Smart technology and the wiring device

When it comes to electrical installations, smart technology is currently the phrase on everyone’s lips, but despite the technologically advanced nature of its operation it still relies heavily on wiring devices for control.

Smart technology has been around for years, but it’s taken some time to really catch on. The reasons for this are difficult to pinpoint, but it’s fair to say its technologically advanced nature has probably worked against it by putting people off due to concerns about installation, operation and cost, while the need for it has perhaps not always been obvious.

The picture though is changing. Over the last 12 months there has been a coming together of a variety of different factors and the introduction of new products and systems, such as our home automation and wiring device range, Arteor, which have resulted in the demand for smart technology finally catching up with the hype that has surrounded it for so long.

Commercial buildings

In the commercial sector the driving force behind this increase in demand can be neatly placed under two headings.

Firstly, the environment, the driving factors for which are the need to reduce greenhouse gases and maximise the use of sustainable materials. Secondly, the widespread push for the reduction in energy use as a result of both environmental demands and the need to cut bills at a time when energy costs are climbing.

Until very recently the use of, and demand for smart technology was strictly limited to those businesses with the budget or desire to utilise them. As such, a lot of the technology being used was more for show than anything else, but the increasing prominence of a variety of green building initiatives and carbon charging schemes has turned this on its head.

In the UK, BREEAM is aimed at improving the environmental, sustainability and energy efficiency aspects of a building over and above that set out in the building regulations. Meanwhile, the new CRCEES (Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme) regime is challenging commercial organisations to reduce carbon outputs. All of which adds up to a major boost for smart technology – in particular lighting control systems. Not only do they provide the ability to deliver energy reduction at the kind of levels being demanded, they do so while enhancing the value and appeal of pretty much any commercial property at a time when more and more organisations are looking at using various forms of green lease arrangements.

Just look at the facts. In the UK, lighting accounts for 20% of the annual electricity consumption in non-residential buildings, a figure that equates to 15.2million tonnes of CO2 at a cost of £3.6billion. And even the most basic of absence detection installations will in most cases save a minimum of 30% of this energy, and therefore cost, by automatically turning off lights when a space is unoccupied. But it doesn’t stop there.

The more sophisticated the components and installation the greater the savings – which are regularly up to 60%. The cost of installation will have been paid back well within 18 months, and in the case of the more sophisticated versions this would occur even more quickly due to the greater electrical savings offered. The vast majority of these systems are also easy to install and commission whether in a new installation or during the upgrade of an existing one.

The technology

Smart technology has improved and simplified since it first moved from being a futuristic pipedream into a workable reality. Today, the scope of what it can deliver is phenomenal, the means of programming far easier than many would imagine, the plug and play benefits enormous, its control simple and what’s more, there are entry level options that can be fitted with ease.

This transformation is easy to see in the latest generation of products, which deliver access to the technology from what traditionally would have been a dedicated wiring device platform.

Take our Arteor range. Its automation element is offered in two formats, BUS (SCS) and radio (Zigbee) frequency solutions. The BUS technology operates on a 2 wire network, is suitable for all smart technology applications, and is ideal for new buildings and major refurbishments. The wireless ZigBee radio option operates on the 2.4 GHz frequency band and uses the principle of mesh networking, which means that if a direct link between two devices is not possible the network will automatically search for another channel to keep the installation running.

The key difference between the two is that BUS products only communicate with products that are physically connected by cables, while ZigBee radio products are installed on the conventional electrical infrastructure and configured directly from the product through a push and learn sequence.

This flexibility of installation means ZigBee and other wireless solutions are ideal for those who want to automate simple individual functions and for those wishing to extend existing automation systems using BUS technology with the SCS protocol.

The benefit of the wireless offer is twofold. Firstly, a standard electrician can now offer their customers what in essence is entry level access to smart technology. Secondly, it brings the systems more in line with average requirements and hence within the budgetary reach of a much larger section of the population.

The wiring device

What needs to be remembered as smart technology hits what will be its defining development curve is that the wiring device won’t fall by the wayside. Instead, it will take on a more prominent role as a result of it being the key interface with this smart world.

There will, of course be changes, with the key alterations being in the types of controls, which will develop to reflect the increased requirement for intelligent switches that are able to send signals to remote control devices across the circuit. And as such contractors, specifiers and designers will see a need to modify the way systems are planned and installed, while wholesalers will have to be aware of what these changes mean to the way they stock wiring devices.

The manufacturers though are paying particular heed to the installer and, as such, the most significant change is an overwhelmingly positive one, with the new generation of smart components being designed to require a lot less specialist knowledge to install than previously needed. In fact, the majority of recent devices have incorporated self-diagnostic tools and, in many cases, self-installation processes.

In addition, much of the programming in these systems is delivered by a combination of plug and play and simple learn facilities. All of this combines to enable them to install functions that are a great deal more advanced than the products and systems they have previously worked on with very little additional training.

Smart technology will soon be as much a part of daily life as the humble old wiring device
– it’s just that the wiring device will no longer be humble or old. Instead, thanks to the integration and development of the two technologies, the wiring device will be smart, new and in control of a new generation of functions.

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