Energy efficiency measures need green technologies

By Graham Martin, Chairman of the EnOcean Alliance

From 1 October 2013, all UK listed companies will have to report on their greenhouse gas emissions as part of their annual directors’ report. However, it’s not just companies that have to deal with energy efficiency. The Carbon Plan, first published in 2011, set out the government’s proposals to reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050, which means that each individual citizen is affected.

Even though 2050 may seem a fairly long way off, taking a closer look at today’s conditions, it’s a very short period in which to achieve a highly ambitious goal. For example, as of 2010, only 1.5% of England’s homes are built post 1990. The majority, 39%, are 69 years or older. The various energy related measures that are obligatory to make these older buildings more energy efficient are challenging from a construction and an investment point of view.

The fast growing need for energy efficient buildings calls for innovative, sustainable technologies which can be easily installed at relatively low cost, especially in retrofit projects. A solution which addresses both is the intelligent control of energy consumption, which, by definition, means the process of monitoring, controlling and conserving energy in a building. Such a solution can be expected to deliver energy savings anywhere between 20% and 40%. That’s why building automation is a key factor for a building’s improved energy and carbon footprint.

The right solution

Home and building owners have access to a comprehensive range of automation systems on the market and, with some guidance and research they will find the right solution for their individual needs. Despite this, many are still unaware of the potential of these systems to reduce energy consumption while maintaining a comfortable environment in a building. It’s clear that governments not only need to set goals for energy efficiency but they need to step up their efforts to educate people on the specific advantages of these solutions and how they can be implemented effectively.

The education process should focus on cleantech solutions with a sustainable character. Why? Well, it’s not only the immediate effect but the long term impact which should be considered. This includes the operation and disposal at the end of a solution’s lifetime. Again, building automation is a good example here. The intelligent control of energy requires sensors to collect the relevant data from several points of measurement and receivers to process the information. A larger system can be composed of hundreds to thousands of these sensory organs. All of them need to be powered.

Power by cable necessitates a lot of raw materials, including copper and PVC. In addition, the installation is often complex and costly, and in retrofit projects sometimes impossible because of the effects on a building’s structure.

Modern solutions

Therefore, modern solutions use wireless technologies which address existing buildings in particular. Wireless devices are highly flexible to install so that individual components, wall switches, sensors and relay receivers can be easily networked to form an intelligent system without complex cabling. This provides clear advantages against classic wired systems.

A challenging fact remains in that most wireless systems are powered by batteries, which contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium and nickel. At the end of their lifetime, batteries are hazardous waste and need to be carefully and expensively disposed of by the manufacturer or the user. As a consequence, batteries contradict the sustainability and green aspect that intelligent control systems offer buildings when making them more energy efficient. Plus, battery-powered devices need regular maintenance. Especially in the housing industry with numerous rented dwellings per building, the battery change is a burdensome and costly task.

Saving resources

Energy harvesting overcomes these issues. Instead of batteries, energy harvesting wireless modules are powered by energy harvesters which gain energy from the surrounding environment; from motion, indoor light and temperature differences. Even the smallest amounts of harvested energy are sufficient to transmit a wireless signal. This enables building automation systems that work without cables and batteries, bringing the sustainable aspect to each single sensor.

When evaluating strategies for increased energy efficiency, the sustainable, resource saving character of the selected technology should be considered. Governments should actively support innovative cleantech solutions and set a good example when choosing solutions to make governmental buildings greener.

Establishing sustainable, future-proof technologies as a daily common practice will motivate people much more to actively deal with energy efficiency than theoretical targets on a piece of paper.

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