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.
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. 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.
|Alternative Transportation — Low-emitting and Fuel-efficient||Sustainable Sites (SS) Credit 4.3||Install alternative-fuel fueling stations (e.g. stations for charging electric cars) for 3% of the total vehicle parking capacity of the site.|
|Light Pollution Reduction||Sustainable Sites (SS) Credit 8||Internal 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 Performance||Energy & Atmosphere (EA) Credit 1||Demonstrate 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 Energy||Energy & Atmosphere (EA) Credit 2||Install and use on-site renewable energy systems (solar, wind, etc) to offset building energy costs.|
|Green Power||Energy & 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—lighting||Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) Credit 6.1||Provide 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.