Building automation must meet increasingly stricter demands as more and more disciplines need to be integrated into intelligent control systems. All the necessary technologies already exist. The real challenge today is to combine the partial solutions of different manufactures and various communication standards. An open network based on standards paves the way for "artificial intelligence".
By Andreas Schneider, Chief Marketing Officer, EnOcean GmbH.
The idea behind building automation is to automate the control of different technical processes, creating solutions that switch the lights on and off energy-efficiently, activate shading according to the weather conditions and adjust the heating, ventilation and air conditioning to the room temperature or occupancy. The individual disciplines have long been viewed as separate areas, with optimised, isolated solutions developed for each one. The goal today, however, is to break down these boundaries and combine the different aspects into one, intelligent overall system. This type of networking is necessary in order for developers to take full advantage of the opportunities for increasing comfort, security and energy efficiency. The goal is for automation to form an integrated system and not just be a sum of different applications.
The stumbling block for building automation
When a system needs to integrate hundreds of sensors and communicating devices into a comprehensive network, a number of specific building automation standards come into play. At the same time, networking should be as easy as possible. However, many solutions today take a proprietary approach aimed at their specialised areas and are difficult to combine with the products of other manufacturers. This limits the selection for building owners and system planners alike and often makes for extremely complex operation, creating a real stumbling block for building automation.
Interfaces instead of isolated solutions
The solution lies in open interfaces and specifications with few obstacles to integration. However, this means that existing systems must become more open. Energy harvesting wireless technology shows how this can work. Wireless technology without batteries has been defined as the open, international standard ISO/IEC 14543-3-10 since early 2012, one that is designed for very low energy consumption and energy harvesting. It covers the standardised physical, data link and networking protocol layers. The application layer defines the standard application profiles (EnOcean Equipment Profiles - EEPs) of the EnOcean Alliance. This foundation ensures that the energy harvesting wireless products of different manufacturers can communicate with each other in a single system. The EnOcean Alliance has further developed this interoperability with Generic Profiles, the first generic language for energy harvesting wireless solutions.
Self-powered wireless technology is a particularly good choice for transmitting states and measured values from wireless switches, sensors and actuators. However, additional networking is based on standards such as KNX, LON, DALI and WLAN and not on the energy harvesting wireless technology. Open interfaces that allow gateway and software providers to combine their standards have been defined to make these different systems work together. In this case, the standardised definitions form a basis for middleware, similar to EnOcean Link, which automatically interprets the values in energy harvesting wireless telegrams and makes them available to applications that further process them.
This open network also paves the way toward "artificial intelligence" in building automation. Integrating the different technologies more closely means that a system can also access sensor data more directly, regardless of the situation, as well as run calculations on this basis and control actuators intelligently. The networks of sensors, actuators and processors needed to do this can be created and modified dynamically as needed. The data can be stored and processed locally or in a cloud-based infrastructure, so that once it has been collected the data can be used for different applications.
As a self-learning system, the automation technology can adapt to the behaviour of a building's users or employees while also taking into account external influences and the latest situations. The first solutions incorporate not only weather data and a room's frequent use into the heating control system, for example, but also the number of people. In the future, they will also interpret statements such as "it's too hot in here." Intelligent LED luminaires communicate with each other to optimise office lighting depending on the situation. At the same time, the communicating luminaires, which form part of the wireless building automation system, can be integrated into different energy efficiency measures. For example solar-powered light sensors can let the luminaires know when the sunlight is bright enough to eliminate the need for artificial lighting in the rooms.
Automation in balance
Integrating the individual aspects of building automation into an intelligent system establishes a situation-dependent balance between user comfort and energy savings, for instance. Organisations such as the EnOcean Alliance are building platforms that enable manufacturers to combine solutions that are based on different standards. This approach benefits building owners and system planners alike, who are no longer tied to a particular system when choosing the building automation technology but can integrate different disciplines both flexibly and cost-effectively. The search for a single standard therefore really means finding suitable interfaces between the existing technologies.