Although the drama of the 1960s was a hard act to follow, the 1970s made its own unique mark on the electrical industry. Plagued by gasoline shortages, rising energy prices, and inflation, this decade is most remembered for its energy crisis, which revealed the nation's dependence on foreign oil and inspired numerous energy conservation efforts. Aggravated by these energy problems, unemployment reached 8.5% (the highest since the Great Depression) in 1975, and inflation was increasing at an annual rate of 9.5%.

The Arab oil embargo in 1973 brought an end to the era of secure, cheap oil. As a result of the Arab-Israeli War, the Arab oil-producing countries cut back oil production and imposed trade embargoes on oil shipments to the United States and the Netherlands. Although these cutbacks represented only a 7% loss in world supply, they “created panic on the part of oil companies, consumers, oil traders, and some governments. Wild bidding for crude oil ensued when a few producing nations began to auction off some of their oil,” reports “Energy Supply, World,” a Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2001 article. By the end of this decade, the price of crude oil was close to 19 times higher than it had been just 10 years before.

According to EC&M archives, the energy crisis hit the electrical industry especially hard. In the early 1970s, editors write that Americans are painfully coming to terms with a new truth: There will not be enough fuel to support their way of life in the future. “It is conceivable that the energy crisis in the United States will do more to disrupt and change the American way of life than any other ongoing domestic problem confronting the nation today,” writes David F. Hanley, chairman of National Engineers Week (an event sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers), in a 1974 article. Hanley goes on to emphasize the importance of energy conservation and calls for nothing less than a full-scale national energy policy involving all segments of the energy industry.

In retrospect, it looks like Hanley got his wish. A host of programs, organizations, and legislation was introduced in the 1970s to combat growing energy problems, such as: formation of the Environmental Protection Agency (1970); passage of the Clean Air Act (1970); formation of the Electric Power Research Institute (1973); splitting of the Atomic Energy Commission into the Energy Research and Development Administration and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (1974); creation of the Department of Energy (1977); passage of the first National Energy Plan (1977); and passage of the National Energy Act, including the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA) in 1978.

At the end of the 1970s, it was obvious that ongoing energy problems, the vulnerability of the nation's electric power grid, and nuclear power concerns would have to be solved by electrical leaders of the next decade.

New Engineering Association is Born

The Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) was formed in the 1970s to further the interests of engineers, managers, and architects involved in energy-related fields. Separate councils were established to serve members' needs in such areas as energy conservation consulting, plant engineering, and product development, solar engineering, wind power, thermal power, and energy engineering in government.

Silicone Fluid Used as Askarel Substitute

There's finally a safe alternative to using PCB-containing askarels, EC&M reports in the early '70s. Made from dimethyl siloxane, the new crystal-clear, silicone dielectric coolant liquid for use in small- and medium-sized power transformers is already in use. Although they cost about twice as much as askarel, silicone fluids require few physical changes to transformers during refilling. However, load ratings on existing units may be reduced about 10% because of the difference in fluid viscosity and heat conductivity compared with askarel.

Liquidtight Flexible Metal Conduit Gains Acceptance

In a 1971 article, H. H. Watson, consultant, and Robert V. Lewis, chief engineer, Anaconda Metal Hose, Waterbury, Conn., report that the 1971 NEC has removed the statement “not intended as a general purpose raceway material” and opened the door for greatly expanded use of liquidtight flex. The Code now states that liquidtight flexible metal conduit may be used in exposed or concealed locations where conditions of installation, operation, or maintenance require flexibility or protection from liquids, vapors, or solids. Liquidtight flex may be used in any lengths as a general-purpose raceway, limited only as noted in Sec. 35 1-2. It is no longer restricted to vibration isolation applications.

First EC&M Technical Convention a Success

The first EC&M Technical Convention on electrical construction, held in April 1971 at the College of Mt. St. Vincent in the Bronx, N.Y., set out to give the electrical industry “an open forum where any interested electrical man could attend and discuss the many mutual technical problems that plague his daily work.” According to an article written by Editor J. F. McPartland, the program more than achieved its goal. With 49 exhibitors and 1100 attendees from all over the United States, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Bermuda, Venezuela, and Ecuador, the conference focused on daily problems that confront electrical contractors, consulting electrical engineers, plant electrical men, electrical inspectors and manufacturers, and technical sales and marketing professionals. Twelve one-hour seminars covered all phases of electrical design and construction, including branch-circuit feeders and switchboards, services, grounding, wiring methods, lighting, motors and controls, electric heating, low-voltage circuits, transformers, and high-voltage and hazardous locations.

NEC Made Mandatory

The National Electrical Code has become a national requirement and standard for all electrical installations on public or private premises where people are employed, EC&M reports in February 1972. The law states in paragraph 1910.309 that “all electrical installations and utilization of equipment shall be installed and maintained in accordance with the provisions of the National Electrical Code, NFPA 70-1968.” This means the Code will serve as a reference standard for maintenance as well as installation. Under this new act, applying and enforcing the Code takes on a whole new meaning — a fine of up to a $10,000 can be imposed for each willful or repeated violation. In an extreme case, a plant or location can also be shut down through a court order because of “imminent danger.”

