Two years ago, Software Advice reported that growth in the green construction market would require electrical contractors to become energy contractors. We based this theory on a widely distributed report which predicted that electrical contractors would be in high demand for renewable energy and energy conservation projects. In 2012, it appears that our theory is playing out.
Source: McGraw Hill Construction, 2012
Although the construction market is still in hard times, green construction is an industry bright spot. Nonresidential green construction has grown from generating only two percent of market revenue in 2005 to 41 percent — or $58 billion — in 2011. The growth in the green construction market presents electrical contractors with a lucrative opportunity to become energy contractors.
In fact, recent research by McGraw Hill indicates that the electrical trade is among the trades in highest demand in the green construction market. Here are some of the skills that electrical contractors need to become an energy contractor.
Energy Contracting Requires Continual Skills Development
Anyone interested in “greening” their skill set needs to understand that they’re entering a nascent industry. In the United States, we’re just starting to develop technologies that will help energy contractors complement green construction efforts. As these technologies evolve, the skill set needed in the industry will change in lockstep.
Sal Ferrara, Owner of the Electrical Training Center on Long Island, sees this as one of the biggest challenges facing individuals who want to capitalize on the green opportunity.
What’s happening is that electrical contractors are having to stay on the bleeding edge of technology, and having to learn entirely new systems such as photovoltaics, building management systems and wind turbines. – Sal Ferrara
To make things even more challenging, Ferrara says that individuals often have to learn multiple systems so that they can be a skilled worker flexible enough to work on multiple types of projects. This broad knowledge is also helpful since, as Michele Russo of McGraw Hill Construction notes, “general contractors working on green projects are increasingly looking for individuals that can collaborate and provide input across an entire project.”
While the types of projects that individuals will work on vary, the skill set can be broken into two general groups: renewable energy installation and energy management projects. For each project category, I’ll provide an example professional to illustrate how the green skill set might be employed.
Skills Required for Renewable Energy Installations
Currently, the two major types of renewable energy projects that require an electrician are solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind turbine installations. While there is some overlap between the skills needed to install these systems, each requires unique skills.
Solar PV – Working on these types of projects requires a deep understanding of photovoltaic materials, equipment and codes–particularly article 690 of the electrical code, which addresses safety procedures. Beyond that, individuals need to know how to re-configure panels while maintaining functional modules, inverters and wiring. To get a detailed idea of the daily tasks and skills expected of a PV installer, visit the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners’ website.
Wind Turbine – The installation of wind turbines has its own set of challenges. Namely, the electrician needs to be able to install connections at high altitudes and connect and distribute power from low, medium and high voltages. Additionally, these electricians need an understanding of hydraulics, torquing and gearing. To help individuals obtain this blend of electrical and mechanical skills, a variety of industry-specific degrees and training programs have cropped up to support the wind industry.
Skills Required for Energy Management Projects
Of course, there is significant opportunity beyond installing renewable energy systems. Many green projects that electricians will be asked to work on will be in making an existing building more energy-efficient or creating an energy-efficient building from the ground up. These types of projects require slightly different skills.
Energy Auditing – Energy auditors require analytical abilities to understand how small changes impact overall consumption. Since HVAC and lighting generally represent the biggest chances for reduction, familiarity with lumens per watt ratios for common lighting types such as incandescents, CFLs and T8s is helpful. Additionally, an understanding of how to integrate electrical and communication systems is useful.
Familiarity with Building Management Systems (BMS) – These professionals need knowledge of integrated systems and an ability to work with things like programmable logic controls and motion-activated sensors. Because of the complexity of these systems, electricians that work with BMS need to know how to install and configure highly computerized systems.
Familiarity with LEED – Roughly 40 percent of LEED certification is covered by the work of an electrical contractor. Clearly, this requires extensive knowledge of LEED certification standards. However, it also requires an ability to connect the dots of how energy retrofitting and monitoring, materials and lighting selection, and on-site renewable energy work together to meet standards.
To help electricians understand the skills and technical process that goes into achieving energy efficiency, the US Green Building Council publishes extensive information on LEED certification. Meanwhile, the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC) offers a green jobs training program that helps electricians obtains the skills needed in the green construction industry.
Start Developing Green Skills Now
It’s important to understand that developing these skills will not happen overnight. Because green energy systems are becoming more complex, it takes more time to develop the skills that green construction projects demand. Furthermore, according to the McGraw Hill report I cited earlier, green contractors are demanding that their workers have more educational experience than before.
So if you’re interested in getting in on the opportunity, start developing your green skills today.
What are your thoughts on the best way to capitalize on this shift? If you have any advice to offer for electrical contractors looking to become energy contractors, please leave your thoughts below.