Deja Voltage

Energy ETC, Union City, Calif., founded in 1993, does a lot with only six employees. It provides smart building automation and energy management services, specializing in hosted building management systems, energy management (including demand response), integrated digital signage, audiovisual services, web-­enabled Wi-Fi thermostats, solar energy systems, security and access control, fire and life safety systems, industrial process control and monitoring, and smart LED lighting and control systems. The company also offers service and support agreements, site monitoring (with alarm alerts), energy audits, LEED certification services, control programming, and material sales.

“Our low-voltage work is a byproduct of doing building controls and systems integration, which I have been involved in since 1980, working for other companies,” said Robert Wallace, president.

Energy ETC always seems to have enough work to keep busy without having to advertise.

“Almost all of our work comes from repeat business as well as new business from word of mouth,” he said. “We also have a website that contains case studies.”

Besides the opportunity for customers and prospects to read the case studies, another thing that makes these clients comfortable doing business with Energy ETC is that the company has a lot of experience in virtually all types of installations, as a result of having worked on hundreds of other similar projects and applications in the past. That is, any time the company is talking with an existing customer or prospect about their project, it can almost always refer back to something similar it has done for another customer.

“Basically, their job will be very similar to a previous one we have already done but with some modifications,” Wallace said.

Energy ETC also engages in target marketing, such as focusing on property management firms, to see what they want to do with their existing buildings, since almost 100 percent of the company’s work involves retrofitting existing buildings.

“There are always a lot of old buildings that need something,” he said. “This provides a lot more business than bidding a new building job at an 8 to 10 percent margin and then finding out you still came in second.

“In addition, we don’t just do a job and walk away when it’s done. We are all about service.

“Since we are in the building automation business, a lot of our service arrangements involving helping customers run their buildings via remote login. The days of one of our people going on-site to recalibrate a sensor are pretty much gone. We make sure things are running the way they should be in the building and that system integrity remains in place,” Wallace said.

Given the depth and breadth of work that Energy ETC does, it’s no surprise that the company’s biggest challenge is finding experienced and qualified employees.

“Our work involves a combination of low-voltage work, mechanical concepts and computers,” Wallace said. “Our people need to understand mechanical systems and controls, such as air conditioning, chillers and boilers.”

Employees also need to understand Microsoft Windows, Internet protocol, Internet browsers, and computers in general.

On occasion, the company can find some people who just graduated from schools that teach heating, ventilating and air conditioning courses and some other related topics.

“After we bring these people in, though, we need to grow them from there,” Wallace said.

However, many of the people the company hires already have five or 10 years of experience in building automation with other companies and are looking for new opportunities.

“We are able to create packages for them to come on board with us,” he said, adding that, “these are people who already have some background in project management and field service technical work, but, again, these folks are difficult to come by.”

Despite the busy schedule and challenges running a business, Wallace enjoys what he does.

“The definition of an entrepreneur is someone willing to work 80 hours a week for himself to avoid working 40 hours a week for someone else,” he said, adding that, “and, when the weekend rolls around, you say, ‘Only two more work days until Monday.’”

As Wallace sees it, there is an immense amount of personal satisfaction when you set up lighting, energy management, temperature controls and other technology systems and then see all of the systems working together properly.

One of the company’s most recent projects involved working on the Zero-Net Energy Center for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 595 training center in Alameda County, Calif. The facility, which opened in May 2013, is one of the most efficient and technologically advanced commercial buildings in the nation. It uses 75 percent less energy than similar commercial buildings and is the first commercial building retrofit to be recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy as net-zero energy.

“It is a model site and really involved the dream list of what you would ever want to do with a building,” Wallace said.

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