Anyone with an interest in smart homes will be no stranger to Light+Building, the world’s leading trade fair for architecture and technology in the German city of Frankfurt. The event currently takes place every two years, and this year’s Light+Building ran from April 11 through 16. One thing became obvious to visitors as soon as they entered the venue: Even in the conventional energy sector, IT has become an integral part of the industry and is here to stay. With the help of computers, three objectives can be met. First, energy can be saved; second, people can enjoy more (domestic) comfort; and third, security in buildings and homes can be heightened.
Only through modern and – in particular – smart building technology can more comfort be achieved both at work and at home. Heating, ventilation, lighting, shade, and security all contribute to making buildings more comfortable. And in the not-too-distant future, the integration of electric cars into the energy concept for buildings will also play a role. That’s because electric car batteries represent gigantic and practically universal buffer storage facilities in the smart grid.
All that remains is for energy consumption to be digitalized and constantly recorded – in other words, smart metering (see the article Saving Energy with an iPhone). This will soon become increasingly important in houses and buildings, to enable billing to take place in short time periods and be tailored to the circumstances of the grid.
At Light+Building, discussions revealed that, despite the ongoing financial crisis, the building automation sector is blooming compared with other areas of the economy. This may be down to political endeavors to reduce carbon emissions and the associated efforts to make buildings more energy-efficient. What’s more, the sector also has a competitive advantage compared with other industries, because investments pay off after a relatively short time. In the core area of building automation, the 80 top providers generate annual sales of €3.6 billion with hardware and software – and the figure for Germany alone is €1.2 billion.
In the smartest of smart homes, lighting, blinds, doors, windows, heating systems, and air conditioning are all aligned for maximum efficiency and comfort. Depending on light intensity and sun rays, for example, blinds go down automatically and their slats are titled at the appropriate angle. Similarly, the lighting can be adjusted to create a particular atmosphere, if desired. All the settings can be made using touchscreens.
Transitioning from smart metering to the electronically controlled low energy house of tomorrow still requires a considerable amount of work. Within each house, internal data communication will take place using bus technologies. Energy management based on this can, for example, optimize the use of a freezer or a heat pump – and later can regulate the time it takes for the battery of the electric car to recharge, using wind power or energy from solar panels on the roof wherever possible. Nevertheless, smart metering remains the prerequisite for smart buildings.
Unlike the situation for commercial properties, the smart networking of homes is still at a relatively early stage. Most apartments in Germany are not equipped with networked smart devices or control systems. Conventional technology generally prevails, with the exception of energy guzzlers such as refrigerators, washing machines, entertainment electronics, and lighting. But in principle, smart homes are already possible today. And this is happening in some places, notably new buildings with an emphasis on prestige and comfort. Applications for universally managing heating systems, ventilation, air conditioning, lighting, shade, and security have already become established.
However, the vision of a smart home that only aims to maximize luxurious living is set to fade into the background. Instead, “smartness” will concentrate more on increasing energy efficiency and therefore on reducing costs. After all, household heating bills account for almost 22% of total end-use energy consumption in Germany.