May 2010

Innovations in Comfort, Efficiency, and Safety Solutions.

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Accelerating Wireless Controls in the Retrofit Market
It is the social responsibility of the global community to be committed to making wireless controls work!

Louis Viglione


Louis Viglione, Eng.,
Viconics Inc.

Residential and commercial buildings account for more than forty percent of total global energy usage and sixty-five percent of electricity consumed. This sector represents by far the best opportunity for global energy reduction. More specifically the large amount of older inefficient buildings presents an interesting opportunity to reduce: energy consumption, corporate as well as residential operating costs and green house gasses. These are noteworthy global warming reduction initiatives.

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Viconics' WirelessThe recent global economic downturn has resulted in a general slowdown in new building construction, particularly in North America and Europe. This has led the HVAC+R industry to focus its attention on the building retrofit market, with the small building sector representing the largest segment. The total installed costs of standard solutions formerly applied to new construction and larger buildings still represent a significant obstacle; both in terms of financial investments and unacceptable returns for owners and property managers. Many new wireless control upgrades have failed to provide the required total installed cost reductions in order for the retrofit project to be economically viable. Additionally many wireless controls introduced additional complexity and reliability issues.

Acceptance of wireless solutions has also been plagued by other factors. Early systems were; complex, required additional components, had short battery life, unreliable communications with limited range due to point-to-point architecture.

Previously some were designed with radios that required the use of different frequency bands for different countries, further impeding general acceptance of the technology. Most were complicated to install and commission, required special tools and skilled technicians, which added supplementary costs to an already expensive solution.

It is interesting to note that most wireless building automation system controls today, are only truly wireless between the sensor and controller, with some using proprietary networks. While many of these solve one portion of the installation problem, most still require network wiring, and do not reduce the largest portion of the total retrofit job costs. Also, while most of these room sensors use batteries for power, some use ambient solar energy or energy harvesting, with the latter employing proprietary wireless protocols due to having less power available.

It is to no one’s surprise that the forecasted growth for the building automation system control market has not materialized as of yet, nor has it come close to reaching anywhere close to its’ true potential.

Although newer systems, based on open “ZigBee” standards promise to revolutionize the industry by utilizing global frequency bands and wireless mesh technology, their penetration and market acceptance has been slow. This is totally understandable, as it is human nature for consulting Engineers, building owners and the contracting community to have a long memory for previous unfavorable experiences! It is very likely that this proliferation will be accelerated, once “ZigBee” profiles are defined for both residential and commercial markets, as “ZigBee IP” becomes available to meet the needs of intelligent metering and demand and response.

Systems need to go further! They must be reliable, simple to use, install and commission. They must offer equivalent or superior functionality to wired systems today. They must reduce both total installed costs as well as operational costs in order to be a viable solution when applied to the retrofit building market.

The possible scenario of replacing billions of batteries every two to three years will not go very far in gaining industry and consumer acceptance. Design should ensure that battery and battery life should not be an issue from both an operational as well as an environmental perspective! If batteries are used, battery life must equal or exceed the life of the product! Better still, it will be possible with new power harvesting technologies or through system architecture to eliminate batteries altogether.

I am sure, with these improvements, wireless building controls are poised to really take off in the near term and become as commonplace as what we have seen in wireless computer networking and wireless mobile communications. This will result in unprecedented energy savings and green house gas reductions allowing time for the renewable energy industry to take firm root and prevent the needless constructions of hundreds of power plants. It is the social responsibility of the global community to be committed to making wireless controls work!

About the Author
Louis Viglione is the President and founder of Viconics Electronics Inc. located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada

For over 25 years, Viconics Electronics Inc has brought expertise to the HVAC industry through thoughtful product innovations created based upon direct market feedback.

Viconics is a manufacturer of communicating and non-communicating HVAC control products. Viconics products are designed for ease-of-use, increased energy savings with improved comfort; improving ROI, lower total installed costs while facilitating installation and integration into building automation systems through open BACnet®, Lontalk® and wireless ZigBee® communications protocols.


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