Time to get smart
The massive Ecobuild exhibition held in London at the beginning of spring was a bit of a wake up call. Timeguard was showing a combination of advanced KNX compatible controls and the top end, heating controllers in our ProgramaStat range. We were amazed at the level of serious interest from the younger generation of installers working with smaller firms. Smart technology is no longer the preserve of the big systems integrators, the future is going to be in smart building control for every job you do, not just for the very rich super-homes.
This smart technology may not yet be mainstream business for the wholesale channel, but is it a business opportunity you will ignore at your peril. As more of the commodity items find their way to your customer through cheap, online channels, your focus will be on products where you can add value – and this is going to include concepts like smart building management.
For the wholesale channel, the only way forward has to be to support a truly open protocol, one that enables installers to pick and choose products from multiple manufacturers and to build a system as simple or as complex as they need – and to expand it with ease at a later date.
KNX ticks all the boxes as the only truly open and international bus protocol for modern, future-proof building management. All it requires is the installation of the distinctive green KNX specific cable to carry control data to and from devices like lights, heaters, automatic windows etc, and it is scalable for use whether you are building a new city, like Salford’s Media City or refurbishing an old home
A single KNX bus wire will carry control data to and from devices throughout a building and, here’s the key point, because it is a truly open protocol you can choose KNX-compatible devices from different manufacturers on merit, safe in the knowledge that they will work together seamlessly. There are over 200 manufacturers producing KNX-compatible devices and they now include Chinese firms, so we can all predict what will be happening to prices.
It is clear that smart building control in general and KNX in particular will not be the preserve of big installers, big businesses or fabulously rich home owners for much longer. More and more customers can afford to choose to have smart homes and buildings.
Of course, there are lots of legacy proprietary lighting management systems already in the marketplace, which restrict the choice of end user devices and usually involve expensive engineering contracts. Some now offer a degree of HVAC and access control, but I do not believe that they are, or ever can be, truly comprehensive building management systems in the KNX sense. Yet once installed, there is a degree of inertia because ripping them out and replacing them with a more open system represents a large initial outlay.
The KNX software is available from the KNX Association in Brussels and is managed on behalf of all the KNX members, as are the products which are individually tested for compatibility by the KNX Association. In bigger buildings, facilities managers control the interaction of heating, ventilation and lighting systems from dedicated PCs. In a private home, installers can just plug in a laptop when you need to adjust the settings. We periodically run free KNX training days, so do get in touch if you’d like to attend one of them.
UK lagging behind
The demand for comfort, convenience, safety and energy efficiency from HVAC, lighting and access control systems is driving the growth of intelligent building control and management across the Channel.
So why is the UK is lagging behind in the adoption of this truly remarkable standard, with probably less than 10% of major new projects adopting the standard? It may well be because of our traditional wall between lighting control (seen as electrical) and HVAC control (falling into the M&E camp). Is it that, in the UK, building control still means lighting control to many of us in the electrical trade?
With the focus on lighting, perhaps we think the DALI protocol is all that is needed, after all it works perfectly well. But that should not be a barrier to taking advantage of KNX and bringing the HVAC under smart control as well. There are now several KNX-DALI gateway devices available. Similarly, there are gateways with the EnOcean wireless protocol and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers’ BACNet. At Ecobuild, Theben unveiled the first gateway between KNX and the OpenTherm heating protocol.
The barriers are down, the challenge is on.
While integrated KNX-style control will surely become the norm soon enough, the main focus of smart control in UK buildings is still on lighting, despite the fact that heating, ventilation and air conditioning is the real energy guzzler and legislation is providing a hefty stick to persuade businesses to be more energy efficient.
The carbon reduction commitment (CRC) may only apply for a few thousand big businesses now, but few people doubt it will extend its reach to much smaller enterprises soon. Customers are looking for savings – and our industry needs to be gearing up to deliver them.
Meanwhile, energy costs continue to rocket, customers are looking for immediate savings and you can build on the technology you already have on your shelves.
Look beyond the basics towards smarter PIR detectors that switch lights on, and importantly off, automatically, depending on whether or not there is someone in the area and ambient conditions are actually calling for artificial light. These top-end detectors are holding their own in the marketplace, despite the downturn and competition from cheap-as-chips basic models. We’ve seen a surge in demand for PIRs with delayed switching that learn to match the way people actually use the area and avoid unnecessary switching. This is especially important with low energy lights which can actually consume more power if switched too frequently.
In domestic properties, there are still huge opportunities in heating control. This is an area where you can provide installers with the tools to deliver immediate fuel savings by installing effective, programmable electronic controls. There is almost always scope to replace controls or thermostats with something as clever, but easy to use, as one of Timeguard’s electronic ProgramaStat’s. We even add extra value for you by providing packaging that carries all the information needed to answer virtually any question an installer has.
Remember, you really do need to have smart building control at the top of your agenda now if you are going to be ready for a future that, judging by all those ultra-keen youngsters we met at Ecobuild, is just around the corner. In the meantime, there is plenty of business to be had in bringing existing controls up to date.