By Jenn Danko
When it comes to revamping electrical systems for commercial versus residential clients, not all jobs are wired for the same rehab.
Brian McNeill, assistant service manager for Bridge Electric Corp, is all too familiar with the variances between electrical jobs. As a member of the Electrical Contractors Association of British Columbia (ECABC), McNeill’s company, a Richmond, B.C.-based organization that has catered to commercial clients for more than 15 years, has worked on hospitals, commercial tilt ups, retail stores and offices.
"Commercial is different in the way that the markets are always changing, and the clients are always looking for ways to reduce their energy costs," he says. "Upgrading a commercial service is a lot more in depth, as there are many more outside factors involved."
So when would a commercial client come to a contractor to upgrade an existing system—and what upgrades can be implemented to ensure maximum savings, increased efficiency and return on investment?
Graham Trafford, general manager of Mott Electric GP, a Burnaby, B.C. company that is also a member of the ECABC, says commercial clients have sought upgrades for a variety of reasons, including increased energy efficiency, modernization, system integration and facility infrastructure upgrading.
"Every customer is looking for a return on his or her investment, so you need to make sure that whatever system or equipment you are providing will give the customer some type of payback—whether it is monetary, efficiency, convenience or system reliability," he says.
McNeill and Trafford agree that the majority of a client’s need for upgrades are those associated with lighting systems—whether it is through energy-efficient light sources, occupancy sensors, automated lighting controls or a combination of all three.
Through increased lighting efficiency, clients will see the greatest ROI, McNeill says.
"Lighting upgrades can reduce BC Hydro costs and even come with a rebate over a few years," he says. Similarly, he notes that power factor correction of an existing service can also reduce the cost of utilities from BC Hydro, British Columbia’s energy provider, by ensuring that a business operates more efficiently within a current electrical system. Essentially, it’s making a smaller modification without revamping the entire electrical framework, he says.
Trafford suggests taking the upgrades even further to system integration, which combines security, access control, lighting control, HVAC, CCTV and a host of other systems into one control system.
"These systems can monitor instantaneous power consumption and provide an automated load-shedding option during low peak building use," he says. Additionally, contractors are installing other alternatives, such as photovoltaic energy systems, into commercial buildings to not only supplement power consumption, but also to demonstrate the client’s dedication to green initiatives.
So what does this mean for your client’s bottom line? Quite a bit, Trafford says. BC Hydro is conducting a program called Power Smart rebates, which it extends to companies that complete energy-efficient upgrades using qualifying products. The rebates often cover the costs of the products and in some cases, a portion of the installation labor.
"Savings in power consumption can, depending on the types and extent of the upgrades, be in the neighborhood of 30 percent," Trafford says.
McNeill adds that although the cost savings can be evident, each client situation is unique.
"Site visits are needed to complete an analysis of what they have and what can be corrected to achieve the most savings as possible," McNeill says.