Mehdi Jalayerian
Managing Director & Chief of Innovation
Environmental Systems Design, Inc., Chicago

Imagine a day in the recent past, when modern skyscrapers were impossible, because power systems on the ground could only reach 30-40 stories high. What changed? In the 1960s, the Chicago Board of Trade wanted to update infrastructure to add more power density to its higher floors, yet feeders from the transformers on the ground floor couldn’t distribute beyond 200 feet (61 meters). Seemingly, the power expansion in the 1920s-era building couldn’t be executed in the absence of revolutionary ideas.

While working with a Chicago-based utility to figure out how to put transformers on upper floors, Hem Gupta sketched out a plan that had never been tried before. The high voltage power system innovation, which included 12Kv electrical risers, not only worked, but it dramatically increased electrical energy capacity in the building, and paved the way for a revolutionary approach to efficiently power future tall buildings.

Today, transformers rest at numerous points vertically in skyscrapers throughout the world, configured as stacked 30-40 story high-rises to form segmented tall buildings. Dubai once had a building code that disallowed high-voltage risers. Once officials were convinced of the importance of revising this code, Dubai became the site of the world’s tallest building.

The high-voltage upgrade from the late 1960s has evolved to become the industry standard, and has greatly helped tall buildings not only to exist, but to enjoy a reliable and economical electrical infrastructure. An innovation from 50 years ago promises to keep skyscrapers rising higher for the next 50 years.