Energy costs are rising. And this applies equally to petrol, diesel and heating oil. The shift away from nuclear power in Germany and the associated promotion of renewable sources of energy have led to a disproportionate rise in prices, especially for electricity. Although politicians are currently trying to slow down the rate of growth, the effective option of cost cutting, i.e., reducing energy consumption, is all too frequently not the subject of public debate. Indeed, there is a great potential for cutting costs through the use of modern automation systems, especially in existing buildings.
Besides fitting highly energy-efficient pieces of equipment and components, such as heat pumps or energy-saving illuminants, it is also possible to increase the energy efficiency of buildings as a whole. Of particular interest in the field of building-services equipment are electrical applications, such as energy technology, lighting and mechanical elements, such as heating, air-conditioning and ventilation.
Intelligent building automation saves energy
The use of intelligent building-services technology to control various systems in accordance with the time of day and level of demand can lead to enormous energy savings. For example, an intelligent regulator can ensure that a room is only heated if it is actually being used or that the lighting is switched off when nobody is there. Information technology forms the basis and, in many cases, the technical wherewithal of intelligent building-services technology and is the standard method for linking a variety of devices in a simple network. As in the field of industrial automation technology, numerous different bus systems and communication standards have been developed over the years for building automation.
Building automation can only be called ‘smart’ if all systems are able to communicate with each other. Only then can the automatic systems of the various disciplines be coordinated with each other and thus increase the overall energy efficiency of the entire building.
To really save energy, it is essential that – in a large office building, for example – the lighting and blinds, as well as the heating, lighting and air-conditioning systems, be networked. Thus, the lighting can be controlled in accordance with the level of daylight and switched on via a motion sensor as soon as someone enters the room. A link to the awning control system, which is oriented towards the angle of the sun, helps prevent direct solar radiation at the same time as permitting sufficient daylight to pass through. If the awning control communicates with the heating, lighting and air-conditioning system and a weather station, the rooms can be heated or the awnings used to prevent overheating and thus reduce the load on the air-conditioning system. To give users the chance to choose individual settings, most systems come with an operating panel, via which the user can enter values such as room temperature and lighting times within a predetermined range. All data from the individual rooms runs via a network to a main management and operating unit where they can be analysed and system adjustments made with regard to energy consumption. The interaction of the main building automation system and individual regulator units is one of the main demands on the overall system.
Building automation has the potential to be even more important if the electricity system is suitable for connection to a ‘smart grid’. Then, electric consumers, such as the heat pump or charging station for company e-automobiles, can be switched on and off to ensure power is only consumed when it is least expensive. There is still a lot of development work to be done with regard to communication between intelligent networks and intelligent buildings.
Automation for the home
Thanks to developments in the field of information technology, building-automation systems are now available at prices that make them attractive to a broader market. IT-based control technology is falling in price while energy prices are rising. In many cases, an investment in modern building-automation technology can pay off within a very short space of time. Besides the energy-saving potential, one of the factors contributing to the acceptance of building-automation systems is the greater user comfort offered.
The more attractive prices also mean that automatic systems are finding their way into private homes where they also open up new perspectives for easily regulating lighting, temperature and security at the same time as saving energy. One of the latest trends is to use a smartphones or tablet PC as the control unit for the automatic system. Today, a large proportion of the population is familiar with intuitive touch-screen operation. A supplementary benefit is that smartphones can be used to remote control a building’ system, e.g., to switch on the heating while on the road to ensure that all rooms are at the right temperature on arrival.