A large part of the nation has been spooked recently by regional energy crises. If necessity is the mother of invention, then perhaps recent price spikes, power outages and fears of terrorism are causing some people to assume more responsibility for their energy needs. And, perhaps, there is something profitable ahead for electrical contractors in energy management. The laws of physics, Mother Nature and fears for homeland security may be your greatest marketing allies.

“A few things have become abundantly clear in light of the Aug. 14 blackout that crippled the Northeast,” said Susan Coakley, executive director, Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships Inc. (www.neep.org) “The first is that the nation’s electrical transmission and distribution system is badly in need of an upgrade. The second is that upgrades won’t happen anytime soon.”

There are, however, solutions that can meet short-term needs while also accruing long-term energy savings, having both immediate and lasting impacts on our nation’s energy system. “Consumer energy efficiency measures provide the quickest, cleanest and cheapest way to help ensure that the regional and interconnected electric grids are not being overwhelmed,” according to Coakley. Ratepayer-funded energy-efficiency programs, administered in a number of different formats promoted by the NEEP, help introduce consumers to such energy-efficient products as efficient lighting, appliances or equipment, as well as best practices in commercial building operations and maintenance.

Coming fast on the heels of the infamous electrical blackout was Hurricane Isabel on Sept. 18. If the blackout left any doubts, the aftermath of the hurricane proved that Americans have very little tolerance for power outages no matter what the cause. Although utility companies pooled resources and mobilized emergency teams throughout the states drenched by Isabel, many customers were irate at being inconvenienced and critical of the slow recovery, to say the least. The nation’s capital and surrounding counties were still suffering nearly a week after the modest hurricane blew through, and many people wondered if the area could survive a real power crisis. Streets were closed by fallen trees, water supplies were operating on limited backup power, traffic lights were dark, government agencies and schools were closed and electric lights and home appliances were not operating. Even worse, perishable foods were missing from grocery stores, home refrigerators were emptied, and parents struggled to keep their kids amused without TV, video games and the Internet. People are learning just how fragile the electrical infrastructure really is.

Be part of the solution

Whatever the cause, fearful and angry consumers are asking for better disaster prevention and faster recovery. Perhaps better energy management will be part of the solution. One electrical contractor that has not overlooked the importance of disaster recovery service is Mona Electric Group Inc. (www.getmona.com), headquartered in Clinton, Md. According to Mona Vice President George King Sr., “It is just another service we have provided for 37 years for our customers. We want them to know we are there for them 24/7. And we don’t mean just when it is sunny weather either.”

This company maintains a special team dedicated to assuring power is there when needed. “It is a natural outgrowth of our long-term customer relationships,” said King. As an electrical contractor, you can look at energy management not only as a consumer, but as a service provider. As a consumer, tolerable power bills and dependable reliability at your home or shop may not stimulate conservation or demand limiting practices, much less equipment retrofits and backup generation.

How many of you have replaced the standard fluorescent lamps in your office with new T8 energy-saving models? Electric efficiency and peak-demand costs have a definite impact on your company’s bottom line. To be an energy-efficient consumer, you must know how much power you use, what your major loads are, when your peak demands occur and what your billable rates are. It’s also important to understand the quality of the power you use. Poor power quality reduces productivity and shortens equipment life, which can drive down your company’s profits. If power reliability is important to your business, providing adequate backup supply also is a necessity.

But as a service provider, the shoe is on the other foot. You might think energy management is not a real function of electrical contracting so long as there are enough new construction jobs to bid or maintenance calls to keep the trucks rolling. Perhaps you actually are submitting some energy-efficiency retrofit bids to owners without thinking of them as energy management projects. Less than 20 years ago there were not many electrical contractors doing VDV work, but look at them now. Perhaps energy management service should be, if not now, a bottom line goal of your company.

