The rewiring of America is the newest challenge to face the electrical contractor (EC). Over the past decade, new developments on the technological scene have made rewiring an imperative for power, lighting and communications.

Power
The cost of energy has reached levels never anticipated, and something must be done to monitor, manage and maximize power. The smart management of energy consumption is one of the fastest growth areas of the electrical industry. Many electrical contractors have added energy management services to their offerings. The payback on these applications is much higher than any other area of customer services. More data is emerging every year to confirm the findings that automated building systems can substantially reduce the cost of power. The pages of Electrical Contractor magazine are filled with examples of the smart building applications and how they are bringing the EC and the customer closer together. Expanding energy services is an important growth area for the EC.

Lighting
The rules for lighting are changing rapidly as the more efficient lighting systems are understood. Older technologies, such as incandescent bulbs, are getting the heave-ho in favor of the less-costly and more environmentally friendly light emitting diodes (LEDs). Once again, the EC is in the forefront of the changes in the new rules for lighting the workplace and homes across the nation. The EC has become the heir to the opportunity of updating the way we illuminate our world.

Communications
During the past 25 years, the world has been overwhelmed by the complete revolution of being able to communicate with every corner of the world. The Internet has made the flow of information absolutely mandatory in virtually every business and social area of our lives. The demand for speed and the volume of transmitted data has made most of the installed cabling systems obsolete overnight. No sooner had the world been wired for high speed data, when we discovered that the primary media (copper unshielded twisted pair) was challenged to keep up with the growing demand for more speed and a greater volume of information (data). Basically, copper cabling is limited by the rule that the faster you transmit, the shorter distance it can go.

Fiber optical cabling is the best barrier to obsolescence. The fiber optic cables are capable of reaching from the backbone to the work zone and beyond efficiently and with more bandwidth available. We envision that virtually all communications cabling will require upgrades within the next 15 years. In the United States alone, this means 40–50 million miles of cabling will need to be installed or replaced. Once again the EC is the best choice for this challenge. The competitive edge offered by communications to the world of commerce makes addressing this rewiring mandatory.

Smart buildings
Low voltage cabling (copper or fiber optic) is the nerve system for your operations. The EC can bring these technologies together in converged systems (lighting, security, life safety, telecommunications, etc.) to automate operations and your building. Continental Automated Buildings Association’s (CABA) president, Ron Zimmer, said, “CABA has many studies to confirm that the cost savings, particularly in electricity, can be significant.”

Electrical contractors increase work in the low voltage market sector
The results of the 2010 Electrical Contractor magazine reader profile study show EC’s work in the low voltage market has increased since the 2008 survey results.

? 66 percent of ECs performed work in communications/systems connectivity. Almost six in 10 worked in CII automation and controls in 2009.

? Significantly more electrical contractors in 2010 said their firm was actively involved in the design or specification of data centers and/or the installation of data centers than in 2008.

Category* 20-99 100+
CII Industrial Controls 66%  85%
CII Fire/Life Safety 71%  86%
CII Security/Access 52% 80%
CII Auto. Bldg Sys 43% 69%
Structured Wiring/Cabling 72%  85%
Lighting Controls 89% 92%
Network/VOIP/Wireless/Broadband 52% 69%
Data Centers 42% 66%
Fiber Optics 48% 79%
Energy Efficient Projects 41% 66%

*Work performed in 2009 (by No. of employees within electrical contractor firms

The economy
While many experts debate over the economy and the recession, it is clear that our world has changed drastically over the past few years, and it may be years before a complete recovery will occur. We have analyzed marketplace and found the strongest sectors are the government, education and medical (GEM) markets. These sectors have projected growth of 5–15 percent over the next two years. The EC is ideally positioned to provide the power, lighting and communications infrastructure to meet these needs.

In the recent State of The Union speech by President Obama, he directed our focus to some very important facts and issues. His remarks included, “Our world has changed. And for many, the change has been painful. I’ve seen it in the shuttered windows of once booming factories and the vacant storefronts on once busy Main Streets. I’ve heard it in the frustrations of Americans who’ve seen their paychecks dwindle or their jobs disappear—proud men and women who feel like the rules have been changed in the middle of the game.

“The rules have changed. In a single generation, revolutions in technology have transformed the way we live, work and do business. Steel mills that once needed 1,000 workers can now do the same work with 100. Today, just about any company can set up shop, hire workers, and sell their products wherever there’s an Internet connection.”

The competition for work is intense, but this shouldn’t discourage us. It should challenge us. Remember, for all the hits we’ve taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world. No workers are more productive than Americans. No country has more successful companies or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. We’re the home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any place on Earth.

The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still. As Robert Kennedy told us, “The future is not a gift. It is an achievement.” Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat. It has required each generation to sacrifice, struggle and meet the demands of a new age.

Today, we know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries. America needs to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world. In order to succeed, we have to make America the best place on Earth to do business. The EC has evolved to become one of the most powerful resources in our country because the EC is leading the way into a brighter day. Some experts say the EC will play a pivotal role in how we handle challenges economically, environmentally, and competitively in the global arena.

The most recent opportunity to challenge the EC is building the infrastructure to handle the needs of electrically powered autos. With more research and incentives, Americans can break their dependence on oil with biofuels and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. In setting America’s new goal: by 2035, eighty percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources. Some groups want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas. To meet this goal, America will need them all. ECs will play a major role in the training and implementation of the infrastructure of electric vehicles’ energy supply system.

Winning the future is rebuilding and rewiring America. To attract new businesses to the United States, we need the most efficient power system and the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods and information, from high-speed rail to high-speed Internet.

Within the next five years, it will be possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans. The EC is an important player in connecting America to the digital age. It’s about rural communities in America where farmers and small business owners will be able to sell their products worldwide. It’s about firefighters who can download the design of burning buildings onto handheld devices; students who can take classes with digital textbooks; or patients who can have face-to-face video chats with their doctors.

The EC certainly has a bright future as the United States and the world address the needs of power, lighting and communications for the future. All these investments—innovation, education and infrastructure—will make America a better place to do business and create jobs.


BISBEE is with Communication Planning Corp., a telecom and datacom design/build firm. He provides a free monthly summary of industry news on www.wireville.com.