Controlling the future

Closed systems and closed minds won’t solve the problems we face in tackling climate change and catering for a global population that already exceeds seven billion according to the United Nations and is increasingly living and working in buildings that need controlling.

The open systems approach that encourages collaboration between manufacturers is therefore the only way forward if we are to facilitate innovative thinking from systems builders and integrators.

We in the buildings control business ought to be rather proud of the way we are walking the talk. Of course, anyone who knows me will not be surprised to hear me add that the UK still has a long way to go to catch up with mainland Europe….


KNX compatible products are now the real focus for Theben and with gateways between KNX and the other open protocols such as DALI and OpenTherm now available, there seems to be little to stop the relentless march of open standards and the building management and control options for integrators are endless.

Theben’s history in control gear goes back to 1921 with the first ELPA, a simple device by today’s standards that was developed to stop lights in staircases being on all the time. There are nine ELPA options available today, the flagship being a multi-functional device with 12 functions. 

More than two decades ago Theben joined in with the development of EIB technology (now KNX) and manufactured the first BUS-capable time switches and twilight switches. Theben has been a member of the KNX Association since 1995 and works with other leading manufacturers to make KNX the worldwide standard for home and building control. With a wide range of devices now available, and gateways between KNX and other open protocols, we can look forward to new ideas and devices that allow for ever-more precise control of a buildings environment, efficiency and safety and the ways in which we detect and react to the presence and behaviour of individuals in a building.

So what’s new and what’s next? It goes without saying that sustainability and energy efficiency have become more important than ever for technology and product development over recent years. It‘s a trend that drives Theben’s investment in developing an energy saving, conservation. But what have we done to boost efficiency in our own premises?

Smart metering

Roof-mounted photovoltaic systems, emission-free electric vehicles in the company vehicle fleet, a wide range of energy efficient systems and practices including Theben‘s Smart Meter Gateway are at the heart of the firm’s own energy policy. 

CONEXA smart metering sets the standard for smart metering. The Theben Conexa 1.0 acts as an interface between meters (electricity, gas, water, heating) and provides a single secure data centre for the required signature, encrypted encoding, storage, pricing and secure transmission of readings.

CONEXA ticks all the boxes with its simple plug-in installation, integrated display screen for consumption data, tariff information and more and open source (of course!) Linux operating system. It is built to allow for future updates and individual software versions for Smart Home, Smart Metering and Smart Grid are offered. The Theben CONEXA Smart Meter Gateway is simply plugged into the existing electronic basic meter, connected to the mains supply via the jumper (counted or uncounted energy), and connected to a communication device (Ethernet or UMTS/ GSM) and the installation process is complete. The readings are transmitted to the gateway via the optical interface and an optional M-Bus communication device, which is widely specified.

The apparent success of the CRC (Carbon Reduction Commitment), which is requiring large and public sector organisations to cut back all their energy consumption and pay a levy for that consumption makes it more likely that the scheme will be extended to smaller firms. CRC has been widely criticised as a stealth tax, after the Chancellors raid on the scheme – initially the levies were to be redistributed among better performing firms, but now the Treasury is keeping the cash, which helps to focus minds in any board room.  This threat, coupled with escalating fuel costs encourages firms to take reducing consumption more seriously and the first step to identifying savings is to be able to see where you are using power. Smart Meters will therefore become ubiquitous, and the smarter the better.

Photovoltaic systems

The company installed a photovoltaic system on the roof of its administration building over ten years ago.  Additional panelling was installed on the roof of the production building in 2010 covering approximately 840sq m with an output of 115 kWp. With an annual total output of 160 kWp, this produces a saving of around 120 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

The rapid uptake of photovoltaic solar in Germany was driven by tariffs to attract the early adopters, but as the market grew and prices fell, the momentum was maintained even as tariffs tailed off.  The UK market would do well to look at the German experience and take heart, despite the current furore over last December‘s pre-emptive tariff cuts.

A Heat pump was also brought into service in the middle of 2011 to provide HVAC for the 6,000sq m production building at Theben. This produces heat in winter and cools the air in the summer using 75 geothermal probes to supply a constant temperature and fresh air and has led to a significant reduction in the energy used in the heating and air conditioning of the production building. An input of 29kW of electrical energy produces 206kW of thermal energy in this system.

Theben has chosen the Citroën C Zero which is powered by lithium-ion batteries and with zero emissions over a range of 130 km with speeds of up to 130 km/h. The batteries are fully charged in six hours using a standard 230 Volt power socket. It is possible to recharge the batteries to 80% capacity in half an hour at one of the special charging points (125 A, 400 Volt). 

If a small town like Haifgerloch can install charging points, we should expect to see more of them in UK cities soon.  Petrol heads may despair, but this is a sure sign of things to come and real men will be driving electric cars!

Just switch off!

As very many electrical devices, such as PCs and printers, also consume energy when switched off, staff at Theben use one of the company’s most basic products to minimise standby losses.

The power supply to every one of the work stations involved is switched off automatically at a set time in the evening. For this, even the R&D team developing the next generation of building controllers are using the simplest plug-in time switches from the Theben range.

At the end of the day

In all honesty, nothing much has changed with the fundamentals of controls in recent years. Various types of control devices sw
itch or modulate a system, which consumes power in response to the requirements of the building occupiers. In the main these devices control the lighting and environment of a building. 

Manufacturers can only deliver products which are better and more flexible at monitoring and switching – it’s down to the systems designers and integrators to use these tools to create inspirational, efficient, economical building environments…. the places where we will enjoy living and working, even when there are nine billion of us crowded on our planet.

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