Smart thinking

The use of 'smart' technologies is now becoming commonplace in the region's buildings. MEP Middle East examines how these systems are changing and what's new in the market.


Over the past year the application of electronic or 'smart' technologies has increased enormously in the region. As developers vie for ways to make their buildings stand out from the masses, installing added extras such as home automation systems has become popular.

The market is expected to continue expanding, with recent research from Parks Associates predicting that by 2011 almost 145 million homes worldwide will include data networking solutions. At the end of 2005 this figure was around 80 million and the Gulf is a growing market.

Intelligent buildings optimise the use of energy ...if you can't measure, you can't improve.

But the technologies are not simply gadgets for the home owner who has everything, they can also provide important function in the energy efficient operation of buildings. The sensors and metering systems included in these smart systems can be used to record and monitor the energy use, enabling a more efficient use of the MEP services and predictive maintenance.

"As the intelligent buildings concept came into the industry it was misunderstood," states Jagath Gunawardena, team leader building services management, Dubai Chamber of Commerce & Industry. "It was seen as more of a communications link than a service to the operating and maintenance industry, but this is changing." Much of this change is due to market demand, but advances in electronic devices and web services are making it possible. "For the past number of years we've had device levels that measure and sense - they're the source of the information," explains Nigel MacKenzie, chief technical officer with systems integrator Pacific Control Systems. "These are connected on networks which support a protocol - the language the devices use to talk to each other - and transfer the information.

"The big step change in the IT/software world for enterprise application software is that there's a standard emerging for taking the raw data off devices; this is called web services. This is a simple open access protocol and is becoming the defacto standard," adds MacKenzie. This web-based system enables devices to communicate regardless of their manufacturer or individual protocol requirements. The significance of this development is the ability for building managers and facilities management firms to collect data for analysis and planning of future maintenance and building operations.

"Intelligent buildings optimise the use of energy on site," adds George Berbari, ceo of DC Pro Engineering. "If no measurements are taken, the value of an intelligent building design cannot be properly evaluated. What many countries lack is segregation of metering - btu meters are needed on the air conditioning, cooling and lifts. If you can't measure, you can't improve," he adds.

"We currently take data such as temperature, pressure and time from the devices, translate this and make it available as web services so that facilities management packages can be connected to this and the data becomes more useful and meaningful to building managers," explains MacKenzie. "It enables a higher order analysis of the data and graphical effects of the energy being consumed can be created from the raw data." Having such data makes it simpler for building owners to identify areas where energy and cost savings can be made.

The web-based protocol also enables greater integration of the services within a property. "If the home automation system is IP-based and can support web services it can be connected on the same network as the building services such as hvac and fire alarm system and information can be shared between them," explains MacKenzie. "So if the home automation device is running the air conditioning, the system can look at the temperature setpoints for each property and can use this as part of an energy programme to operate the chillers."

"It's a two-way thing: the technology is able to serve two people: the home user gets the benefits of control and at the same time the information can be extracted by a facilities manager."

New developments

Many of the latest developments to be built in the region comprise the new networking communications technology, including The Waterfront at Dubai Marina, where each apartment within the 20-storey tower has an e-Home terminal that allows users to create an automated environment for lighting, temperature, security and access. Similar systems are expected to be installed in the Burj Dubai Tower and the Pearl-Qatar developments.

The choice of automation products available is also increasing and adapting to meet the new demands from users and building managers. Global firm LG Electronics has recently launched its intelligent home network solution LG HomNet into the region. The system enables all apartments in a residential building to be connected via a single server, reducing costs and maximising the system efficiency. The system integrates functions covering safety, communications, home tasking and community management; heating, cooling, security and entertainment systems can be operated automatically by computer, telephone or touchpad.

To ensure that energy use is minimised, the power supplied to each appliance is adjusted according to demand, with temperature, lighting and humidity controlled on a room-by-room basis. Power is provided only to the outlets with appliances plugged in and switched on; HomNet controllers monitor the circuits and disconnect power in the event of a short circuit or electrical failure. The product is already scheduled for installation at three projects in the region: the Santeville and U-Bora Towers in business Bay, Dubai and the Al Naseem Tower in Sharjah.

Clipsal has added to its portfolio with hotel automation solutions in the C-Bus 2 Series. Again user-control and energy management are the key functions of the system. Lighting, access and climate control are integrated into the room automation controller with logic program functions optimising in-room energy use. A centralised server enables control and monitoring of the guest room automation to enhance service levels and security.

The room controllers can be expanded to a networking system to enable the control of all the in-room systems from a central server. This also enables the collection of data for analysis and planning for future maintenance and use. The network system allows the automation system to be to be connected to the hotel access control system to restrict access to certain areas of the room.

Wieland Electric has added a radio-controlled system to its building automation product range. Gesis RC combines plug-and-play systems with wireless signal transmission to provide a solution for use in applications with glass walls or partitions.

Lights are plugged into a Gesis receiver installed in the ceiling and wireless RC wall switches fixed directly onto the glass panels can be used to control the lighting. The switch central inserts do not need batteries and installation time is reduced as there is no need for network cabling. As with other products in Wieland Electric's Gesis building automation range, the system can be operated on various protocols including EIB/KNX and LonWorks.

"Wireless technologies are becoming more robust," states MacKenzie. "They are very much in their infancy, but they are emerging." With continued advances in systems and technology, combined with a growing demand for the energy efficient operation of buildings, the implementation of these systems in more developments is certain.

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