When founded in 1987 by Wayne Tyrell, Prime Electric Inc. (Bellevue, Wash.) concentrated on small electrical service projects and in-plant installations. Now, the company’s portfolio encompasses aerospace, commercial and high-rise office, municipal, educational and institutional, hospitality, high-rise residential, medical, biotech, retail, and industrial industries. Whatever the economic climate, Prime Electric has invested heavily in its service department’s ability to respond to customer needs.

Today’s trend is a focus on energy management-related service projects.

“As LEED and green issues receive increasing amounts of publicity, both ongoing and new service projects are including more energy management and conservation as components,” said Ron Lambert, group executive and special projects manager.

Building owners are looking for ways to demonstrate their commitment to green initiatives, but productivity and saving money in improved building operations also drive the demand for energy management-related service projects.

Customer expectations
The first thing customers expect from an energy management-related service project is a thorough analysis of the building and its energy consumption levels, according to Greg Leaf, Prime Electric’s service executive.

“We need to demonstrate savings in both energy and dollars,” he said.

Customers also expect the electrical contractor (EC) to intercede with utilities in obtaining rebates and incentives and to install systems or products that will deliver those agreed-on savings levels.

“Our customers also expect the service department to have access to design capabilities and to have knowledge of energy efficiency and management trends and technologies,” said Gregg Steeb, service manager.

No matter the size, the goal of an energy management-related service project is to upgrade the building to meet energy codes or other energy management goals. A small energy management project, Steeb said, could be a lighting retrofit, which would usually consist of upgrading lamps, ballasts and replacing fixtures that will lower consumption but deliver the same quality light levels.

“The latest technologies for general illumination are still a little more expensive than traditional sources. But the pricing continues to come down, and the payback period is getting shorter,” Steeb said.

Energy management goals in a lighting retrofit project could also include the incorporation of motion-controlled dimming ballasts and occupancy and daylight harvesting sensors.

A medium-sized project would build on lighting, Leaf said, to include the installation of variable frequency drive (VFD) motors for the building’s mechanical systems.

“VFDs save energy by regulating the speed and rotational force, or torque output, of an electric motor,” Leaf said.

For example, ABB estimates that its drives in operation worldwide save about 115 million megawatt-hours of electricity every year.

Such small- and medium-sized energy-management jobs are usually performed for building tenants.

“A larger project would focus on lighting and mechanical upgrades for an entire building or campus,” Lambert said.

Resources
“We already have the resources we need to perform this kind of work—our people, their experience and previous training, and their commitment to quality,” he said.

The company uses additional training opportunities to ensure that electricians working on energy management projects are up-to-date on the latest equipment, technology and installation methods.

“The ongoing education offered by manufacturers in new products as well as suppliers’ expertise and their backing of the products, are vital to the electrical contractor being able to demonstrate energy-savings opportunities and give building owners and tenants confidence in the quality and performance of system upgrades,” he said.

Electricians also need the right tools. Utilities are a resource for the EC working on these service projects. Utility incentives usually are based on energy savings, so the more conservation upgrades the contractor provides, the higher rebates the building owner receives.

“Electrical contractors need to know what the local utility’s rebate programs and incentives are as part of the initial analysis of the customer’s building operations, and they also need to keep current on changes to the programs,” Leaf said.

The demand for improved energy management presents a unique opportunity for ECs to diversify their service department offerings and to provide tenants the newest technology to increase energy savings. Certainly, ECs that deliver the best energy-efficient equipment and technology the industry has to offer will be the ones that succeed in delivering successful energy management-related service projects.


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.