What's Wrong with Electrical Equipment?

When EC&M editors asked readers what they found most irritating about the products they use or specify, they ran the answers listed below in the April 1972 issue:

It would help considerably if space were increased on the sides of large distribution panels containing conductors such as 300MCM to 500MCM. These large panels provide only 4 to 6 in. more than most panels designed for No. 12 conductors.

There's not enough room in switches and controls for proper wiring, and lugs are too small and inadequately installed.

There is an unnecessary, complicated mass of dies for compression tools.

Insulation stripping equipment needs to be made safer with a guard over the knife.

Somebody should make a better armored-cable sheath cutter that would not nick plastic wire insulation.

I would like to see an economical and dependable battery-operated (rechargeable) hand tool to do away with the problems associated with extension cords and temporary power on construction sites.

A simple, direct solid-state motor starter with built-in redundancy at a reasonable price would sell.

Ballasts should be available which plug in or are otherwise easier to replace than they are now.

There is a need for a clamp-on type meter capable of measuring high voltages and currents.

Origins of Electrical Fires

From 1966 to 1970, more than 53,000 properties in North America insured in the Factory Mutual System (FMS) were struck by more than 1800 fires of electrical origin with property damages totaling $25.5 million, EC&M reports in 1973. Statistics compiled by FMS over a five-year period on electrical fires show that wiring alone is responsible for almost half the damage. Wiring, motors, resistive elements, controllers and switches, switchboards, and lamps caused more than 77% of the fires and 88% of the total property damage. More than half of these losses could have been avoided by correcting minor defects.

Call for Competitive Bidding

In 1974, EC&M reports the American Consulting Engineers Council (ACEC) and the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) are “deeply concerned that recent events in Washington leading to Spiro Agnew's resignation as Vice President have put the consulting engineering profession as a whole in a bad light.” The news brief warns the government may soon require competitive bidding on architectural and engineering projects. Representative Charles E. Bennett (D-Florida) has introduced a bill (HR 10884) requiring all government contracts for services and material be awarded to the lowest qualified bidder, including contracts for architectural and engineering work. “Reacting to the detrimental effect of publicity about political contributions and payoffs by a few engineering firms, the executive board of the Council has taken a no-nonsense position on any further evidence of improprieties by licensed engineers,” the article reports. “They have committed the organization to press for federal legislation that will set strict limits on the amount any engineering firm or employee can donate to any candidate or party during any election, provide contractual clauses that would set severe penalties for any consultant who was guilty of violating laws in order to get the contract, and quickly move to revoke the state license of any consulting engineer found to be a violator.”

How Safe Is Aluminum Wiring?

According to a 1974 news brief, the Consumer Product Safety Commission scheduled a public hearing to address the fire hazard concerns of aluminum wire used in almost two million homes built during the last decade. In the article, Commission Chairman Richard Simpson said the “much-expanded public hearing will delve into past, present and future use of aluminum wire, the technical adequacy of other kinds of wire, and what sort of redress can be obtained for the thousands of home owners who have aluminum wiring.” Simpson told the press that aluminum is at least allegedly a greater fire hazard than copper wire at this point in time. He urged homeowners with aluminum wire not to panic but to have an electrician survey their home. The commission estimated rewiring costs at approximately $100 per home.

Auxiliary Power Pays Off

One of the biggest market opportunities hitting the electrical construction industry is auxiliary electrical power, Editor J. F. McPartland reports in 1975. McPartland advises all electrical contractors, consulting electrical engineers, and plant electrical personnel to pay close attention to this relatively new niche. As more buildings become dependent on continuous uninterrupted electrical supply for critical operations (such as data-processing equipment, instrumentation, and controls), owners and operators of commercial, institutional, and industrial facilities have become keenly aware of the vital need for backup power — especially after the Eastern blackout of 1965. According to McPartland, “They have seen how power failure can cripple production and even destroy process equipment and machinery. They know very well that periodic short-time outages can be as devastating as blackouts for hours or days.”

Precast Duct Speeds Underground Work

In a case study written by Associate Editor Robert J. Lawrie in the mid-'70s, using a precast concrete duct system for underground work saved contractors installation time and money on the recent Kingsboro Community College project in Brooklyn, N.Y. Installed by Theodore Kaish, Inc., an electrical contractor in Long Island City, N.Y., the new system featured 10-ft sections of steel conduit cast in a concrete envelope. Along with bends and other fittings, these sections were delivered to the jobsite ready to install. The new wiring method eliminated construction of forms, reduced material storage and handling to a minimum, and simplified coordination with other trades. The contractor chose the precast duct system for two 1300-ft underground service runs from the property line to a main outdoor substation.

