Part of Future Homes- Avoiding unintended consequences

5. Controls and energy management

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We have all this clever technology in our home... it’s really smart but I wish there was just one app to control it all.

Homes are becoming very sophisticated with smart technology that can automate systems, anticipate patterns of use and respond to weather changes.

Individual manufacturers for each aspect (lighting, security, temperature control, ventilation) have their own control systems and interfaces but the ultimate goal of a single, intelligent home control seems to have eluded product developers and software writers. 

It’s not just language protocols that defy integration. Whilst each individual component can be functioning perfectly, that does not guarantee that the whole system is working. The design of ‘controls’, the software and interface that intelligently oversees the whole system, is lagging behind technology advances themselves. This is not uncommon in the building industry. Unlike in car design where the manufacturer has complete oversight of every component in the system and can calibrate everything in the factory, a building has a multitude of components and many ‘system’ variables including the personal preferences and habits of occupants. 

Electricity flows from the grid, from storage devices and from renewable sources and needs to be directed towards the best use depending on the specific demands for electricity, heat and hot water at a particular time of day.

Intelligent management of energy use will be especially beneficial when differential tariffs are introduced. Energy management and building management systems (BMS) should make best use of the available energy sources and efficiently operate the home, working in the background with little or no user interaction.

Whilst it can be straightforward to design, install and test an individual element, it is much harder to test or diagnose a whole system. In the near future, we may end up with home systems that are much less than ‘the sum of individual parts’, that is, not working as an integrated whole.  

Things that can go wrong:

  • Predicted efficiencies and energy savings not realised;
  • Underperformance of the whole house system;
  • Complicated diagnosis, fault finding and testing;
  • No single point of responsibility: individual components work but not together as a whole.

Future-proofing recommendations:

  • DESIGN: Integrate individual components, aim for efficient, compatible technologies with compatible controls systems that communicate with individual elements;
  • INSTALL: Follow designs and specifications accurately to avoid added difficulty in diagnosis and fault finding;
  • COMMISSION: Commission systems as well as individual building components;
  • COMMISSION: Follow designer’s performance intentions ‘in-use’ and make sure everything works, not just ‘complies’.

Further Reading

Previous Chapter 4. Energy from renewables
Next Chapter 6. Draughts

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