The green push sweeping society has not slowed. From products to companies, from government agencies to initiatives, green is the word. But, the basis for most green initiatives stems from the contracting and construction industry, and that pioneering group is continuing to push green goals to new levels.

Energy consumption is one of the most compelling arguments in the case for going green. Soaring energy costs and the inability to get power needed due to stricter consumption thresholds have won over many opponents.

While in Silicon Valley recently, Adib Nasle, co-founder and chief strategy officer of San Diego-based EDSA, said a 22-year veteran of electrical construction told him, “If my client doesn’t hit his company’s energy savings targets, he loses his bonus. But if there’s ever a serious power problem that impacts operations, he loses his job.”

The contractor described the balancing act facing facilities managers: the pressure to be green but not at the expense of uptime.

Government sets a standard

The urgency to be environmentally friendly has brought the weight of public opinion, board-level corporate mandates and the federal government to bear on electrical contractors. As evidence of the seriousness with which electrical power contractors will have to regard the “greening” of their projects, consider the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, signed by President Bush. According to Nasle, “The new law requires that the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) establish an Office of High-Performance Green Buildings to promote green building technology implementation in federal buildings. The bill includes provisions to improve energy efficiency in lighting and appliances, and requirements for federal agency efficiency and renewable energy use that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The bill requires all general purpose lighting in federal buildings to use Energy Star products or products designated under the Energy Department’s Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) by the end of Fiscal Year 2013. In addition, to further strengthen the government’s overall stance, it established an Office of High-Performance Green Buildings (OHPGB) in the GSA, as Nasle said. This office will promote green building technology implementation in federal buildings.

The bill will update the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) to set new appliance efficiency standards. It amends the EPCA to prescribe or revise standards affecting regional efficiency for heating and cooling products, procedures for new or amended standards, energy conservation, energy-efficiency labeling for consumer electronic products, residential boiler efficiency, electric motor efficiency, and home appliances.

Factors driving green electrical construction

Green initiatives are going full speed. The new federal act was enacted at the same time that many major corporations announced significant green strategic initiatives and a focus on energy management.

There are five primary factors driving this focus. The first is that energy costs have been increasing steadily. According to research conducted by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), office lighting accounts for 30 percent of energy consumption, and environmental systems (heating, air conditioning) account for another 30 percent. But a staggering 55 percent of energy consumption goes to computers, data centers and other IT infrastructure. Trends suggest this will continue to increase dramatically.

The second factor involves office equipment and computer systems that have made energy consumption far higher than in the past. Buildings designed 20 years ago simply were not designed to have a computer, monitor, printer, digital phone, cell phone charger, etc., on every desktop, nor were they designed to have a “server farm” squeezed into a wiring closet.

The third is that computer density is putting more computing--horsepower into the office environment. A typical computer room or data center consumes 15 times more energy per square foot than typical office space and is estimated to be 100 percent more energy intensive, in terms of density, according to Nasle.

Fourth is that heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) technology has not kept pace with the increased heat associated with higher multitude and density office and IT systems. The more dense these systems are and the more electricity they consume, the more heat generated and the more air conditioning required.

“As more and more equipment is being squeezed into a smaller footprint, the total energy per square foot increases exponentially,” Nasle said.

The fifth factor, according to Nasle, is that the world is watching. The mainstream attention and media coverage of environmental issues, from watchdog groups to everyday media and civic organizations, is requiring companies to be accountable for their environmental records. Concerns about corporate carbon footprint contributions to the Greenhouse Effect are influencing all aspects of corporate strategic planning.

“Sure, it’s possible to design and construct a failsafe facility if you have a massive budget, and efficiency is not a priority. But generally, the more reliability you demand, the more you potentially compromise efficiency. And that, in today’s green-above-all-else society, is more than just a glaring social faux pas. It’s leaving the meter running at a time when energy costs are as volatile as they were during the oil crisis of the 1970s,” Nasle said.

Technology to the rescue

In the building world, the first generation of building management systems (BMS) was an important first step in providing electrical contractors with insight into building operations.

However, as Nasle said, “These fell short, in that their only indicator of problems is when a threshold—e.g., an overloaded circuit that trips—has already been breached. They cannot warn of impending problems that, with sufficient warning and information, could still be averted. Even BMS with ‘predictive’ capabilities—which simply look back at trends, extrapolate a linear value and return a prediction—are based only on historical data, like projecting the future value of stocks based on their past performance. These systems have no means to recalibrate their forecasts.

“In diagnosing the health and energy efficiency of electrical infrastructure, a system must take into consideration design limits, changing conditions and their real-time implications. Thus, it begins diagnosing the health of the overall system the instant problems become theoretically possible. This model-based methodology understands the interconnectedness of all equipment, to take a master view of energy-saving opportunities.