OSHA Issues GFCI standard

In 1975, the Labor Department began holding public hearings to review the requirement for ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) in the construction industry. In 1977, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a final standard requiring either that all construction sites use GFCIs on branch circuits or implement an assured equipment-grounding-conductor program. According to an EC&M article, employers can adopt either protective method, because both could reduce the electrical hazards of faulty equipment.

Early Lighting Control

Characterized as a “system that turns on lighting when it sees people,” an ultrasonic detection system that automatically turns the lights on in an occupied area and then turns them off when the last person leaves began testing by Citicorp Facilities Dept., part of the management group for Citibank, in 1977. According to an EC&M news brief, the equipment is basically the same as an ultrasonic security-detection system. However, rather than simply sounding an alarm at the first indication of movement, the system continuously monitors a work space. When someone vacates the area, the detection system turns the lights off after an adjustable delay of from 90 sec to 360 sec.

The Computer: A Design Consultant?

“In this century, building construction has gone from six-story walk-ups to hundred-plus-story skyscrapers; mechanical systems from one water pump to complex heating and air-conditioning systems; lighting from bare incandescent lamps to sophisticated fluorescent and HID installations; electric services from 60A, 2-wire to 10,000kVA, medium voltage — and yet the designs and plans are still being prepared the same way as they were at the beginning of the century — manually,” writes Arthur Freund, senior editor, in 1978. Most of these operations are highly repetitive and completed over and over again for each new job.

According to the article, today's computer era offers relief. With its prodigious memory and graphic display abilities, the computer will eliminate these repetitive operations, notes Freund. And it's already being done. Herman Blum Consulting Engineers, Inc., Dallas, has a complete computer system in successful operation. Used for design and drafting in all departments (electrical, mechanical, civil, and acoustical), the system consists of a minicomputer with a 28K-word core memory, two cathode-ray tube video display units, two digitizing drafting tables, digitizing handheld tablets, and a high-accuracy flatbed drafting plotter (46 in. × 64 in.). Accessories include magnetic tape, cassette tape units, input keyboards, an alphanumeric display unit, card keypunch units, card readers, a teleprinter, hard copy machines, a drum plotter, a line printer, and a 12-million-word magnetic disk storage.

Introducing Access Flooring

As more and more office buildings undergo renovation projects to provide underfloor space for electrical, telephone, communications, and mechanical services (including heating and air-conditioning ducts), the demand for raised flooring continues to rise, reports EC&M in the late '70s. How does the concept work? Resting on a building's concrete floor slab, a network of steel pedestals supports a raised floor of modular sheet-steel panels, providing 6 in. to 15 in. of space below. Any panel can be lifted in seconds to provide instant access to any of the services underneath. Originally developed to meet the needs of the computer room, access flooring is now being applied to all types of office areas, including those in manufacturing plants.

BX Vs. NM Cable for Residential Work

When choosing between armored cable and nonmetallic-sheathed cable for wiring wood-frame residential construction, which one's more cost-effective? According to a Q&A column in EC&M, preferences of electricians and contractors varied in the mid-'70s. A few of their comments follow:

Time and time again, I've been faced with the problem of shorts with NMC. Sure, in some cases it can be installed in considerably less time, but when the circuit-breaker kicks out because a nail is driven between the conductors, where are the savings?

Trying to evaluate the economics of residential house wiring by comparing NMC to BX is ludicrous. The popularity of NMC speaks for itself.

NMC used with plastic boxes and nonconductive device covers provides the most economical and safest residential wiring method to come along in years.

Maybe I'm from the old school and you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but it's beyond me how some mechanics can say NM cable cuts installation time by 40%. An experienced residential electrician can rough-in BX just as fast.

Safeguarding the World Trade Center

According to a 1977 EC&M article, thousands of ionization detectors, audio amplifiers, and loudspeakers tied into monitoring and control center help protect life and property in the twin 110-story towers at the World Trade Center. A multifaceted life-safety/security system (integrating modern equipment and techniques that protect the World Trade Center in New York City) has been upgraded in total coverage. Developed by the engineering department of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in cooperation with the Department of Buildings and the New York City Fire Department, the enlarged system increases the comprehensiveness of the existing network by extending the tenant and core-area fire detection and communications coverage and establishing an automatic elevator recall procedure.

A New Kind of Crime Fighter

In the past five years alone, burglaries have increased by 58%, reports EC&M in 1977. “Thwarting this pervasive business predator has created an electronic combat zone incorporating a wide variety of devices designed to detect the presence of an intruder and either sound an alarm or summon assistance,” the article reveals. As a result, many contractors are installing and servicing electrical signal systems. According to the article, the sophistication and intricacies of security systems have developed in proportion to the value of goods jeopardized by burglary. However, the problems do not end with the installation. Security is assured only through periodic testing and verification of intended functions. In the late '70s, more than 300 central stations and 600 local police-station installation contractors subscribed to an Underwriters' Laboratories certificate service designed to ensure adequacy and uniformity of the operation of burglary protection systems.