Engineering workable, successful office space: Electric, power systems

Whether new or retrofit, office buildings can be a challenge for the mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP), or fire protection engineer. Electrical and power systems are key to these facilities, which includes lighting.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer October 23, 2014


  • Julianne Laue, PE, LEED AP, BEMP, Senior MEP Engineer, Center for Sustainable Energy Mortenson Construction, Minneapolis
  • Tony McGuire, PE, FASHRAE, Founder, McGuire Engineers Inc., Chicago
  • Nathan Snydacker, PE, LEED AP, Vice President, ESD Global, Chicago

CSE: Describe some recent electrical/power system challenges you encountered when designing a new building or working in an existing building. 
McGuire: We are seeing more requirements to provide standby power for data processing systems.
Snydacker: We have encountered capacity to support densification, and arc flash. 
CSE: What low- and medium-voltage power challenges have you overcome? 
McGuire: Clean power is important in many instances, but that has been readily handled from experience. The biggest problem is getting complete information from clients’ IT staff.
CSE: What types of renewable energy systems have you recently specified in one of these projects? This may include photovoltaics, geothermal systems, wind turbines, etc.
Snydacker: We are currently working on a project for Chicago Botanic Gardens that is implementing several renewable energy systems. The design currently includes the use of a lake source geothermal system using surface water as a heat sink during the warmer months of the year. Photovoltaic (PV) panels will be installed on the roof that will produce up to 24 kWh of energy annually (or 7% of the facility’s energy consumption). 
McGuire: We used both photovoltaics and wind power in our recent LEED Platinum project. Grey water from the “green roof” was also used.
CSE: What unique lighting and daylighting requests have you fulfilled in recent office projects? 
McGuire: Unique lighting is becoming “ordinary” lighting as is daylighting. Our 18,000-sq-ft office uses less than 0.30 W/sq ft in the space, which is LEED Platinum itself. Lighting controls are extensive.
Snydacker: Perhaps not unique, but oftentimes a request for simplicity can provide a tremendous challenge when it comes to lighting controls. Code requirements for zoning, daylight harvesting, and automation, coupled with all of the products on the market offering integrated audio visual controls, networking, addressable ballasts, etc., can make it very difficult to develop a solution that is elegantly simple and intuitive to use for anyone stepping foot into the new office space. We have helped several of our clients “tone down” their lighting controls either installed by integrators or proposed by lighting consultants to achieve intuitiveness while meeting code requirements for energy efficiency.
re one example that we have seen a number of times.