“Aggregated information from such detailed operations can provide significant reductions in energy costs and operating costs through improved energy management. True situational awareness—which includes knowing your overall capacity, present level of energy usage, and the ability to identify the highest consumers of energy in your facility (energy hogs)—allows organizations to make intelligent decisions on where efficiencies can be achieved.

“Likewise, understanding the capacity of your facilities in real-time gives management insight into when and how to manage facility planning. Whether consolidating, expanding or moving facilities, knowing precisely how much power systems overhead you are using—and more importantly, how much remains to be used—is crucial in driving operational, technical and financial planning.

“Similarly, EDSA’s Paladin IVE [Infrastructure Virtualization Environment] feature is a virtual environment that provides an online, mirror image of a facility’s electrical power distribution. It enables users to perform detailed ‘what if’ simulations in a real-time environment that reflect the present configuration of their electrical infrastructure.

“Such simulations include testing of real-time configuration, maintenance, repair and other procedures, before attempting them on live systems … as well as test higher efficiency operating plans in a mimicked environment (shifting loads or replacing equipment with newer, higher efficiency products) prior to implementation.

“Taken together, these capabilities allow power analytics to help companies ensure operational integrity and operate as green as possible, while meeting their energy uptime goals. Companies across the country are deploying power analytics solutions in their most mission-critical operations, not only for energy management, but for more pragmatic things like accurately tracking energy usage, validating utility billings and determining the effect of facilities expansion and consolidation,” Nasle said.

Going green internally and externally

With the variety of green initiatives and projects looming, many are finding more case studies and real-life examples to base their own initiatives around. Eaton Corp. is one example of a company directly in the industry that is setting an example with its own precedent.

Eaton Corp. has made a public commitment to the Business Roundtable to reduce worldwide greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 18 percent by 2012. It is measuring and reporting on performance through Eaton’s Sustainability Report, which since 2006, has been part of Eaton Corp.’s Annual Report. As part of this effort, Eaton’s Electrical Group is implementing the Vision Project, whose goal is to design the energy-efficient prototypical Eaton plant of the future and develop a template for reducing energy and waste streams at existing facilities.

According to John White, energy management and environmental solutions manager, Eaton Corp., “This is not only a strategic business initiative. It’s the right thing to do. I joined Eaton in 2007 to help steer the Electrical Group’s sustainability efforts and increase awareness of our wide array of green building products and solutions. With more than 17 years of experience in energy and energy management, I felt well-prepared for this assignment, but never did I expect things to move so fast. Since then, it has been a blur. This topic has evolved from a movement to a market, and people in our industry are asking themselves, ‘What does this mean, and how can I participate?’

“There are standard definitions of sustainability, including the three Ps—people, plant and profit—whereby all three are in sync and somewhat equally weighted in importance. Many people use green interchangeably with sustainability; although, it is really more of a subset,” White said.

For Eaton and for an electrical contractor, green is really about electrical operating energy efficiency and the environmental benefits that result from choices made for a building’s electrical system.

Eaton is building a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver addition to its Electrical Group headquarters in Pittsburgh, and the general contractor has required the electrical contractor to participate and contribute to the LEED-related meetings.

“Apparently, this is not unique. If an electrical contractor has not been asked about contributing to LEED-certified buildings, then they may indeed be missing some opportunities to go green,” White said.

The role of an electrical contractor

With all the publicity and earmarked dollars for green projects, many within the contracting community are still somewhat on the outside looking in regarding ways in which they fit into this never-ending puzzle.

“Frequently asked questions from the electrical contracting community include, ‘How do electrical systems really play a role in green buildings … what do we impact?’ The fact is we make a big impact,” White said.

According to the 2003 U.S. DOE Buildings Energy Databook, buildings represent 70 percent of U.S electrical consumption and more than 39 percent of U.S. primary energy use (includes fuel input for production). With that much energy use in buildings, building electrical efficiency plays a significant role in the green building. It’s why electrical systems are almost always included in green building initiatives.

LEED certification still remains the ultimate green initiative, and even those not seeking full LEED status still cite the precedent it has set for guidance.

“The controllability of systems-lighting control [LEED credit] is a tailor-made credit for the electrical contractor,” White said. “Lighting is the single largest energy user in an office building at nearly 30 percent, and lighting controls can turn lights off or turn them down through daylight-harvesting capabilities.”

Plenty of other areas of opportunity for the contracting community in terms of LEED-centered and inspired projects exist, it just takes some time and effort to understand the ways contractors can contribute and benefit.

Because the green movement shows no signs of slowing down, contractors will need to become increasingly involved to keep up with demand. As green projects become funded and completed, others will be starting. Contractors are in a prime position. As with most building and infrastructure trends, it’s all associated with electrical systems.

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.