Is Powerline Communications the Key to Retrofitting Smartness into Buildings?

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A deal announced last week between German utility E.ON and British smart building solution provider enModus will give E.ON greater access to enModus’ Wattwave power line communications technology to deliver greater connectivity in buildings.

The first joint installation of the new enModus solution was implemented two months ago, in January 2019, at the E.ON Research Centre which is part of the RWTH Aachen University, in Germany. The solution will provide connected lighting and occupancy mapping to the building as the first “smart-ification” phase, then additional technologies will be integrated to further drive energy efficiency and improve the occupant wellbeing. E.ON hope that the solution can soon be rolled out to their customer network.

“At E.ON we create imaginative energy solutions that help our business customers prosper. The agreement with enModus gives us the opportunity to offer our customers new solutions that drive energy efficiency and reduced carbon emissions,” said Garance Emmerich-Bundel, Head of Product Management and Engineering, E.ON Connecting Energies GmbH, alongside the announcement on Monday.

Virgin Media - a $4.92 billion UK-based broadband, cable, and telephony provider - recently released preliminary results of its enModus Wattwave installation. Since July, Virgin Media has been trialing the use of standard electrical wires to transport data to and from luminaires in order to control lux levels and collect information about facility usage at a technical center. The powerline communications (PLC) trial reduced lighting-related energy costs by a staggering 99%, according to the PLC provider.

enModus replaced a number of fluorescent lights with LED luminaires and linked them into enModus' Wattwave control system that delivers commands from a central hub to the lights, each of which is outfitted with an enModus node. The system is also connected to the cloud powered by Microsoft Azure, meaning that centralized intelligent analytics can continually optimize commands. The system doesn’t just control lighting, it can also deliver occupancy information from embedded sensors, for example, and has the potential to do more.

The energy-cost saving figures may highlight Virgin Media’s wastefulness as much as the solution’s effectiveness but the same scenario is no doubt common in commercial real estate across the UK, and around the world. “Before the installation of enModus’ smart light solution, the existing fluorescent lighting was turned on at the beginning of each shift even though these spaces were only infrequently used by maintenance staff,” said Heaton.

Now, “the Hub sends control commands, and in return, the nodes communicate measured and sensed information in real time to create highly accurate real-time energy measurement and allow light activation only when occupancy is detected.”

What really makes PLC technology different is not its ability to add smartness or reduce costs, it is the fact that it can do so in any type of building with minimal cost and disruption. The vast majority of building stock is old and dumb, making them cost and energy inefficient.

If we want to create a smart world for environmental, societal, or business reasons, then encouraging feasible ways to retrofit smartness into existing buildings must be central to the strategy. PLC technology might be very useful to the smart building movement.

“As well as saving money and reducing CO2, companies can deploy our solution without the need for expensive refits as it uses existing cabling infrastructure,” added Heaton. “Smart lighting is just one application. Once installed, we enable a building-wide communications network that can deliver other benefits including detailed intelligence on building occupancy and ultimately control over other electrically-connected assets and electrical circuits.”

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