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Construct a Smart Space with Energy-Harvesting Sensors

Aug. 29, 2022
Smart spaces: How energy sustainability can be achieved with energy-harvesting sensor technology.

What you’ll learn:

  • How battery-free wireless sensors enable sensors, switches, and other building automation components help minimize energy usage.
  • How battery-free wireless sensors use light, movement, and temperature differences as an energy source.
  • How “smart spaces” can optimize energy usage regarding occupancy while utilizing existing building automation and IT infrastructures.

Senior Content Director Bill Wong talks to EnOcean CEO Raoul Wijgergangs about energy-harvesting sensor technology and the creation of “smart spaces.”

What’s the difference between EnOcean and the EnOcean Alliance, and what goal are they pursuing in the field of smart buildings?

EnOcean the company was founded in 2001 and produces maintenance-free wireless switches and sensors based on the resource-saving energy-harvesting technology. The devices deliver valuable data for building automation and the IoT. Recently, we have also developed a piece of software to create cost-effective IoT solutions. The EnOcean IoT Connector makes integrating our sensors into already existing IT infrastructure super quick and easy as it eliminates the need for a dedicated IoT data network.

The EnOcean Alliance is an international association of 400 leading companies in building digitalization, promoting interoperable solutions based on the international EnOcean radio standard. It was founded in 2008 and aims to establish a sustainable ecosystem for Smart Homes, Smart Buildings and Smart Spaces.

Sustainability is achieved through standardized wireless and battery-free sensor and communication networks. Of course, we fully support interoperability and that’s why our wireless switch and sensor solutions also communicate using Bluetooth and Zigbee.

EnOcean technology is now installed in more than 1,000,000 buildings worldwide, and the ecosystem consists of more than 5,000 interoperable products. As a result, EnOcean is the world's most widespread wireless sensor technology for making building digitalization sustainable, CO2-efficient, healthy, safe, comfortable, and cost-effective.

How does the energy-harvesting technology work?

Our battery-free wireless sensors use light, movement, or temperature differences in their immediate environment as a source of energy. In this form of energy harvesting, so-called energy converters "harvest" the smallest amounts of energy for the operation and radio communication of sensors, switches, or even actuators.

For each ambient energy, there’s a correspondingly adapted converter. An electrodynamic energy generator extracts energy from movement, for example, by pressing a switch. Interior light can be used for electrical voltage from as little as 50 lux via small solar cells. The combination of a thermal converter and a voltage amplifier can convert temperature differences of as little as two degrees Celsius into usable electricity.

What exactly are smart spaces?

To answer this question correctly, we need to differentiate between the owner of the real estate and the tenant who rents the building from the real-estate owner as they both pursue different targets. For the real-estate owner, the building must be profitable, so he’s looking for the highest price per square meter. He can achieve this by providing state-of-the-art infrastructure like smart HVAC and intelligent lighting.

As tenant, when you lease a building, you focus on entirely different aspects. The building should provide the best possible working environment for your employees and obviously you only want to rent space that’s actually being used. On top of that, the building should also be energy-efficient with the lowest CO2 footprint.

In terms of space usage, a lot has happened over the past years as people no longer come into the office five days a week, so it’s only logical to share desks. As a result, less space is needed. To monitor the usage of desks and meeting rooms, tenants deploy cloud-connected sensors and through analyzing this sensor data, figure out what the optimal usage is for these spaces. And that’s what we call smart spaces.

Once the analytics of smart spaces has determined the need for temperature, desk use, and clean air, it delivers signals from the cloud that connect to the building's HVAC and lighting systems to control what’s needed where and when. This is where smart spaces and building automation come together.

One important aspect is that all of this needs to happen with already existing IT infrastructure, because rolling out an entirely new infrastructure or installing new gateways is extremely cost-intensive and time-consuming. What you also don’t want is having to replace existing HVAC and lighting systems, as this would drive costs and installation time up even higher.

And, subsequently, you don’t want new sensors or actuators to cause a maintenance burden. Keep in mind that 10,000 battery-powered sensors in a building will result in the need to hire one new IT employee to replace batteries all year long.

The intersect between building automation and smart spaces is the sweet spot for EnOcean, where we have pioneered software, hardware, and the cloud to work seamlessly with each other, entirely maintenance-free, thanks to our maintenance-free energy-harvesting-based sensors.

What role does your technology play here?

Smart spaces give data-driven insights into the utilization and operation of buildings in real-time. EnOcean's wireless energy-harvesting sensors provide this data and thereby serve as the foundation for smart spaces. Our sensors collect data in real-time, and cloud-based analytics models transform the information into insights that can be used to make buildings healthier and more comfortable for tenants.

Temperatures in offices and conference rooms, for example, can be adjusted based on the number of people in the room and user preferences, and the lights above can be dimmed or brightened based on the amount of sunlight in the room. Employees can access the smart infrastructure via a smartphone app.

On the other hand, the data collected by EnOcean energy-harvesting sensors enables employers, who are the tenants, to make better use of office space, schedule cleanings at the right time, make buildings more energy-efficient, and offer their employees a completely new way of working.

Our offer is unique in its kind. We don't just make spaces smart; we also make them environmentally friendly and cost-effective as no batteries or cables are required for our sensors. Simply put, they don’t require any maintenance. It's a true set-it-and-forget-it IoT experience.

How does EnOcean contribute to sustainability?

Unused desks also mean unused spaces that can become real energy consumers. Buildings are responsible for 40% of our global CO2 emissions, 99% are existing buildings. This makes it absolutely necessary to make existing buildings more efficient, especially by retrofitting intelligent systems for demand-driven space and energy use.

For example, if an area is only used at certain times or very rarely, heating, cooling, ventilation, and lighting should be adjusted accordingly. This not only reduces rental costs, but also directly saves a lot of CO2.

EnOcean's energy-harvesting wireless sensors play a central role here, as they offer clear advantages. The installation is simple and quick, and the devices are a lot cheaper than wired solutions.

Choosing a wireless installation saves costs of up to 70% for retrofitting, and around 30% for new builds. Fewer resources like copper and PVC for cables need to be used and there’s obviously no toxic battery waste. It’s also super convenient, as you don’t have to worry about replacing batteries all of the time or have a regular maintenance—it’s basically just fit and forget.

With the collected data from the sensors, companies can improve the CO2 balance of their buildings and reduce the energy consumption of typically 30% in commercial buildings.

What energy-saving potentials do you see?

Energy harvesting primarily ensures the sustainability of the installation—the big savings come from demand-oriented use of energy, space, and resources, which is the application. For example, over 20% of energy can be saved by means of intelligent individual room climate control. With a consistent optimization of space requirements, such as desk sharing, 25% of energy and resources can be saved, with an ROI of only a few weeks.

That these figures are so impressive just shows there’s a need for consistent implementation, especially during this uncertain economic situation. The solutions for this are ready!

Raoul Wijgergangs was appointed CEO of EnOcean in August 2021. The Dutch IoT expert has over 20 years of experience in the IoT industry, having led two successful exits through acquisition as well as one by a joint venture. Before joining EnOcean, he was CEO at Disruptive Technologies in Oslo and worked as Vice President/General Manager at Silicon Labs as well as Vice President/General Manager of the Z-Wave business unit at Sigma Designs in Copenhagen, to name but a few positions. He’s also a co-founder of the Z-Wave Alliance.