Technological Advancements & Energy Standards Are Reshaping Electrical & Communications Systems

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Posted: April 18, 2017

Award Magazine, April 2017, by Stacey McLachlan

Though it may not be as dramatic or glamorous as a stunning staircase or window wall, the electrical system is what truly makes or breaks an architectural project. A well-designed and up-to-date system that manages the distribution of power and lighting, conserves energy and provides secure information networks is a building’s backbone. And thanks to constant updates and advancements, creating the ideal system is easier than ever.

While buildings previously had standalone electrical systems that didn’t necessarily communicate with the mechanical or security systems, these components are increasingly becoming integrated. “There is a shift, especially from developers that operate their buildings after construction, to having all of these systems on a single platform and for maintenance managers to receive updates via text or email on the whole system if there’s a problem,” explains electrical team lead for Williams Engineering Canada. Ultimately, integrated systems – that one single backbone for mechanical, electrical and security – make life easier for everyone,
eliminating crosstalk between the different units and simplifying maintenance.

LIGHT IT UP

Outside of buildings, engineers can now replace halogen lamps with 50W LEDs, which give just as much light but last for 15 years; providing both energy and cost savings in the long run. And with integrated controls on these lamps, lights can come on with sensors or at a certain hour. Another benefit to LEDs is they can turn on and off instantly, unlike old halogens that often would need five or 10 minutes of cool-down time.

Advancements in LED lighting are giving designers incredible new opportunities to experiment – no longer are they restricted by the shape of a lamp. Some are even integrating lighting into the T-bar, says Grannary. He’s also seeing an increase in personalized controls: “Occupants of office spaces will be able to control individual lights above their work spaces as LEDs replace fluorescents.” LEDs also offer the opportunity to direct light much more intentionally, using lamps and reflectors, as uniformity in lighting is starting to be viewed with as much importance as illuminance. “This allows for a much more even spread of light and results in spaces and areas that can be lit with lower, even lighting levels that appear to be brighter than spaces that may have higher average illuminance, but many more bright and dark spots,” says Grannary.

NEEDS & WANTS

Standard electrical features are changing as are the habits of the population. Working on a project at Camosun College, PR Bridge Systems took out network cables, because more students use WiFi today, and replaced them with data spots.

Grannary points to the newfound importance of charging locations in waiting areas. “Waiting areas in malls, airports and the like are often crowded with groups of people huddled around a single electrical outlet, as they try to recharge their phones,” he notes. “Manufacturers are supplying electrical outlets with dedicated USB outlets to address this problem and power is becoming integrated into furniture.” Electric vehicle charging stations will likely be the next big demand, which may cause a challenge in existing multi-family residential buildings that were not designed with enough excess capacity for this need. Grannary is hopeful that this issue can be solved with some creative thinking, however, “this may be resolved with different charging schedules for occupants, similar to watering schedules in a neighbourhood during a drought; though if this is the case, it will also be a question of who pays for the power as running feeds from individually metered suites is impractical in large buildings,” says Grannary.

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