Shopping mall chain invests in powerline communications for IoT lighting

July 21, 2017
Britain's intu joins £3 million Series A round in enModus, starts small pilots.

Britain's Intu joins £3 million Series A round in enModus, starts small pilots.

Amid all the recent talk about Bluetooth, ZigBee, visible light communications, and Power over Ethernet as communication channels for Internet of Things (IoT) lighting, it's easy to forget there's a ubiquitous infrastructure already in place that can also connect lighting to the Internet: electricity cabling.

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A major owner and operator of malls and shopping centers in the UK and Spain appears to see the potential in that technology, called powerline communications (PLC), which runs both data and electricity over standard 120V and 240V lines.

The company, London-based Intu, has joined a new £3 million ($3.9 million) Series A investment round in enModus, a Welsh PLC specialist that provides nodes and hubs to turn lights into a data communication network over existing electrical connections, in a system it calls Wattwave.

Intu is trialing Wattwave in two small pilots, one at its London headquarters office and another at a storage area at a shopping center in Watford, England. It appears to be considering it for its many retail properties.

“We were impressed by the team at enModus and the massive potential their technology offers,” said Intu commercial and digital director Trevor Pereira. He noted that the investment reflects Intu's ongoing efforts at “spotting new ideas and innovations that will help shape the future of our industry and the way in which we operate.”

Intu owns shopping centers and malls in the UK and Spain, such as Eldon Square in Newcastle, and is now investing in technology to bolster IoT lighting. (Photo credit: Intu.)

Wattwave enables commercial and industrial end users to better monitor and control their lighting network. It can serve just about any environment, including those where ceilings might be too high for effective wireless communication, or where physical structures might impede wireless signals (too much metal can interfere with Bluetooth signals, as even the most ardent Bluetooth supporters acknowledged when LEDs Magazine wrote about the long-awaited Bluetooth mesh standard earlier this week).

It also eliminates the need for new cabling that a rival wired technology, Power over Ethernet, requires.

“Having Intu, such a key player in commercial real estate, joining our key investors and supporting enModus, is a validation that our technology is the best fit for safer and smarter buildings and that we provide our customers with a platform that helps them manage their energy-efficiency priorities in the most effective way,” said Andy Heaton, founder and CEO of Chepstow-based enModus.

One EnModus customer, Terex Trucks, uses Wattwave to send data to high-bay LED ceiling lights via conventional electricity lines at its manufacturing in Motherwell, Scotland. Terex is a division of Volvo Construction Equipment. The system has improved energy monitoring. And combined with the new LED lights, it has cut lighting's electricity consumption by more than 90%.

The £3 million infusion into enModus also included IoT investment firm Breed Reply, and the Welsh government's Finance Wales, which backs small to medium enterprises.

“It will allow us to rapidly grow our customer base across multiple regions,'” said Heaton. “The Internet of Things is driving new possibilities for control of a wide range of devices from LED lighting to building control and other connected systems. It’s a huge market and we’re now well-placed to take advantage of that.”

Besides Watford, Intu's properties include a 1.1 million-ft2 retail and leisure complex in Glasgow, called Intu Braehead, that has an indoor ski slope, climbing wall, bowling alley, and cinema, as well as shop and restaurants. Other locations in the UK include Manchester, Norwich, Derby, Newcastle, Essex, Gateshead, Bristol, Cardiff, Milton Keynes, and more. Spanish sites include Madrid, Oviedo, and Zaragoza.

MARK HALPERis a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist ([email protected]).