Growing awareness of environmental issues and technological innovations has led to emerging energy management and sustainability options. With green buildings becoming the norm in the developed world, according to Frost & Sullivan, electrical contractors (ECs) can leverage their skills and penetrate the market.

In terms of energy management, metering and monitoring will be growing opportunities in 2012 and beyond for ECs to supply a service and for building owners to reduce energy consumption.

“Real-time metering allows building owners to access and analyze utility data immediately and use it to drive actions that can remedy issues and drive energy reduction,” said Don Newell, PE, CEM, LEED AP, director of energy services, EMCOR Mechanical and Facilities Services, a division of EMCOR Group Inc., Norwalk, Conn.

Industrial facilities also are trying to pay attention to energy management and using meters to monitor usage.

“Some facilities are using the data to make energy consumption improvements but also to monitor process performance,” said Kyle Dunn, president of MWE2 LLC, Morrow Bay, Calif.

Before smart meters and affordable, web-based analytical software, the process of determining action could take months, while utility bills were aggregated and analyzed, said Chuck Chavez, president of C&C Building Automation Co. Inc., San Francisco.

Energy management programs are driving enhanced building intelligence at the enterprise level, according to Melissa O’Mara, vice president of green building solutions, buildings business, Schneider Electric, Palatine, Ill.

“Companies are looking beyond the single building or campus view towards an integrated enterprise-wide energy management approach, which enables deeper knowledge, more responsive systems and greater dialogue,” she said.

All-around convergence, i.e., multiple low-voltage and information technology (IT) systems running on the same backbone, is another energy management trend driven by legislative mandates, building code changes and demands for tenant comfort, said Jim Dagley, LEED AP, vice president of channel marketing and strategy for Johnson Controls, Milwaukee.

“[ECs] are becoming involved earlier in the project and becoming responsible for coordinating and installing a larger converged system, rather than numerous, discrete systems,” he said.

Although building management systems (BMS), which focus on a building’s functions, have always been capable of energy management functions, people are beginning to realize the importance of converging the BMS with an energy management system that is focused on optimizing energy usage.

“Building owners are starting to understand that these systems are a powerful tool for energy performance, optimization and data extraction that enables them to reach their goals,” Newell said.

If building owners tend to pigeonhole their service providers, the challenge for ECs is to remind them of their ability to optimize energy use.

Of course, just getting started can be another challenge. If a contractor wants to enter the energy management business, it will most likely have to partner with a mechanical contractor at first.

“That is the best way to understand how HVAC systems operate, which is a large part of managing any building’s energy consumption, in addition to lighting controls,” Chavez said.

A key challenge to contractors in the energy management business, according to Melissa Golden, market segment manager, contractors, power business for Schneider Electric, is the current approach to new construction or large-scale retrofit projects, which focuses on keeping the initial construction cost low rather than optimizing for energy efficiency or high performance.

Contractors also face challenges in the migration from wired to wireless systems, which requires different knowledge and skills sets, and the requirement of many industrial facility owners that their service provider understands the manufacturing process. The contractor’s challenge is to convince the owner that their skills apply directly to the facility and are appropriate for an industrial environment trying to manage energy consumption, Dunn said.

The opportunities in the energy market are many and varied and include infrared imaging (taking temperature pictures of equipment or the building envelope to determine where heat is escaping and wasting energy); improving the performance of existing systems, photovoltaics or lighting controls; and, of course, submetering.

“Electrical contractors are in a unique position to develop themselves as energy advisers and agents for change, influencing general contractors, building owners and tenants around the criticality of high-performance buildings and lobbying for the integrated project delivery approach necessary to achieve them,” Golden said.

Energy management and sustainability is not a trend; it’s the future.

“As energy costs rise and utilities are driven to create clean energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, energy management and sustainability will become a more significant part of everybody’s bottom line,” Newell said.


BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 and darbremer@comcast.net.