The Coming Renaissance of Electrical Contracting

by

Director of Marketing,

In the next ten to twenty years, "electrical contractor" will no longer be a suitable job title for electricians. They will transition into "energy contractors" to support the fast-growing green construction market.

We see this as a coming renaissance in electrical contracting. There has been a revival of interest in the electrical trade as home owners and corporations adopt alternative methods (e.g. solar, wind, etc) to power buildings. What's driving this? Federal incentives, lower material costs and savings from reduced energy spending.

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A study by the American Solar Energy Society projects renewable energy jobs for electricians to grow approximately 900% by 2030, just in the state of Colorado.

To take advantage of upcoming opportunities, electricians will need to "green" their skill-set and re-brand themselves. We'll share more on this later. First, let's take a look at the trends driving this change.

Green Construction is on the Rise

According to a 2009 Booz Allen Hamilton study, green construction will skyrocket over the next five years. The report projects green construction to generate $554 billion dollars in GDP, provide $396 billion in labor earnings and support or create over 7.9 million jobs from 2009 to 2013. These figures are way up from the previous 8-year period. From 2000-2008, GDP from green construction was just $173 billion, labor earnings was $123 billion and number of jobs created was 2.4 million. finals.002-001 This growth comes directly from increased demand for green buildings, which is largely driven by cost savings from reduced property operating expenses, and by new regulations from federal legislation (e.g. American Clean Energy and Security Act).

Clearly, environmentally friendly construction affects the architecture engineering construction (AEC) industry collectively. But how will this impact electricians?

Electricians are in High Demand

The growing green construction market will create new demand for electricians. And to keep up with demand, electricians will need to diversify their skill-set. We obviously expect to see electricians working on solar photovoltaic and wind turbine installations, but that's just the beginning. They'll work on building retrofits, mass transit and light rail projects, "smart" electrical grid transmission systems and more. Here are a few examples of the unique places we expect electricians to find work:

  • Lighting system upgrades – There are an estimated 2.2 million commercial buildings in the U.S. that have antiquated lighting systems (old fixtures, ballasts, lamps and controls). Additionally, all federal buildings are required to switch to Energy Star lighting products by the end of 2013 (in accordance with the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007). Some of these upgrades can be handled by the local maintenance guy, but others will require the expertise and skill of electrical contractors.
  • Parking lot electrical outlets – A state bill in Minnesota will require half of new parking facilities to include outlets to charge electric vehicles. Who will install these docking stations? Electricians of course. Members of the Minnesota Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 292 are already preparing to provide labor for these projects. If successful, we expect other states and cities to follow Minnesota's example.
  • Wind turbine manufacturing – According to a report from the American Solar Energy Society (ASES), a typical 250-person wind turbine manufacturing company has two electricians as employees. This isn't a large number, but it's an example of the variety of job opportunities available.
  • Electric vehicle electricians – Jobs for electricians will also emerge in adjacent industries. For example, electricians will need to be trained in auto mechanics – or auto mechanics will need to be trained in electrical contracting – in order to meet demand for electric vehicle maintenance. And the career outlook is good: electric vehicle electricians make an average of $39-$59 thousand a year.

For additional information on green job opportunities for electricians, check out this article from the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA).

LEED Creates New Opportunities

Here's a sample of credits that require the knowledge and skill of electricians.

TitleCreditRequirements
Alternative Transportation — Low-emitting and Fuel-efficientSustainable Sites (SS) Credit 4.3Install alternative-fuel fueling stations (e.g. stations for charging electric cars) for 3% of the total vehicle parking capacity of the site.
Light Pollution ReductionSustainable Sites (SS) Credit 8Internal lighting - Reduce input power (by automatic device) of interior lights by at least 50% between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. Electrician will select and install fixtures and controls to meet requirements.

External lighting - Light areas only as required for safety and comfort. Lighting power densities must not exceed ANSI/ASHRAE/IESNA Standard 90.1-2007 and must meet lighting control requirements from ANSI/ASHRAE/IESNA Standard 90.1-2007. Electrician will perform photometric analysis to validate compliance of credit requirements.
Optimize Energy PerformanceEnergy & Atmosphere (EA) Credit 1Demonstrate a percentage improvement in the proposed building performance rating compared with baseline building performance rating. The higher the building energy efficiency level, the more LEED points are awarded. Electrician will work with utility company to assess energy performance and identify most cost-effective energy efficiency measures.
On-site Renewable EnergyEnergy & Atmosphere (EA) Credit 2Install and use on-site renewable energy systems (solar, wind, etc) to offset building energy costs.
Green PowerEnergy & Atmosphere (EA) Credit 6 Engage in at least a 2-year renewable energy contract to provide at least 35% of the building’s electricity from renewable sources (wind, solar, wave, geothermal, or biomass). Calculation of two-year expected energy use is required, along with kWH cost of the green power from the serving electric utility. Electrician should provide projected monthly cost required to obtain this point.
Controllability of Systems—lightingIndoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) Credit 6.1Provide individual lighting controls for 90% (minimum) of the building occupants to enable adjustments to suit individual task needs and preferences.

