Christian Schiemann, ABB’s product marketing manager for Wiring Accessories explains how the smart home market is set for rapid growth as the first housing developers are trialling home automation systems as standard in new developments.
Digital research service BI Intelligence has forecast that we’re on the cusp of large scale-adoption of smart home technology. The worldwide market for smart home devices was worth $61 billion in 2014 but it is expected to grow to $490 billion by 2019. Two trends are enabling this. The first is that smart phones have raised expectations of how people can control the world around them. Secondly, the latest generation of smart home systems is much simpler – and therefore less expensive.
Until recently, only the wealthy could afford home automation as it required the expertise of a specialist contractor and knowledge of the KNX protocol. KNX is important for sophisticated commercial buildings but a new generation of products such as ABB-free@home has been created to meet demand for domestic systems.
These are making building automation simple and affordable. For example, ABB-Free@home is straightforward for homeowners and occupiers to use for controlling lights, blinds, heating and door control through an intuitive smartphone or tablet app. Crucially, it is also simple for ordinary electrical installers to set up – this keeps the cost down.
The key to this simplicity is a system that automatically detects sensors and actuators, and an app that guides the installer through the set up process in easy steps. Electrical installers can learn the new system in a few hours through local workshops organised by ABB distributors, with additional online support through e-learning modules.
One selling point for home owners is fingertip control of settings (and therefore energy bills) through a smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer. And then there’s the less tangible but equally important ability to impress friends and family.
House builders in Europe have started to trial smart home technology as standard in new home developments. One example is Heijmans, one of the largest building firms in the Netherlands, which is integrating ABB-free@home in its Living Industria development in Amsterdam.
In terms of the shape of things to come, home automation is still a very young technology and there are a lot of changes to come. Since launching free@home in 2014, ABB has added voice control functionality and a wireless version is coming soon so that installers can add to an existing system or retrofit into a house without the need for a complete rewire.
Another future development could be the use of gesture commands – for example, switching lights on and off with hand gestures. Another idea with potential is to integrate sensors into the system to allow buildings to track and adapt to people by activating light dimmers and blind actuators automatically or managing the temperature.
Another idea with potential for smart homes is intelligent energy usage. By combining solar panels with an energy storage system and a controller, home owners will be able to make best use of solar energy. A practical example is a washing machine that is left loaded in the morning that will only start once solar panels have generated enough energy to complete the washing without pulling power from the grid.
We expect UK house builders will pick up on this trend, which is why we’re rolling out training workshops for installers so that they can be ready to mobilise when home builders need them to to install, set up and programme smart home systems.