Learning about trends that will affect customers and finding new options that meet their needs is a good strategy for future success.

Leonard Toenjes

Q: I read about wind-farm construction in a recent article. I think they’ll do little to meet America’s energy needs, but I don’t want to be closed to new ideas. I am thinking about upgrading our skills to pursue opportunities in emerging markets, but don’t want to waste time on something that’s only a passing fad. Which emerging markets do you think will be strong in the years to come and why?

A: You are right in your assessment of our energy needs. Wind-farms will most likely fill only a small piece of our future energy needs. Wind currently provides about 1.5% of the world’s demand for electricity and will increase somewhat over the next few years, but the jury is still out on the long term reliability for a significant portion of our needs.

With the pace of change accelerating every day, it certainly makes good business sense to try to look as far ahead as possible, but many companies have gone out of business by getting too far ahead.

With that being said, several relatively constant trends can be counted on as good emerging markets for the future, and energy is certainly one of them.

Energy is not going to get any less expensive. Both the costs and the demand for energy will continue to increase as domestic and global markets continue to grow.

The concept of a single grid or pipeline is a paradigm that will change dramatically in the future. All of our energy will not come from one source or one grid. This divergence of energy sources and structures leads to questions of how various energy sources will blend in the near term and long term.

Let me use a broadcast analogy. In the past, the U.S. had three major networks with regularly scheduled programming. We have now evolved into a media system with thousands of television stations, video on demand, on-line Web based programming, and digital recording technology that basically allows each viewer to put together their own television schedule. We still think of energy today much as we thought of the three major networks in years past. We look at monolithic systems such as the power grid or pipeline networks as the energy system.

Certainly electric generation and petrochemicals will continue to be the dominant energy sources for the near future. What will energy delivery look like in the future when energy generation and consumption are more diverse? How will intelligent systems and materials be integrated into various structures that will change our vision of our built environment from being energy consumers into edifices that produce energy?

While this is seems like pie in the sky today, the sustainable construction or “green building” movement is just the first symptom of the changing structure of our energy system. There will be not be any one system, be it wind, solar, natural gas, coal, hydroelectric, geothermal, hydrogen, or systems yet to be developed, that will deliver 100% of the power of the future.

Positioning your firm to look at energy consumption and generation from a variety of platforms could be a good future strategy.

Staying knowledgeable about many energy saving and producing products and systems and creating innovative combinations would be an effective approach.

Looking into current energy producing processes and products without abandoning current sources would position your firm to respond to a variety of energy needs.

Presenting purchasers of construction services with a variety of energy options would be a good market position. Needs of different clients, be it residential, light commercial or heavy industrial, will be more diverse.

Providing a more diverse approach to meeting energy needs should result in better client services. The emerging energy market you ask about is not one source; it is multifaceted. Learn about blending these various sources into options for your clients.

Energy efficiency and diversity of generation systems is not a fad. Buildings of all types will continue to become less dependent on single energy sources just as our communications system has become less dependent on the 5 o’clock nightly news as our primary information source.

Leonard Toenjes is the president of the Associated General Contractors of St. Louis. He can be reached at 314-781-2356 or ltoenjes@agcstl.org. Visit the organization’s Web site at www.agcstl.org.