An Authority Figure

By Jeff Gavin | Jul 15, 2013
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When you think about it, today’s electrical contractor (EC) is an energy-efficiency adviser. It may be a matter of reinvention, but it’s a logical destination. Through developed expertise in smart lighting and controls, ECs can position their firms as go-to, one-stop shops for commercial and industrial customers.

According to, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that lighting represents, on average, 38 percent of commercial buildings’ energy usage and can account for as much as 50 percent of electricity consumption. When it comes to retrofits, the EPA posits that lighting is a target for reducing “bottom line costs for a business or office” and can provide the highest return on investment of all major upgrades. Enter the EC who can best recognize and recommend the most efficient lamp types for a space and the best energy-saving controls. Speaking with authority about energy costs and savings—including available rebates and incentives from manufacturers, utilities and government—can set a contractor apart.

A market primed and ready for the EC

“The call for better energy management, as well as greener code and standards has brought focus to lighting and energy controls systems,” said Brian Carberry, director of product management for the Lighting and Energy Solutions (LES) division for Leviton Manufacturing Co. Inc., Tualatin, Ore. “In energy management, the EC must work with efficient lighting sources, digital lighting, wireless and dimming controls.”

“The real driver is efficiency and payback,” said Tom Leonard, Leviton’s vice president for LES marketing and product management and business development. “Efficient lighting choices continue to grow. They play a big role in another growing trend—high-performance buildings. Controls are part of the mix and also set the scope for what green codes and standards are trying to do.”

Leonard sees a number of bodies helping improve energy efficiency through lighting, energy management systems and other means. He points to a number of them playing a role in raising the bar: the National Electrical Code, International Code Council’s energy codes and International Green Construction Code (IgCC), California’s ambitious Title 24, and minimum state codes that employ ASHRAE 90.1.

Leviton has seen the lighting controls market grow steadily, notably in remodeling and building rehab.

“The energy retrofit business has helped offset weak new construction,” Leonard said. “For manufacturers and ECs, the energy control retrofit market can really pay dividends. The range is there from simple occupancy controls for lights to sophisticated lighting systems that tie into whole building HVAC, security and fire protection.”

Understanding energy management

Though both Carberry and Leonard work for a company committed to cutting-edge lighting solutions, they admit the rapid clip of changing technology is a challenge for anyone.

“I think technology is changing so fast, and it can be hard to keep up,” Leonard said. “ECs may not be paying attention, and they should. Owners certainly are when it comes to energy management and how it can positively impact their building’s operating costs. The EC can help explain the potential of lighting and other management controls and what they deliver in energy savings. It’s the EC who has the know-how and set of skills to select a viable fluorescent for dimming, the proper phase controls and determine other components for efficient lighting design. I also think contractors have discovered that controls aren’t complicated, just new.”

Carberry feels it’s best to go all-in when selling lighting to clients seeking to lower their energy costs.

“Certainly for cost reasons, select controls projects are self-contained, maybe featuring a single lighting control component. “The better and more ideal approach would be to integrate three or four devices, add wireless technology and hardwire an energy management system. A lighting control system is really a holistic approach to energy management. We find our customers are asking for smart lighting. They want to be green but don’t know their options. ECs can talk through the possibilities with the end-user. I especially like what’s going on in wireless. There’s something called wireless energy harvesting. It can work the lighting control and be self-powered. This approach resolves wasteful phantom load and can provide significant energy savings,” he said.

Lighting as layers

Leonard said ECs have the opportunity to model lighting for their clients in complex but easy-to-understand ways. Through a discussion, you can walk them through a strategy.

“First, discover the lighting objectives of your client and their work space,” Leonard said. “Lighting choices are part of the discussion. Are linear fluorescents the way to go, tubular LED, high bay fixtures, high-efficiency HID, or add-in task lighting? What efficient bulbs are best suited for the space being lit and the job being performed in that space? Then you might enter into a discussion of simple controls. Maybe that starts with occupancy sensors. That might lead to dimming options, maybe a discussion of daylighting systems. All these choices and considerations are layers that must be broached in concert and are all part of that energy-efficiency discussion.

“We are to the point where controls are commonly recognized as a way to save power,” Leonard said. “The EC can move into the center of this market because they have the right skills and background as installers and designers.”

When standardization is missing

While a convergence of technology is happening in energy management controls, dimming standardization lags. Leonard feels a manufacturer is a best resource to turn to for help.

“For now, there are some standards in place such as NEMA’s LED dimming standards, including SSL1, SSL6 and the forthcoming SSL7,” Leonard said. “Meanwhile, dimming protocols and standardization will come, but we’re not there yet. Until then, I advise contractors seek out the manufacturers to find compatibility between one system and a lighting choice. Manufacturers spend a great deal of time on training and education and provide it often at low or no cost. Seminars, trade shows, white papers and websites are all great resources, too.”

Being an energy-efficiency adviser is an invitation to spread energy savings throughout a facility. For the EC, the homework is in building your reputation as a trustworthy local expert. You then become the contractor the owners seek out.

About The Author

GAVIN, Gavo Communications, is a LEED Green Associate providing marketing services for the energy, construction and urban planning industries. He can be reached at [email protected].





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