It’s 2020, and the global standards for building electrical systems are still based on 70-year-old Thomas Edison era electromechanical architecture that is outdated, prone to malfunction, and lacking in basic intelligence that adds functionality and value to powered products. Compared to state-of-the-art innovations like wireless control, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and solid-state silicon technologies, our current electrical infrastructure is akin to seeing that smartphones exist but continuing to communicate with clay tablets or carrier pigeons.
Modernizing this infrastructure with solid-state control of electricity upgrades not only the quality, reliability, and safety of our buildings, but also introduces the opportunity to embed more intelligent sensing and connectivity solutions directly into the electrical grid, turning a building’s electrical infrastructure into a transformative smart home foundation for a whole new generation of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and capabilities.
Why We Need Smarter Buildings
The residential and commercial building markets for new construction and remodel/retrofit often include smart systems such as residential security and automation systems, commercial fire, access control, and building automation systems. While the nuances of each sector are different, key dynamics have so far limited both market penetration and the scope of installations, diminishing their value potential. Currently, fewer than 30% of U.S. homes employ some form of residential security or automation system, despite a growing consumer appetite for more digitally connected and controllable appliances and home systems.
Solid-state electrification can transform and accelerate smart systems in ways not previously possible. Imagine:
- The control, capabilities and data offered by smart buildings in which every wall has intelligence powered directly by the electrical infrastructure instead of “lick & stick” battery-powered solutions.
- The safety and longevity benefits when every outlet, light switch, recessed lighting fixture, and even the central circuit breaker panel exclusively uses non-mechanical solid-state switches and power converters.
- An entire building using machine learning to enhance safety and energy savings without requiring human intervention.
- 10 times the sensor and data capture capabilities per room wall versus what typical smart security and automation installers put in as a whole “smart home.”
- Light switches and outlets embedded with new types of sensors to enable instant awareness of a room or building’s safety and health concerns for humans.
- Residential and commercial security and automation systems tapping into this existing foundation—an Amber-powered foundation of solid-state electrical infrastructure with embedded intelligence.
- Disparate systems for security, life safety, access and automation all utilizing this infrastructure for more comprehensive, interoperable and unified management of a whole building.
Solid-state electrification can fulfill this vision of what is possible and deliver on the promise of truly smarter homes and buildings.
What Smarter Buildings Can Do
Solid-state electrical breakthroughs solve real problems for the industry today, such as reducing or eliminating AFCI and other nuisance trips in circuit breakers and outlets, while also providing wireless connectivity for instant notifications and remote resetting after trips; enabling true flicker-less dimming that seamlessly dims from 0% to 100% with no dropoffs at any point; providing embedded solid-state intelligence and control that delivers arc-free tripping and native overcurrent and surge protection for substantially safer electrical delivery throughout buildings.
This disruption enables electrical endpoints including light switches and outlets to aggregate various functions such as motion sensing, dangerous gas detection, air quality detection, and temperature sensing that currently require separate standalone IoT devices. The resulting solid-state electrical infrastructure with integrated connectivity and intelligence can transform every building’s electrical endpoints into a new energy and IoT foundation.
Everyone Benefits from Smarter Electrical Systems
Having instant, comprehensive awareness and control of whole building environments will alter the market paradigm, the value proposition, and even potentially the economic model of every major smart building system today. A wide variety of industries and individuals will benefit from these changing expectations, including developers, builders, smart systems manufacturers, end consumers, and business owners.
Builders and electrical product manufacturers can reduce post-occupancy support costs through wireless delivery of insights for problem assessment and wireless control of electrical issues without requiring a truck roll. Property managers, maintenance workers, and building managers will have whole-building awareness of energy usage and status, so if a circuit breaker trips, they are notified immediately and given data on how and where the problem occurred. Compared with the current response procedure of getting a call about a power outage, walking to a breaker panel, seeing a tripped breaker, and then having to physically inspect the related area for problems, the procedure that uses building intelligence is far simpler and faster, with the potential added benefit of a data log automatically capturing every event for further analysis.
There are a range of others who can benefit as well, including electricians and electrical contractors, CEDIA smart platform providers and installers, commercial system providers of fire and access control and building automation, and others.
Smart, hyper-connected and hyper-intelligent buildings will transform the human experience much like the internet has, providing new capabilities and information that improves safety, energy conservation, business operations, and home life. As buildings increasingly monitor themselves and provide status updates to owners and inhabitants, solid-state electrical architecture will form the backbone for advanced analytics while simplifying high-tech renovations and remodels.
An Innovation as Disruptive as Electricity Itself
As we work to build excitement among industries that have historically been slow to adopt paradigm-disrupting technologies, the potential of these innovations will grow even further. We are hard at work educating businesses, industry leaders, and the public about the opportunity to create and embed enhanced algorithms and control software directly into electrical products, and we expect to reach a tipping point where the popular discussion quickly turns from “How will this help?” to “Why haven’t we always had this?”
This technology stands to disrupt the status quo of building standards and electrification procedures, and convince global industries to abandon archaic, incident-prone, and largely “dumb” electricity control products in favor of much more compelling and useful replacements that can utilize existing infrastructure like wiring, gang boxes and circuit breaker panels.
—Thar Casey is founder, president, and CEO of Amber Solutions Inc., a Silicon Valley-based electrical technology company.