Wireless communications for building control systems have been available for more than a decade. However, these product lines – focused on specific single building system (lighting, HVAC, etc.) – have achieved acceptance only in small market niches. Wireless controls have always had what seemed to be a strong business case: reduced labor costs thanks to less wire pulling, more flexible sensor placement, and the ability to adapt as building interiors are rearranged over time. In practice, however, these benefits were offset by the initial costs, lack of training, and often poor performance characteristics of the proprietary, non-standard market offerings.
This is changing rapidly, as two particular wireless controls standards have emerged with strong multivendor support: ZigBee Commercial Building Automation (ZBA) and EnOcean. Our recently published report, Wireless Control Systems for Smart Buildings, forecasts that these two standards will battle each other for share in a growing global market. Interestingly, these two successful standards evolved from very different approaches.
Wireless Building Controls Penetration Rate by Region, World Markets: 2012-2020
The ZigBee Alliance was founded in 2002 to develop an open standard for wireless sensor networking, with commercial building automation a key application target. While market attention has focused on an Internet Protocol (IP) version of ZigBee for Smart Energy (i.e., smart meter and home area networks), other groups quietly, steadily, and quite slowly, inched toward a ZigBee implementation for commercial building control systems. It took more than 10 years and several detours, but the working groups ultimately adapted the popular BACnet building control protocols to the proven ZigBee PRO networking stack to deliver a mesh networking solution that most industry participants are now embracing, including Trane and Schneider Electric, among many others. Ultimately, a long, multi-vendor effort has produced an acceptable general wireless standard that spans lighting, HVAC, fire & safety, and security & access building controls systems.
The EnOcean specifications have emerged by a completely different path that started from a proprietary single-vendor product set targeting a specific problem; it subsequently opened up to multiple vendors and a broader solution space. EnOcean GmbH was spun out in 2001 from Siemens AG as a provider of self-powered wireless lighting controls, whereby the energy inherent in physically toggling a light switch is harvested to power wireless communications to the lighting system. This avoids the battery maintenance problem associated with battery-based wireless switches. EnOcean the company initiated the creation of an industry alliance, and though the technology has been accepted as a ISO/IEC standard, the underlying technology remains essentially sourced by a single vendor. Yet, the EnOcean solution has garnered broad industry support and customer acceptance, particularly in Europe – enough to cause the ZigBee Alliance to develop a similar energy harvesting specification.
Despite the very different pedigrees, the stage is set for a battle between ZigBee, EnOcean, and proprietary solutions. Other standards and semi-standards including Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, and LonWorks will also look for mindshare, but we see these are secondary to the larger battle between ZigBee and EnOcean. This competition should benefit the consumers of these technologies: building controls vendors, integrators, installers, and ultimately, building occupants.
Tags: Building Systems, Grid-Tied Energy Storage, Mobile & Wireless, Smart Buildings Program
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