There is a lot of money being spent for projects one could call energy management. Some of them are initiated by unregulated companies owned by utilities, and some by equipment providers. Much more might be sold by electrical contractors who have the vision and imagination to see an opportunity in change. Part of that change is communicating the bottom-line benefits of energy management to your customers. Perhaps the following case descriptions will help illustrate various opportunities. Those who already offer energy management should read on for some possible new marketing ideas.

A problematic steel mill

Imagine being the manager of the Republic Engineered Products steel mill in Canton, Ohio. The company is North America’s leading supplier of special bar quality (SBQ) steel, a highly engineered product used in axles, drive trains, suspensions and other critical components of automobiles, off-highway vehicles and industrial equipment. Imagine writing a $2.7 million check each month for the electric bill. Further, imagine the utility contract includes a demand limit, above which the price of power rises significantly. Further yet, a curtailment clause gives the utility the option to order immediate reduction of load to baseline level when the peak limit is exceeded. That is an energy management problem.

The solution was to inhibit or shed electric furnace loads to control peak power demand. The system, engineered by Rockwell Automation (www.ab.com/PEMS), uses a pair of redundant programmable controllers, with backup communications modules tied into an existing Ethernet network. The system sums electric meter pulses and forecasts demand within 30-minute intervals. Furnace operators select actions based on the demand forecast. Remote panels at the furnaces use a redundant fiber optic loop to communicate with the controllers. An additional monitor on the plant mains provides power quality data. Besides monitoring voltage and current, MW, MVAR, MVA and power factor, it triggers alarms on transient voltages and provides information on harmonic distortion. The system regulates energy consumption to preset limits, calculating energy projections every five seconds at the plant mains and three furnaces. The $300,000 system was paid for through savings garnered in less than six months.

The main campus of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Md., is the world’s largest medical research facility, and it continues to grow. There are 75 buildings on the 300-acre headquarters site, with more than 8 million square feet of laboratories, research hospital rooms, teaching facilities and offices. In addition, NIH plans to increase its floor space by more than 1 million square feet over the next three years as its research programs expand. The need for additional electricity and steam generation to meet these growing needs was a challenge. A unique partnership with Pepco Energy Services (www.pepco-services.com) provided one of the largest cogeneration power plants ever built for the federal government. The 23MW gas-fired plant will not only cut energy costs by about $55 million over 15 years, it will reduce future air emissions from the site. Pepco Energy Services is managing both construction and operation of this new facility. Electrical contractor on the job is Gill-Simpson out of Baltimore (www.gill-simpson.com).

“NIH will be a showcase for how cogeneration and emerging energy technologies can deliver more control over energy supply and actually reduce costs, while providing [comfort and reliability improvements] at large, campus-style settings,” according to Ed Mayberry, president and CEO Pepco Energy Services.

The following case was provided by the National Lighting Bureau, cosponsored by NECA since 1976 (www.nlb.org.):

A $1.3 million investment in new lighting at the San Diego Federal Building and Courthouse paid for itself in less than 8 months due to significant improvements in productivity, safety, security and energy efficiency. The retrofit used the most energy-efficient lighting equipment on the market to enhance the work environment, increase employee productivity, improve security and facilitate maintenance. Judges who used the courtrooms with improved lighting considered the improvement so significant they requested that other courtrooms in the complex be similarly equipped. Increased productivity, safety, and security were not the only goals of this lighting retrofit, because the project was also designed to be energy-efficient. Lighting energy savings amounted to $229,020 in the first year. Less lighting heat also lowered the cooling load, saving an additional $50,625 annually on air-conditioning costs.

The bottom line in these stories is imagination and vision to see the potential benefits of energy management and make it happen. Instead of waiting for a crisis or for someone else to create projects like these, why not define your business strategy to include promoting the benefits in applying your skills to help the nation continue improving its productivity and homeland security through better energy management. Whether by offering programmable demand controllers, lighting upgrades, motor controls, cogeneration, or even new HVAC systems, selling energy management is a patriotic, and profitable, thing to do. EC

TAGLIAFERRE is proprietor of C-E-C Group. He may be reached at 703.321.9268 or lewtag@aol.com.