Now that the economy is finally gaining momentum, you may be looking for some new market niches in which to invest. I believe one of the safest bets is the sale of energy-efficient electrical product and systems.

It's a matter of divine timing. Commercial construction looks good; school and university construction is down but still solid; and utilities are offering some of the most robust rebate programs this market has ever seen.

Rebate programs help end users design new buildings and retrofit inefficient buildings with energy-efficient lighting systems, motors, efficient coolers, HVAC systems and insulation. They help utilities, too, because in many regions of the United States, it's tough for them to meet the electrical power needs of customers during periods of peak demand. Two options that utilities have to meet these power demands are building new capacity or enticing customers to cut their energy usage with financial incentives if they install energy-efficient electrical systems, HVAC equipment and other building systems and components.

Utility rebates are also proven winners for distributors, reps and manufacturers because they create demand for energy-efficient electrical products. Distributors and their marketing partners can provide a real service for building owners, landlords and other end users, because owners of many small businesses such as stores, restaurants and other retail establishments — as well as schools and county and local government agencies — don't know these programs exist.

Buying influences at large customers such as Fortune 500 companies or government agencies that have millions of square feet of offices or factories to light, heat and cool probably already know about rebate programs if they have worked with energy-service companies (ESCOs). ESCOs provide large end users with the design and often the installation of energy-efficient building systems, including but not limited to electrical systems.

Most utilities don't promote their rebate programs very much. While researching “Rebate Resource” (page 22), EW's editors spent several days surfing utilities' Web sites in search of information on rebates. Most utilities had the details on their programs buried deep within their Web sites. If after reading this article you need additional information on utility rebates, you will find three Web sites to be particularly helpful:

You may be surprised by how many different types of products utility rebates cover, or that in some states and regions of the United States, utilities offer the same rebate programs. For instance, in the Northeast, quite a few utilities offer rebates for energy-efficient motors through the MotorUp program (www.motoruponline.com). In California, Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison all offer rebates through the 2005 Express Efficiency program.

Although few rebate programs are exactly alike, many do offer rebates for products such as T5 and T8 lamps with electronic ballasts; reflectors for fluorescent fixtures; high-efficiency fluorescent troffers; pulse-start, metal-halide lighting; hard-wired and screw-in compact fluorescent lamps; HID lighting systems; occupancy sensors and daylight dimming systems; LED exit signs; motors; and variable-speed drives.

Another big driver may soon create demand for energy-efficient electrical equipment: the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building rating system. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, Washington, D.C., LEED is a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings. You can find out how LEED may affect the electrical industry in “Taking the LEED” (page 34).