One of the biggest problems facing the electrical industry is existing power systems’ inability to meet the demands and requirements of the future. Today’s electrical systems are not only required to provide power to generators, but also to Internet servers, uninterruptible power supply (UPS), and a host of other operating or backup power generators.

Because the emerging digital economy has presented new challenges to electrical power grids, electrical contractors can take advantage of solutions in the form of efficient sources for energy management, as well as lighting.

One recently suggested solution is the use of a central nervous electrical system, or “brain,” which would tie all system components (transfer switches, backup generators, UPS, power distribution unit, Internet servers, etc.) together, and easily meet the demands of the digital economy. This central nervous electrical system would supply power continuously, only affecting lighting during emergency situations.

John Van Gorp, researcher of this suggestion added, “If companies really want to keep up and running in a power outage, they usually install a separate electrical system. The only interaction between the central nervous system and lighting would be where some lights are deemed as critical, such as emergency lights; they would be powered from some kind of UPS or by a battery on the light itself.”

With any future use of a central nervous electrical system in an energy efficiency application, electrical contractors will typically find themselves installing all necessary wiring for the system. However, because the surge in dot-com power demands has also become so commonplace, electrical contractors will likely see themselves installing the communication cabling for this type of system as well.

Industry members forecast that electrical contractors will ultimately be involved in running the communications and the nervous system itself to bring cabling from different transducers, or muting devices, into the local area network that carries all the information.

Another focus of energy management and efficiency is the trend toward retrofit lighting in various facilities, as well as the standardization of smaller lamps. In recent years, fluorescent lamps went from a standard size T12 to a smaller standard of T8; now, contractors are starting to see size T5, which is equivalent to 5/8 inch in size.

Rick Shimek, service manager, interior construction, for Fisk Electric Company in Miami, Fla., asserted that the rise in retrofits is a “revolution” in lighting. Shimek said, “There’s a revolution in lighting going on right now, and we’re right in the middle of it.”

Another trend contractors are seeing is an increase in automation systems’ abilities to sense the occupancy load of office buildings and adjust the air conditioning or heating accordingly. Shimek said the occupancy sensors his company is seeing are both the ceiling-mount and the wall-mount types. He added that a motion sensor lighting device in his home saved $30 to $40 on his family’s electric bill.

Other forms of more efficient lighting finding their way into the spotlight and onto contractor blueprints are compact fluorescent lights, which tout an impressive 10,000-hour lamp life; light-emitting diodes; electronic ballasts; reflectors; fiber optics; and specific task lighting.

Sulfur lamps are also playing a much more integral role in facility and building lighting retrofits. Perhaps the most well-publicized use of sulfur lamps was in the 1998 installation of 288 lamps at Hill Air Force Base near Salt Lake City, which now provides more efficient lighting to a five-hangar area of 91,000 square feet, or the length of two football fields.

Along with the energy efficiency of a central nervous system and lighting retrofits, some industry members assert that individual generators are also the key to securing reliable sources of electricity in the future.

“All of our major clients are putting in their own generators now. It used to be an office building would have one generator, but now it’s pretty common to have the building’s generator and tenant generators. We have buildings with eight to 10 generators in them, where each tenant has his own. Because of this, there’s a very long lead time to buy generators right now because so many are on order.”

As demand for power exists in the commercial industry and increases in the digital industry, it is the Internet-savvy electrical contractors that will ultimately ride the wave of success into the future. EC

SILVA, a Hollywood, Fla.-based freelance writer, can be reached via e-mail at bsilva23@hotmail.com.