The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED rating system), a program of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) first published in 1999, is a voluntary national standard for green buildings. LEED certification demonstrates a dedication to sustainability and energy efficiency.

Recognized certification categories and associated points in LEED, version 2009 for New Construction and Major Renovations, (updated from versions 2.2, 2.1 and 2.0) include:

• LEED certified: 40 to 49 points.

• Silver level: 50 to 59 points.

• Gold level: 60 to 79 points.

• Platinum level: 80 points and above.

Most of these LEED points can be obtained through site selection, architectural elements, civil engineering, and mechanical systems. Electrical or information technology system (ITS) designers with LEED engineering knowledge and experience are important team members on a LEED project—points obtained through innovative electrical and telecommunications design and construction practices can maximize energy efficiency.

Lane Coburn & Associates has worked with LEED-savvy electrical contractors that apply LEED protocols during construction at the job site. Its experience on several LEED-certified projects and their certification process suggests that LEED certification can be difficult and costly to obtain and therefore requires the innovative design input from all engineering and construction entities. Selecting energy-efficient electrical and telecommunications contractors can generate several points towards project certification in many areas.


According to the 2009 LEED New Construction Handbook, requirements in this area include:

“Demonstrate a 10% improvement in the proposed building performance rating for new building performance, or a 5% improvement in the proposed building performance rating for major renovations to existing buildings, compared with the baseline building performance rating.

“Calculate the baseline building performance rating according to the building performance rating method in Appendix G of ANSI/ASHRAE/IESNA Standard 90.1-2007 (with errata but without addenda) using a computer simulation model for the whole building project.

“Appendix G of Standard 90.1-2007 requires that the energy analysis done for the building performance rating method include all energy costs associated with the building project.”

Through efficient design of mechanical, electrical, and lighting systems, energy-efficient buildings can exceed energy code requirements. If a building’s energy use is less than the energy code requirements by a minimum of 12 percent for new buildings and 8 percent for existing buildings, the project can obtain LEED points (See the table for a breakdown of potential points).

The prerequisite for the minimum energy performance category is to meet the minimum level of energy efficiency as specified in ASHREA/IESNA 90.1 or the local energy codes—whichever is more stringent. When an electrical designer works closely with a mechanical designer and collaborates on complete building energy savings and with the serving electrical utility, the design team can turn the energy efficiencies into energy incentives. A good LEED designer will combine energy-performance points with energy cost savings.

For example, electric utilities in the Seattle area offer incentives for efficient lighting systems that are more efficient than the local energy code. The calculated energy incentives are based on the total kilowatt-hour (kWh) savings compared to the baseline of the energy code requirements. These savings often are calculated over the first year that the building is occupied and are paid directly to the building owner. Wall- and ceiling-mounted occupancy sensors, when not required by the energy code, are also eligible for additional utility incentives.

Even if LEED Certification is not an objective for a mission-critical project, the same energy efficient protocols and design can be implemented to achieve low PUE, low operating expenses, and a smaller carbon footprint.

Examples of electrical and telecommunications systems that can add to the overall energy efficiency of commercial and mission critical facilities include:

• Variable frequency drives (VFDs) (see figure 1).

• Energy efficient uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) and transformers (see figure 2).

• Networked lighting control systems.

• Electrical power monitoring systems (EPMS) directly connected to the building management system (BMS) through the network (see figure 3).


The electrical and telecommunications contractor can install alternate fuel refueling stations for three percent of the total vehicle capacity of the site. One method of complying with this requirement is to provide receptacles for charging battery-powered cars (see figure 4).


The purpose of light pollution reduction is to minimize light trespass from the building and site, reduce sky glow to increase night sky access, improve nighttime visibility through glare reduction, and reduce development impacts from lighting on nocturnal environments. The electrical designer must provide lower light levels than those recommended by the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) (see figure 5).

Credit #8 can be achieved via in-house engineering expertise that provides proper fixture coordination and photometric analysis. A sophisticated photometric analysis with lighting analysis and modeling software is required to validate this LEED point.


The green power LEED points require that 35 percent of the electricity used for the project must be generated from renewable sources as defined by the Green-e energy product certifications from the Center for Resource Solutions. These power sources include wind, solar, wave, geothermal, or biomass.

Green power utility contracts offer power at a premium over standard power contracts. A calculation of the expected energy use over a two-year period is required, along with the premium kWh cost of the green power from the serving electric utility. The electrical designer can then provide a projected monthly cost premium required to obtain this LEED point.

Ultimately, green power can prove to be an inexpensive point when compared with other potential points at the end of the LEED process. In addition, the completed facility can be promoted as using green power, which may help to attract environmentally conscious tenants or customers.


Many leading electrical and telecommunications contractors employ prefabrication processes that help limit the amount of construction personnel and waste in the field. This will not only reduce the construction budget, but also can help garner a LEED point through reduced packaging waste at the project site. Up to two LEED points can be acquired for this category.

• 50 percent recycled or salvaged = one point

• 75 percent recycled or salvaged = two points


As a prerequisite, lighting controls per ASHREA/IESNA 90.1-12007 or the local energy code (whichever is more stringent) is required on all LEED projects. The installation must provide individual lighting control that enables a minimum of 90 percent of the building occupants to adjust lighting to suit individual task needs and preferences. Typically, the basic energy code requirements incorporate the implementation of lighting control panels or occupancy sensors to turn off the lights during nonuse hours.

Efficient control technologies can be employed to improve the minimum required energy performance criteria. These enhanced technologies can include the use of dimming ballasts and dimming controls, dual-technology occupancy sensors, photocells mounted in skylights, and improved local controls, including digital addressable lighting interface (DALI). All of these systems can be integrated with a facility’s data network backbone infrastructure and should be installed per BICSI standards.


It is important to hire electrical and telecommunications mission critical designers with an in-house LEED Accredited Professional (AP) certification. Simply having this person on the team will provide a point towards project certification. In addition, the LEED AP credential illustrates a broad knowledge of complete building systems and construction procedures required for LEED certification, as well as an understanding of the LEED point system and required protocols.


The LEED process offers several points that can be obtained through innovative design. This is where both mission-critical design expertise and a strong history of LEED-certified projects can significantly contribute to a project. The advantage of this point is that no specific measures are required to achieve it. The design or product must substantially exceed LEED performance criteria. The right design or product can combine owner construction cost savings with resident or customer life-cycle cost savings and LEED points. Additionally, the serving utility may offer some incentives for using more efficient systems under the Optimize Energy Performance and Innovative Design point categories.


Cabling systems can indirectly help support other environmentally friendly elements of a LEED design. For example, while the telecommunications designer will not acquire any specific LEED points for underfloor cabling systems, these types of systems do help support an open-office environment and more natural light, which in turn provides LEED points. Data center cabling systems also offer improved airflow in and around racks to reduce power consumption and cooling. Pre-terminated, reusable cabling components also are something to consider during design and construction. Not only do they offer reduced waste on site, but they can be easily reused.

LEED buildings and the USGBC’s LEED rating system are here to stay. A competent and experienced electrical and ITS designer can significantly contribute to a LEED certified project. 

The Role Of Electrical And Technology

VECA Electric & Technologies in Seattle, WA, is one company that has fully embraced the green aspect of electrical construction for mission critical environments and the vision of technology integration into the design/build process.

Owner Tom Fairbanks said, “It is critical for building owners to understand that the early integration process of both energy efficient electrical and open protocol and structured technologies will ensure more profit and flexibility for the life of the building.”

This vision has become such a large part of VECA’s commitment to this process that his 65-year-old company has started a new division called V2 Technology Solutions.