Exclusive Interview: EnOcean Wireless Energy Harvesting IoT Tech

This time we talked to Zeljko Angelkoski, Marketing and Communications Director for EnOcean. The company is famous for making switches that need no mains or batteries, instead powering themselves by harvesting the kinetic energy used to actually push the switch…

Hi Zeljko, can you sum up what EnOcean is in a couple of sentences for us?

EnOcean GmbH is the originator of patented energy harvesting wireless technology. EnOcean manufactures and markets energy harvesting wireless modules for self-powered Internet of Things applications in the field of building and industrial automation, the smart home and LED lighting control.

EnOcean technology combines miniaturised energy converters with ultra-low-power electronics and robust RF communication using various standards – sub 1 GHz frequency band with EnOcean radio optimised for use in building automation and smart home, as well as 2.4 GHz standards, such as ZigBee or Bluetooth for worldwide smart home applications.

EnOcean Switch

The EnOcean radio standard on the other hand, is managed by the EnOcean Alliance, which defines equipment profiles to ensure that all the products from different Alliance members are interoperable.

 

Zeljko Angelkoski - EnOceanSo an action like pushing on a switch can ‘power’ the radio. Can you explain in a bit more detail how these kinetic devices work plus any other energy harvesting technologies you use?

EnOcean uses the principle of energy harvesting for its wireless sensor solutions. The technology’s secret ingredients are miniaturised energy converters, which take kinetic, solar or thermal energy and change it to electrical power. Together with an efficient energy management system, this platform enables self-powered IoT devices to communicate on various radio standards (e.g. EnOcean radio, ZigBee radio or BLE radio) – without installing complicated cabling or fitting batteries.

Energy harvesting wireless technology stems from a simple observation – where sensor data resides, sufficient ambient energy exists to power sensors and radio communications. Harvestable energy sources include: motion, indoor light and temperature differentials. These ever-present sources provide sufficient energy to transmit and receive radio signals between wireless switches, sensors, actuators and controllers, sustaining vital communications within an energy management system. The devices are low energy, but not low power. They have been optimised to operate from small solar cells for example, with only indoor lighting, while storing enough energy to last over a weekend in darkness.

 

Can you give us some idea of the popularity of EnOcean, for example how many manufactures are using your tech, how many different products are available and what’s the overall global install base of devices?

The EnOcean Alliance with over 400 member companies is offering an eco-system of interoperable products for building automation and smart homes, thus making buildings more energy-efficient, more flexible and lower in cost.

Currently there are about 1,500 interoperable products based on the EnOcean radio standard. For more than 15 years, leading product manufacturers have chosen wireless modules from EnOcean to enable their system ideas and have successfully deployed self-powered wireless switches, sensors and controllers in several hundreds of thousands buildings worldwide.

The EnOcean Alliance solutions use self-powered wireless switches, sensors and controls for flexibly positioned and service-free sensor solutions. It defines Equipment Profiles to create interoperability between the products of products manufacturers. The EnOcean radio standard uses the 868 MHz frequency band for Europe and China, the 902 MHz band for North America and 928 MHz band for Japan – all based on the international standard ISO/IEC 14543-3-1X.

 

The EnOcean Alliance is a member of the AllSeen Alliance. How is the AllJoyn framework becoming part of your offering and what does this allow you to integrate with?

EnOcean Alliance is working together with other alliances from the building industry, such as BACnet, KNX or LON, to offer building professional with a comprehensive solution for building automation and smart home.

In addition the EnOcean Alliance joined AllSeen Alliance in 2015 to shape a common language for connected homes of the future. The cooperation of AllSeen Alliance and EnOcean Alliance is a tremendously important step for the building automation industry, towards a future of seamless cross-vendor intelligent control. It marks a significant milestone in the EnOcean Alliance’s history of creating an interoperable, standard-based platform, which connects all building areas to an integrated system maximising the possibilities of energy savings and comfort.

In the IoT demo, an energy harvesting wireless switch talked directly to an Electrolux smart fridge, controlling temperature settings with the tap of a finger – all under the AllJoyn communication umbrella. This is only one example for new applications enabled by a seamless connectivity of different standards. Other examples include IP cameras connected to battery-less wireless sensors, water leakage sensors communicating with the washing machine and the water valve or a system for energy measurement. All scenarios have one thing in common: the user doesn’t need to deal with the various technologies concerned. Thanks to the standardised AllJoyn language, it can connect devices from different vendors and control all functionalities via a single App. Here’s a recent video on the collaboration:

 

Presumably there are savings that can be made using battery-less technology in large commercial installations. But is that significant in a domestic setting or is the convenience of being able to site a sensor or switch where you like the biggest selling factor?

