How engineers expect tech to change, proven systems to remain

Research report confirms power generation, EV charging stations to grow while traditional electrical system technologies remain ubiquitous

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer November 21, 2023

Electrical insights

  • Budgets and overall costs of projects or products specified is the biggest change in electrical and power systems respondents have observed in the past 12 months. Other significant changes include alternative energy/renewable systems, batteries/energy storage and energy efficiency.
  • The top challenges/issues affecting electrical and power systems are speed of project delivery (93%), inadequate budgets (92%), a lack of young engineers/professionals (90%), designing for interoperability and integration of systems (88%) and subjective interpretation of regulations by code authorities (88%).

Responses to the 2023 Specifying Electrical & Power Systems study revealed results that stayed relatively the same year over year, along with a few surprises regarding emerging technologies.

Respondents reflect the “typical” consulting engineer: 55 years old, 27 years in the industry and male (91%). The majority (55%) were engineers or designers, about a quarter (24%) were in management positions and slightly less than a fifth (19%) were senior leaders, such as VP or CEO. Most (56%) worked at a consulting engineering firm in the mid-range of sizes (275 people).

This year, new construction revenue was higher than retrofit/renovation projects. While typically about even, new construction was at 45%, and retrofit/renovation was at 33%. The number of projects remained the same, however, with respondents indicating that work in both new and existing buildings were even.

The top five building types respondents work in remained the same, though shifted slightly. Office buildings remain in the top spot at 70% (68% last year) and industrial/manufacturing buildings remain in second place at 59% (57% last year). Government/military buildings rose to third place at 47%, previously in fifth at 42%. College/university buildings remained in fourth place (45%) and hospitals/health care facilities dropped to fifth place at 44% (previously 51%).

The top five electrical and power systems currently specified are:

  • Enclosures, equipment enclosures: 81%.

  • Circuit breakers, fuses: 80%.

  • Cable, wire: 79%.

  • Transfer switches, ATS: 77%.

  • Transformers: 76%.

When asked to look into the future, growth in the next 12 months appeared in completely different places.

  • Electric vehicle (EV) charging stations: 70%.

  • Smart technologies: 70%.

  • Batteries/energy storage: 69%.

While many of these technologies have been around for some time, they have not been available for use in commercial buildings, or codes lagged and reluctance to specify them remained high. Energy storage has grown in the past several years as batteries continue to evolve and become more stable and available. As codes and standards allow for batteries to be used as backup or uninterruptible power supplies, electrical engineers must ensure they are familiar with fire rating and suppression, battery chemistry and a host of electrical room-related topics.

Specification expectations over the next six months depend on the project and its location, and the “typical” electrical and power systems appear on the list.

  • Cable, wire: 20%.

  • Electrical generation: 19%.

  • Electric vehicle (EV) charging stations: 19%.

  • Emergency and standby power: 19%.

  • Communication systems (low-voltage): 18%.

  • Cable management, raceways, busways: 18%.

  • Transformers: 18%.

Money-related issues rose to the top of the list of challenges that affect the future of electrical and power systems. Courtesy: Consulting-Specifying Engineer

Money-related issues rose to the top of the list of challenges that affect the future of electrical and power systems. Courtesy: Consulting-Specifying Engineer

Researching and evaluating products for a project have evolved over time. Writing the specification (34% today, previously 30%) and researching vendors on your own (29%, no change) remain the top to areas in which electrical engineers spend time on projects. Team members on the project — outside the engineering team or firm — typically include the project owner (71%) and facility/operations manager (64%). Rising dramatically was the contractor, now at 52% (previously 35%).

Renewable energy products were specified by about 70% of total survey respondents, and those working on these projects were asked to rank them.

  • Generator (any type): 62% ranked in first or second place.

  • Electric vehicle (EV) charging stations: 41% ranked in first or second place.

  • Batteries: 39% ranked in first or second place.

Other interesting points of data:

  • An average of 35% of respondents’ projects require specialized software to manage a project or process.

  • Thirty-nine percent of respondents are currently involved in or have recently specified smart power generation, cogeneration and renewable power equipment; nearly half of these respondents have clients requesting connections to smart grid technologies.

  • The most important features of smart power generation, cogeneration and renewable power systems, according to respondents, are improved energy efficiency, availability from manufacturers and interconnectivity with other systems.

Download the complete report (registration required).