The focus of the electrical contracting industry has always been energy. That’s obvious. But, reflect on the history of the industry for a few moments, and it’s just as obvious that the role electrical contractors perform with regard to energy has changed dramatically. Moreover, it is still evolving.
Once the sleeping giant called electricity was prodded to life in the late 19th century, the initial challenge was to tame it—to make it safe and widely available. More ambitious plans would have to wait. It would be decades before electrical contractors could offer anything like the complex services that are routine today.
However, two processes have been at work within electrical construction since its beginning. They made our industry and association possible and provided for the overwhelming and ongoing success of both. One is constant technological advance. I refer to the other as relationship building, but what I’m really talking about is the multipart process of assembling all the necessary supporting apparatuses.
Of course, technology is the predominant driver for change within electrical contracting, but, if the proper support structure is lacking, technology is nothing more than the assembly of gadgets. For any specific task related to installing, maintaining, or repairing electrical products and systems, that structure must be built on a foundation of best practices leading to the establishment of proven methods of workforce training, effective codes and standards, and a workable regulatory environment, among other considerations.
Carrying out the activities, functions and processes necessary to achieve consistent results requires cooperation among many different types of entities. Relationships and the resultant products of mutual cooperation are important in the construction arena and always will be. So, for example, product manufacturers will continue to play a vital role in dictating electrical construction offerings (and vice versa), and many manufacturers will continue to serve as our partners in electrical workforce training.
The National Electrical Contractors Association, and the electrical contractors NECA represents, also work effectively with many other entities—labor, government, educators, researchers, suppliers, standards developers and dozens of like-minded organizations. Powerful partners cooperate for mutual benefit; it’s how you get things done.
The fact that today’s electrical contractors can address topics—such as energy efficiency, energy storage, lighting retrofits, the smart grid, solar and wind generation and the like—results from the incessant march of technological innovation and the establishment of supporting mechanisms, including superior workforce training and effective standards. I am grateful for NECA carrying out so much of the prep work. It accounts for us evolving into energy managers.
Now many electrical contractors have taken the next logical step and are becoming energy brokers. They’re acting as ESCOs (energy service companies) that develop, install, arrange financing, and provide performance guarantees for energy-efficiency and renewable-energy projects.
Admittedly, NECA-member contractors have access to some special resources in this regard. Working through the NECA Energy Conservation and Performance (ECAP) platform, members are able to provide investment-grade project-performance guarantees and performance-based financing to their clients using third-party insurance and project investors. I encourage all ECs to look into providing such services to get in on the multibillion-dollar green electrical construction market.
Some aspects of electrical construction remain constant. For example, there’s the fact that electrical contracting has always provided interesting work in which its practitioners can take pride. Members of our profession have always been in the business of connecting customers with the good things in life, and we can be proud of that, too. What we do affects the U.S. economy significantly, and that won’t change. What we do has always provided a good living, too, and I don’t think that will change, either.
Today’s evolved ECs are doing so much. Electrical contractors take the lead in helping our nation achieve energy independence and creating a sustainable future, whether by performing green work for a municipal system or retrofitting one customer facility at a time. ECs also stand to play a key role in revitalizing the aging infrastructure, making the smart grid a reality and improving energy efficiency throughout the United States.
It really is a great time to be an electrical contractor. I am proud to be a part of this amazing industry and thankful for NECA priming the pump for our industry’s success. I just wanted to get this in. I’ll have even more to say next month.
About The Author
Dennis Quebe is a former president of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and contributed the President's Desk column monthly. He took office in January 2012 and served a three-year term.