Wireless technology drives the mobile devices people use every day, such as phones, tablets, laptops, GPS, and more. Wireless technology can also enable better performance and energy savings for commercial buildings.
What does wireless tech have to do with energy?
Research by ENERGY STAR indicates that commercial office buildings waste as much as 30% of their energy consumption in managing lighting, HVAC and humidity control. A building management system (BMS) can help control energy use; in fact, new construction generally incorporates a system (and wiring) in its design plan. However, existing buildings and smaller enterprises sometimes struggle to justify investing in a BMS, in part because retrofit wiring installation can be cost-prohibitive and disruptive.
In addition, some facilities have physical limitations for which wireless is the only logical solution, such as heritage buildings, glass meeting rooms, or adjacent buildings where a wired installation would be impractical.
Deploying a wireless BMS solution offers advantages for facility and energy management:
- Ease of installation is a given – no special wiring, no renovation, and minimal disruption to business. A wireless BMS installation is faster and less costly, which leads to lower cost of ownership and faster ROI.
- Wireless offers full scalability due to open protocols for communication and applications, making it simple to begin with a single zone and then expand. Upgrades and add-ons are also easier to manage.
- In support of green initiatives, wireless adheres to regulations and guidelines – and enables the use of energy-efficient systems.
Not yesterday’s wireless
Although wireless was once considered unreliable for building applications, the technology has overcome earlier problems with interference and signal reach. Wireless building systems are also secure and can use commercial, governmental, and military grade encryption with multilevel authentication.
The wireless standards used in the majority of commercial buildings worldwide are EnOcean® and ZigBee®. These standards support devices that perform the same function types, but they differ in networking and communication protocols.
EnOcean certifies more than 800 products– most of which are for building automation – making it the mostly widely supported standard. These products are “energy harvesting,” with no need for wired power or batteries, which is a catalyst for cost savings and for the environment. However, EnOcean comprises point-to-point communications, which means a single link failure will prevent devices from communicating; also, EnOcean devices have a short “reach” of 100 feet (30 meters).
ZigBee protocol supports a mesh network topology that is self-repairing and auto-routing for flexibility and reliability. A reach of up to 300 feet (100 meters) makes it possible to control larger zones with fewer devices. Although ZigBee devices require wired power, the standard is evolving toward energy harvesting. At present, fewer devices use ZigBee, which may limit choices for building owners and operators using this standard.
Tailored to fit building requirements
Building owners often find that the optimal solution for performance and energy use is a combination of wired and wireless EnOcean/ZigBee-based devices. For instance, a facility may rely on EnOcean products for lighting and room control, but use ZigBee-based devices for HVAC and network controllers.
The following best practices can help owners and operators select and implement the most cost-effective, high-performance building automation solution:
- Understand the business needs, goals and budget before evaluating wireless and wired choices.
- Work with providers that offer a wide range of product and technology choices.
- Insist upon distributed intelligence in building control products to improve network performance and reliability.
- Factor the regional frequency range limits into system design.
- Use open-standard protocols to enable cross-vendor interoperability and avoid being locked into a single vendor.
By understanding today’s wireless options and selecting vendors that offer a wide range of choices, most building owners and operators can afford to implement building systems that will reduce energy waste and costs, improve performance, and offer the benefits of a well-managed, automated building ecosystem.