Provide lighting system controls for all shared multi-occupant spaces to enable adjustments that meet group needs and preferences.

Electricians Must Act Now

With so many opportunities on the horizon, contractors need to make sure they're ready to win jobs. To get started, they must gain the skills and knowledge to take on green projects. Both the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) offer education programs for green electrical work.

Next, contractors should market and promote their new green credentials. Update your website and other marketing materials, syndicate a press release to trade magazines and local media, and get more exposure online by joining directories (e.g. CalFinder.com) or advertising in search engines.

Finally, update your bidding process to make sure you win those green electrical jobs. You'll need to bid accurately to ensure job profitability, but competitively to make sure you win the job. This means having up-to-date pricing information on materials and labor. Good electrical estimating software will have specific capabilities to estimate solar panel installations and other types of renewable energy jobs.

 
  • http://www.jhmelectrical.co.uk/ David Builderman

    Really good article, I agree that more electricians should look at green alternatives.

  • Gary Stearns

    Interesting and insightful article. Good jobs in the future that cannot be outsourced.

  • http://www.bepinfo.com Anthony Buonicore

    As a commercial real estate investor and developer, I believe what Houston Neal is speculating about makes sense. Traditionally, we in the industry rely on engineers to point out energy saving opportunities in our buildings. However, in general we do not speak with engineers as often as we speak with electricians and mechanics who more frequently visit our buildings in response to routine repairs and maintenance. As such, if these parties were more versed in energy saving opportunities connected to their particular trade, they are in an excellent position to make suggestions to clients. Building manager clients will certainly listen if the ROI is attractive. For example, switching from T12 to more efficient T8 lighting and electronic ballasts could easily be done by an electrical contractor. The key is that the electrical contractor must be able to provide an estimate of the cost and the return on investment. The same would be true for the installation of an energy management system in the building. Electrical contractors will certainly need training in this area, but the returns could be quite lucrative.

  • http://www.everblueenergy.com/energy-auditor Lesley LEED AP

    This is a really great article! It’s clear that you have done your research. I look forward to seeing whether or not your predictions will come true – though I’m sure they will! Great points.

  • http://www.blackreit.com Matt Black

    This is a very interesting article that has clearly been researched. I would like to point out that the electricians themselves are the labor hired by electrical contractors. The shift brings up particular concepts especially in respect to the entire industry being taken over by this more powerful “energy contractor.” The theory is good, but many contractors are set in their old world ways and may not make this transition since they are happy being electrical contractors. On the other hand, this energy concept would allow an existing contractor to expand his or her business into other markets and hopefully in turn return a larger profit. We may even see a merge of new companies that never existed specializing in particular areas of energy. I am sure those who are supportive of the USGBC would like to see an increase in this kind of subcontractor, for a good one would seem to be more environmentally friendly and possibly more beneficial to a seasoned developer. Finally, I would point out that Anthony is completed right when he brings up return on investment since developers are really the ones who get loaned the money from banks and the ones who decide what to do with the money! Maybe we will see an increase in developer education too!? J/K it is too bad that most developers are too busy riding around in their boats to be studying up and researching great concepts like these!

  • Wayne Frese

    Very good future lies ahead for Electricians.

  • CMS

    Yeah, they need to get up to speed fast to take advantage the swelling “green” racket, especially in the public sectore. Seems like nothing can stop it, not even common sense in many cases.

  • John Wright

    I am one of those electricians expanding their horizons. Neal Hit it on the mark I will be reading more of his articles. I belive you will see the oldd ccontractors go by the way side and new ones emerge from this green technology.

  • http://none Landis wright

    This is best for the planet

  • http://www.test-equipment-direct.com/ Barry Atkins of Electrical Test Equipment

    We will be seeing a lot of jobs in line with this industry in the future.
    A growing number of electricians installs telephone, computer wiring and equipment, and fire alarm and security systems. They also may connect motors to electrical power and install electronic controls for industrial equipment.

  • http://www.gohammerelectric.com Hammer Electric

    Totally AWESOME article. I agree.

    I’m also starting to think that people need to be more aware of these kinds of things especially us electrical contractors I’m in Lancaster CA – and it’s already solar, etc. Which I think is good.

    But very good reporting

  • http://electriciansinmelbourne.com.au Electricians Melbourne

    This great site is actually really intriguing. You provide way up a few good details concerning your own write-up. This will be my first time in this article in this web-site therefore excellent work.

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