Installing conventional light switches in a building often requires miles of cables and wires. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Alternatives to cabling, such as wireless battery-operated light switches that control when the light is switched on and off, are now available. However, batteries have to be replaced eventually. That costs time and money. Not to mention that a lot of toxic chemical waste is generated in an office building with numerous light switches. So this is not an ideal solution either.
Wireless, battery-free, green
But there is another option that requires no cables, wires or batteries: battery-free wireless technology from EnOcean, a company headquartered in Ober-haching. ‘Torre Espacio’, a 236 metre tall tower block with 57 floors in Madrid, illustrates just how innovative and functional this technology is. 4,200 wireless switches were installed, saving approximately 31.5 km of cables. Battery-operated switches would have required 21,000 batteries over a period of 25 years. This equals 41,000 kWh of primary energy required for battery production.
The ‘green’ technology operates according to the energy harvesting principle. Minor environmental changes – for example when light is switched on in a room or the temperature fluctuates – generate enough electricity to transmit radio signals. For example, the system can be configured so that light in corridors and rooms is only turned on when it is actually needed. This reduces energy consumption by 30 to 50%.
Through the founding period with venture capital partners
Like many other innovative projects, EnOcean was supported by a venture capital firm. ‘We chose an unfavourable time to found a company. Just four weeks after the terror attack of 11 September, obtaining capital of any kind was extremely difficult – external capital was impossible to find,’ reports EnOcean founder Markus Brehler, who previously worked at Siemens for 12 years. That is also where the decision to found the company was reached – with four other Siemens employees. The founding team around Brehler invested its own capital into the spin-off company, and Siemens also participated as a minority shareholder. But this was insufficient for stable financing. So much the better that the venture capital firms Wellington Partners and Enjoy Ventures were willing to invest in the innovative concept, notwithstanding the challenging environment in February 2002. Siemens Venture Capital got on board in April, Baytech Venture in October and later Emerald Ventures as well as SET Venture and Prof. Kathrein. Additional capital totalling around EUR 30 million allowed the company to hire new employees and pursue the further development of its products.
EnOcean brought the first battery-free wireless modules to market after just over a year. The products quickly gained acceptance. Today they are being used in over 100,000 buildings around the world. Incidentally, they are not only installed in new buildings but frequently also in the course of renovations or retrofitting. For example, EnOcean-based products were used in the Semperoper Dresden. The technology offered clear advantages, since installing cables is prohibited in some parts of the building as it is listed as a historic monument.
Market leader in the energy-harvesting segment
EnOcean has a total of 50 employees today, with 45 in Germany. Turnover and sales for the company, which is the market leader in this segment, are doubling every year. The USA is a key market. Half of EnOcean sales in 2009 were generated by the American subsidiary in Boston and exports amounted to 60%.
The company name EnOcean is based on the real-isation that the world is an ocean of unused energy. Brehler and his team have created innovative products using this energy – successfully, as the history of the young company proves. EnOcean can also look to the future with optimism: the topic of energy efficiency – for new construction or renovation – is increasingly gaining importance around the world.
Interest in the battery-free wireless technology offered by EnOcean is also expected to grow. The investors will remain on board until 2012 at least. Does that inspire confidence? ‘A definite yes!’ says Markus Brehler. ‘We had no alternative at the time. Without venture capital, EnOcean would not exist today.’