracticable need to change batteries.
Multifunctional, self-learning solutions
The products are further developing with the use of modern technologies such as energy harvesting wireless technology with the goal of achieving high user acceptance. Thus, solar-based wireless sensors can now map different functions and simultaneously measure temperature, brightness and moisture in a room.
Such multifunctional sensors often form part of self-learning systems that automatically adapt to the users’ living habits as well as to various parameters. A great example of this is an intelligent individual room solution, in which a sensor detects the current room temperature as well as the presence of people. As a result, the solar-operated sensor identifies the times at which a room is used over the long term and automatically generates an individual usage profile. The sensor sends this information wirelessly to an energy-autonomous, thermostatic radiator valve, which regulates the room temperature according to demand.
Intelligence makes for real added value
Advanced systems use special algorithms in the central controller. These algorithms process the data of the sensors distributed throughout the home as well as information available elsewhere, such as online weather data, in order to adapt the entire automation system to the individual habits of the people living in the home as well as changing external factors. Linking the different parameters and disciplines gives the users significant added value. They benefit from substantial energy savings and comfort functions that adapt to their individual needs without the users having to surrender control.
Cloud platforms now exist that integrate the different applications for controlling lighting, heating or blinds, together with energy harvesting wireless sensors, actuators and mobile devices. In this case as well, the system processes all data in real time, takes the building properties into account and processes complex automation scenarios in the cloud background, depending on the situation.
Even with all this intelligence, data must still be protected. To keep the personal information secure, control centres transmit the data in encrypted form. Users can also determine at any time whether and which data they want to store in the cloud and which data should be stored locally in the home’s control centre.
Free choice for real smart homes
These manufacturer-independent systems give the user a free choice of products, and the central controller converts the complexity of the different technologies into easy and intuitive operation. Thanks to energy harvesting wireless technology, the sensors are maintenance-free, easy to install, can be relocated at any time and be upgraded at a later date. The result is a true smart home that seamlessly integrates comfort, energy savings and security into everyday life without requiring the user to deal with technology.