Wireless technologies have increased as a flexible alternative for building control in recent years and established themselves well. The sensors, delivering the necessary data and process control commands, can be wirelessly placed in the building at the appropriate points. Consequently, facility managers are able to exploit the energy saving potential of a building quicker and with less effort. In addition, the freely placed components fit into flexible office concepts, in which partitions and room divisions should fit into the heterogeneous requirements of different renters. In the case of a change in the office structure, the switches and sensors relocate easily. Moreover, when devices and applications with batteryless wireless technology using EnOcean radio standard are employed, the lifecycle costs and maintenance effort will remain low.

In smart home applications, the same maintenance-free wireless devices provide increased comfort and security for the users. Due to the manufacturer-independent EnOcean eco-system, the user has a free choice of products. The central controller converts the complexity of the different technologies into easy and intuitive operation. Thanks to the energy harvesting wireless technology, the sensors are maintenance-free, are easy to install, can be relocated at any time and be upgraded at a later date. The result is a real smart home that seamlessly integrates comfort, energy savings and security into everyday life without requiring the user to deal with technology.

EnOcean Hardware

You recently announced a collaboration with ZigBee to create an open, global spec for energy harvesting wireless communication technology. How will your Sub-GHz radios operate with with the 2.4 GHz band of ZigBee 3.0?

The EnOcean Alliance and ZigBee Alliance have announced to start a co-operation in December 2015, but in the meantime, the co-operation will not be continued. Nevertheless, EnOcean GmbH, the technology provider of energy harvesting wireless technology using various radio standards, has made a strategic decision to expand its existing  sub 1 GHz portfolio using EnOcean radio with a 2.4 GHz ZigBee range and with a 2.4 GHz BLE range, which will be introduced by end of 2016. First demonstrated using BLE were already shown at the Light+Building in March 2016 (http://luxreview.com/article/2016/03/gooee-in-tech-deal-with-enocean- ). With the new 2.4 GHz offering, product manufacturers can now realise batteryless switch applications for worldwide use. The sub 1 GHz portfolio using EnOcean radio remains the best choice for building automation and smart homes, where a radio range of up to 30m is an important issue.

EnOcean is already working in the technical working group of the ZigBee Alliance to further develop ZigBee Green Power stack, which will be part of the upcoming ZigBee 3.0, to be used with energy harvesting wireless devices. Products such as the Philips Hue Tap Switch already use EnOcean energy harvesting wireless module using ZigBee radio in 2.4 GHz.

 

Are there any plans to produce other WiFi or Cloud bridges to integrate with popular consumer smart home systems like SmartThings so more people can take advantage of your technology?

EnOcean GmbH as a technology provider supports customers to provide maintenance-free solutions for the Internet of Things. Recently, IBM and Farnell have decided to introduce two starter IoT starter kits with IBM technologies for self-powered IoT applications, using self-powered wireless switches and sensors with EnOcean radio standard. Find here more information:
https://www.enocean.com/en/about-us/press-releases/element14-unveils-two-self-powered-iot-starter-kits-with-enocean-and-ibm-technologies/
Self-powered IoT Enterprise Kit: https://www.element14.com/community/docs/DOC-80864
Self-powered IoT Entrepreneur Kit: https://www.element14.com/community/docs/DOC-80846

 

Will we see EnOcean Z-Wave switches in the future?

For building automation and smart home applications in the sub 1 GHz we already have a large eco-system of field-proven maintenance-free wireless solutions using EnOcean radio, optimised for low-energy use. In the last 15 years hundreds of thousands of buildings were deployed with EnOcean based devices. In the 2.4 GHz band we already offer ZigBee based products and will introduce a BLE range by end of this year. Therefore, we do not consider or plan to use a product range using Z-Wave radio standard.

 

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. What’s the best place for people to find out more about EnOcean?

For further information on the EnOcean GmbH, offering energy-harvesting wireless products  can be found here:
www.enocean.com

Further information on the EnOcean Alliance solutions for building automation and smart homes can be found here:
www.enocean-alliance.org

 

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2 Comments on "Exclusive Interview: EnOcean Wireless Energy Harvesting IoT Tech"

  1. It is a pity that there is no opensource alternatives mentioned. Both openremote and openhab have EnOcean available. You can switch TV with EnOcean
    http://youtu.be/0E4hv_31B9U
    or an old air conditioner
    http://youtu.be/u4xrIPt0xhw
    BTW, my demos are quite similar to what they showed at CES 2016, but bit more advanced as they use more sophisticated rules logic.

  2. @Michal – thanks for the info.

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