The wow factor with serious sustainability

Gordon Fry, KNX technical specialist at Wandsworth Group discusses the energy management requirements driving growth in commercial KNX installations in the UK and the technology developments meeting the demand for more effective energy monitoring and control.

Not so long ago, demand for KNX in the UK was all about wow factor and in the commercial office environment that often meant one-upmanship, with landlords and developers asking “what can I put into my office to make it stand out from the competition?”

At the prestige end of the office market, that need to specify a whizz-bang intelligent building that stands out against a crowded landscape of high end offices remains. But things are changing. Even at the top end of the market, the recession means that occupiers have to consider overheads more keenly and must be more accountable for costs. Moreover, the continuing evolution of building regulations, notably Part L, means that energy efficiency is a mandatory element of the specification process, driving efficient use of lighting and heating systems. With energy prices rising and green credentials gaining an increasingly important relevance to a company’s bottom line, the need to monitor, manage and control a building’s energy consumption is greater than ever before.

So while the impact, flexibility and ease-of-operation of KNX has been championed by some specifiers for many years, the ability of a KNX system to reduce energy consumption, manage load, integrate energy from renewables and provide accurate management information from real time monitoring has helped to make it extremely relevant for the sustainability agenda. The fact that KNX systems can also be tailored, adapted to meet changing needs and composed of a choice of thousands of products from hundreds of manufacturers has also helped to broaden its appeal.

New energy

At the time of writing, the UK has over 480 accredited KNX integrators, a number which is rising steadily. However, when we compare the UK’s ability to deliver KNX installations to France where there are more than 1,400 integrators or Germany where there are 14,000 and rising – it’s clear that there is a job to be done in educating architects and consultants about the benefits of KNX in order to create sufficient demand to encourage more potential integrators to train. While the KNX Association and KNX suppliers continue to fulfil that remit, the rising importance of load management and energy reduction are creating a much more receptive audience.

KNX now has a 74% share of the smart buildings market in Europe; a market share that is growing rapidly thanks to the protocol’s ability to enable smart integration of different building services and energy sources through monitoring and controls.

Whereas micro-generation such as solar energy, ground source heat pumps and wind turbines used to be the preserve of green buildings, sustainability has become a marker of quality for large corporates looking for new premises and renewable energy as an integrated part of the build is therefore much more common. Retrofit of such technologies into existing buildings is also on the rise and occupiers and building management companies are looking for ways to quantify the benefits of their renewables in order to justify further investment, manage their energy requirements and report on their environmental performance.

Monitoring the proportion of energy consumption from different renewable technologies and the grid goes hand in hand with load management capabilities. The Jung Facility Pilot software from Wandsworth can be programmed to automatically switch off or power down non-essential items on the network during peak load periods. This not only means that the building’s carbon footprint is improved by reducing energy consumption, but it can also ensure that use of renewable energy is maximised during peak availability (so, during daylight hours for solar energy, for example) and use of electricity from the grid is minimised. As a result, the building is cheaper to run and more environmentally efficient.

The energy monitoring capabilities that KNX offers is also proving to be a useful tariff management tool. The same Facility Pilot software acts as a smart metering tool, measuring the actual consumption in each zone of the building with real-time data to assess the tariff based on the time of day and the source of the energy (renewables or grid). In multi-occupancy buildings this has advantages for both the occupier and the landlord/building management company and can also feed into analysis of energy consumption patterns to enable a detailed energy management plan.

Future vision

The KNX Association hopes that we may one day see KNX cities where a city-wide KNX infrastructure manages supply from renewables and the grid to commercial and domestic buildings in the most energy efficient and environmentally sound way possible.

In the UK we are still a long way from making this a reality but the affordability of integrated KNX installations that combine wow factor with energy efficiency is bringing us closer to an intelligent built environment. What’s more, as the enthusiasm from specifiers for KNX grows, so too does acceptance from end-users, helped by the ubiquitous presence of consumer electronics in every aspect of our lives. Accessories like the Jung Smart Room Controller from Wandsworth, which has been designed with the look, feel and ease of operation of the iPhone, exemplify this approach, putting control of the office environment and of environmental performance firmly in the hands of the occupier.

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