COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on US businesses and real estate

Zoltan Karpathy
Operations Manager, BSRIA Worldwide Market Intelligence

Nobody can predict with a high degree of certainty how long the current COVID-19 pandemic will last and what will be the full impact on the economy. We are witnessing US states, including Florida, opening up and having to tighten measures again as the virus flares up.

To contain the pandemic regulations started to push businesses towards investments to increase health safety and prevent spreading the COVID-19 virus. While necessary to fight the pandemic and speed up the recovery, businesses sometimes suffer temporary loss of productivity when the measures are implemented.

Another hike of investment as the direct consequence of the economic shock triggered by the pandemic is often related to the need of diversifying suppliers; and purchases from a variety of suppliers are often done with less favourable prices. Increasing inventory levels of critical raw materials/components/products are also becoming an issue.

Verticals served by the HVAC&R sector have been hit at various levels of degree by the COVID-19 pandemic. Venues, such as live entertainment, sports, restaurants and travel-related establishments are likely to struggle due to concerns over contracting the virus, even when they become fully open. It is expected that consumer will shift away from these types of spending to alternatives such as durable goods, which in turn can have a positive effect on housing in the future.

Nevertheless, on the residential side, housing starts plummeted by 43% in the three months from February to April, even though several US states allowed construction sites to operate. Sales of existing homes also declined, with April’s transaction level at three-quarters of the February level. Residential construction is expected to slow down in the medium term, as consumers are unable or unwilling to purchase new houses, even though mortgage rates are very low.

Economists are drawing up various scenarios and assess likelihoods of these potential outcomes. According to Deloitte the most probable scenario is that the US economic recovery will not take place at least until the middle of 2021; growth can return to the pre-COVID level by the end of 2023, but the economy will not be able to achieve full employment again until 2025.

In the context of such uncertainty, manufacturers active in the HVAC&R and Building Controls sector are facing a wide range of unknown factors:

  • customers building up stock for an eventual second COVID-19 wave;
  • concerns over debt payments;
  • increasing payment periods;
  • increasing raw material prices;
  • pressure to maintain the price of their final products/solutions.

In terms of the product mix, HVAC companies started to receive more enquires for certain types of filters, more emphasis on increasing volume of fresh air and generally an increasing focus on Indoor Air Quality.

This goes hand in hand with the fact that the current situation is also encouraging building owners and businesses to offer a safe working environment, in which employees trust and feel comfortable. Therefore, increasing investment levels can be expected to make commercial buildings ‘smarter’ and more efficient to use, with the uptake of solutions such as contactless access control, occupancy analytics, employee tracking services, proximity sensing and analytics (using indoor location mapping solutions) and Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) sensing and monitoring, alongside air purification and disinfection solutions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has a significant impact on the real estate market, challenging the building owners and operators at unprecedented levels. According to JLL, the effects in the short term, will be the accelerated large-scale uptake of home working, leading to problems for traditional offices, but also co-working centres and flexible offices, putting a strain on the sustainability of certain flexible space business models. Social distancing considerably increase the space allocated for individuals which means that many flexible offices will record very low space utilisation rates and could even remain nearly empty.

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the role of the traditional office and it reinforced the need for the office to act as a communal space which encourages innovation and collaboration, while nurturing company culture. A future solution seems to be an increased focus on technology enabled workplaces which can be used for collaborative meetings and hosting clients.

To assess the full impact of COVID-19 on the US HVAC&R sector, BSRIA will publish an update of its market studies at the end of September 2020.

To find out more about BSRIA HVACR & Controls market studies contact us at:

• America sales enquiries: BSRIA USA: sales@bsria.com ¦ +1 312 753 6803, http://www.bsria.com/us/
• China sales enquiries: BSRIA China: bsria@bsria.com.cn ¦ +86 10 6465 7707, http://www.bsria.com.cn
• All other sales enquiries: BSRIA UK: wmi@bsria.co.uk ¦ +44 (0) 1344 465 540, http://www.bsria.com/uk/

District Heating and Cooling and Heat Interface Units are still closely tied markets

Socrates Christidis
BSRIA Research Manager – Heating and Renewables

District Heating and Cooling networks have witnessed significant growth in many European countries in the last five years and this is set to continue in the coming decade. Significant European policy initiatives, such as the Green Deal, country government promotions, alongside increased public and private investment are supporting new business models such as utilities selling heat as a service and not as a commodity, which will drive the market forward.

BSRIA research indicates that the share of heat pumps and Energy-from-Waste in district heating and cooling systems is increasing. This trend is in line with the development of the concept of 5th generation heat networks. These are demand driven and low-temperature networks, using locally available low-grade waste heat (A/C, datacentres, underground stations, etc.), low temperature renewable energy in bodies of water and solar energy instead of a central energy centre. In principle, such systems favour the use of substations at building level, but no heat interface units at the dwelling level, as these are likely to be replaced by heat pumps.

Currently industrial boilers and CHPs remain the main source of heating in District Heating networks. For instance, 85% of planned heat networks in the UK, will have a CHP as the primary source of heating and 50% will have a gas boiler as a backup. The remaining 15% will use geothermal, ground source or water source heat pumps.

Thus, in the short-term Heat Interface Units (HIUs) will remain the link between the apartment and the network.

Going forward, reducing demand for heating and increasing need for hot water and cooling imply that the market will see the uptake of:

  • All-in-one units (heating or cooling and hot water)
  • Cooling units
  • Hybrid units, with integrated electric water heating
Graph showing European HIUs market growth

The main threats for HIUs market progress are the currently lack of consistent quality of installation and COVID-19.

Heat interface units have a major impact on the overall performance of a heat network and successful operation and performance both depend on correct system design and specification, followed by competent installation and maintenance. This has been problematic, with systems inadequately designed and quite often oversized. We see some signs of improvements as the industry becomes more sensitised towards good quality district heating. Documentation is improving as well as codes of practice, testing of HIUs, and further testing on site; however, under tight budgets the emphasis is often for the lowest cost, specification compliant technology. Testing the unit in a lab and then onsite is optional but critical to ensure performance.

Closing of construction sites was the main impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, including lack of cash flow, as the invoicing is done when products are delivered onsite. The industry has also witnessed a lack of new orders from April to June, with some signs of recovery observed just after. Overall, the European sales in the first 6 months of 2020 were between 15% and 30% down, depending on country, when compared to the 6 first months of 2019.

Going forwards, new construction presents a slightly positive picture. During COVID-19 there has been delays but not cancellations in planning permissions; delays as sites operate under social distancing guidelines and some delays for new investment to come through. However, governments and authorities are still eager to go ahead with programs and incentives, with renewed emphasis on the environmental agenda.

Looking at estimations for completions of flats before and after the outbreak, the recovery is likely to accelerate in 2022, and the market is unlikely to recover before. The end of financial support schemes by governments (VAT deferral, loan schemes or furlough) is likely to have a negative impact on many businesses, including contractors. Indications are, that new build and residential sales will be hit harder than commercial ones. Southern Europe is also likely to struggle more, although recession is expected across most of European countries.

Taking all this into account, BSRIA sees the numbers of heat interface units growing steadily but at a single digit compound annual growth rate of just over 4% on a Pan-European basis. The market will become more diverse and will look for more flexible options to cater for high-end, electricity-only heating, mixed-used and communal areas.

To find out more about BSRIA’s District Energy and Heat Interface unit market studies contact us at:

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