High expectations for high-performance buildings: electrical, lighting, power

High-performance buildings are intricate, complex projects that require attention—qualified, expert consulting-specifying engineers apply their knowledge on such projects specifically within the electrical, lighting, power segment.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer June 23, 2017


  • Dave Clute, NREL Energy Executive, BOMI-HP, VP, Intelligent Building Group Operation Director, Environmental Systems Design Inc., Chicago
  • Paul Erickson, LEED AP BD+C, Building Performance Practice Leader, Affiliated Engineers Inc., Madison, Wis.
  • Richard Holzer, PE, NCEES, LEED AP BD+C, HBPD, Principal Engineer, Southland Industries, Garden Grove, Calif.
  • Tim Kuhlman, PE, RCDD, CDT, Associate Principal, TEECOM, Portland, Ore.
  • A. Brian Lomel, PE, LEED AP BD+C, CxA, WELL AP, Director, TLC Engineering for Architecture, Orlando, Fla.

CSE: Describe a recent electrical/power system challenge you encountered when working on a high-performance building project.

Clute: Submetering in a high-performance building is one of our recent challenges. Deciding what to meter is about finding the correct intersection of cost and business value. From the most basic single meter at the utility entrance to a building to the most extreme submetering schemes where nearly every circuit breaker and electrical load is measured, there are myriad options facing the electrical system designer. As an example, branch-circuit metering may be useful to apportion costs among colocated data center tenants, but in many cases, the granularity does not add significant value to other project types while it certainly does add significant expense. In the face of so many options, it is essential to know the purpose of metering before proceeding.

CSE: How do you work with the architect, owner, and other project team members to make the electrical/power system both flexible and sustainable at the same time?

Clute: It is a balancing act. Like what we stated above about submetering, deciding what to monitor and control is about finding the right balance of cost and business value. We have found the best way to arrive at this balance is to present several alternatives, compare the pros and cons, and decide with the design team what meets the business objectives and guiding principles.

CSE: What types of smart grid or microgrid capabilities are owners demanding, and how have you served these needs? Are there any issues unique to these specialty projects?

Clute: We are involved in several projects where smart grid or microgrid capabilities are becoming more important. This is particularly true in mission critical facilities, such as data centers, hospitals, and laboratories.

CSE: Describe a lighting control or addressable lighting project you’ve completed in a high-performance building project. What were the challenges and solutions?

Clute: One of the lighting control challenges on a recent project was deciding how to allocate internet protocol (IP) addressing across the network for the lighting controls. Working with the IT department to design the subnetworks within the overall network architecture was an important aspect of the overall structured cabling, routing, and switching architecture and information-security requirements. It takes careful coordination across multiple disciplines to achieve the desired objectives.

CSE: Currently, what are the critical issues affecting the design of electrical/power systems in these buildings?

Clute: The top three critical issues include fire and life safety code compliance, cybersecurity policy compliance, and submetering.