UK heat pump market has weathered Covid-19 challenges. Coherent policy support is now needed to unlock its full potential.

by Krystyna Dawson, BSRIA Commercial Director

BSRIA has released its latest global heat pump market reports, including the eagerly awaited report on the status of the UK heat pump market.

Last spring, deep uncertainty set in across the markets as lockdowns in many countries disrupted trading. There was fear within the heat pump industry of a significant slowdown in what had previously shown dynamic market growth.

Indeed, the global heat pump market posted a decrease of 1.5% in 2020. However, performance varied across regions: with 12% market growth year-on-year, Europe has been at the forefront; the UK also saw positive development with heat pump sales increasing by 9.2% in 2020.  

Green Homes Grant

UK heat pump market sales were helped by the RHI and the Green Homes Grant scheme in 2020. The latter has proven to be important for the market, which has seen sustained growth in the refurbishment segment despite the number of installations in new buildings stalling due to the lower level of new home completions.

However, heat pump installation still represents a major challenge in existing homes. The ongoing review of Part L and Part F of building regulations offer hope that refurbishments in homes and buildings will be conceived with low carbon heating in mind, but the review’s outcomes are yet to become a legal requirement.

Moreover, even though there is market potential for a higher number of heat pump installations in existing homes, the government has, so far, been unable to unlock it. The Saturday 27th March announcement of the closing of the Green Home Grant scheme to new applicants by 31st March 2021 has been yet another example of the disappointing approach to deployment of energy efficiency measures and heat pumps.

UK heat pump market: Achieving a net zero carbon economy

Heat pumps are among the technologies the government has identified as key to achieving a net zero carbon economy by 2050. The Prime Minister’s 10 Point Plan for the UK Green Industrial Revolution includes the target to deploy 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028.

The UK saw around 37,000 heat pumps sold in 2020. The extra £300 million in funding, moved from the soon-to-be defunct Green Homes Grant to local authorities to enable energy efficiency upgrades for lower income households, may bring additional installations. But even if all 30,000 applicable homes were fitted with heat pumps, the numbers are insufficient to sustain hope of reaching the PM’s ambitious target.. There is potential for more heat pump installations in existing homes, and the interest in heat pumps is growing among home and building owners. The heat pump industry is also working at full speed to deliver innovative products that respond to end-user expectations and environmental challenges.

HVAC industry skills gap

However, unless demand from existing homes and buildings is unlocked at full scale, and until real attention is paid to the sufficient availability of a skilled workforce, the heat pump market will struggle to see the acceleration needed to reach the government target and make a difference in the level of carbon emissions from UK homes and buildings.

Coherent policy and financial support are needed to match the readiness to act on both industry and consumer sides. Integration of heat pumps in a home or a commercial building requires a holistic approach where design and affordability should be considered to deliver carbon savings, cost savings and a healthy and comfortable environment.

“Clean Energy Revolution” puts building and product standards back on the Federal agenda

by Krystyna Dawson

The inauguration of the new President-elect, Joe Biden, marks the start of a period that could bring a substantial shift in US building-related markets. Air conditioning, heating, ventilation and controls are likely to face requirements from policy and market demand that will change dynamics in several segments.

Net Zero Emissions

With the President-elect’s Clean Energy Revolution announced during the campaign, the federal green agenda is set to make a strong comeback. President Biden signalled his intention to re-join the Paris Agreement, notably on the first day of his presidency, and outlined a national goal of net-zero emissions across the economy by 2050. Although less ambitious than the progressive Green New Deal target (net-zero emissions by 2030), with Congress now on his side he can venture putting his intention into law.

The President has promised a nearly USD 2 trillion investment plan, much of which is due to support green initiatives. He also promised to work towards achieving decarbonised electricity by 2035. Although during the campaign he was careful not to promote the ban of gas and oil fracking, his Clean Energy Revolution includes plans to improve energy efficiency in buildings and houses, and promises high investment in R&D related to zero carbon technologies to produce cutting-edge equipment for internal markets and export.

Even if not all of it might come to fruition, there is certainly a significant change of direction ahead in all industry sectors, including energy and HVAC in buildings.

HVAC Industry

During the Trump presidency, the federal government kept progress in energy efficiency standards for appliances and equipment at a low level. This has been countered by initiatives in several states, like California, Vermont, Washington, Colorado Texas and Hawaii, which have been setting their own efficiency standards for a variety of products. Federal standards nevertheless cover a wide range of HVAC products. Hence, the re-activation of ambitious federal efficiency programs will be important for industry and consumers.

California will likely increase its influence on federal decision making, not only as Kamala Harris’ home state, but because of its leading set of environmental regulations and standards. Its Title 24 Building Standards Code that sets requirements for “energy conservation, green design, construction and maintenance, fire and life safety, and accessibility” that apply to the “structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems” in buildings might provide a template for wider adoption. The experience the state is gathering on the application of a variety of solar and heat pump combinations can support the uptake of these technologies on a larger scale.

Green Agenda

With the push towards energy efficiency in buildings, technologies that support their smart operation are likely to see dynamic uptake. Currently, smart buildings represent a niche market across the US, with just some cities in the North-East, Texas or California seeing their increased emergence. They usually belong to corporations who are keen to emphasise their green credentials, aspiring to achieve high sustainability certificates through building sustainability assessments like LEED or WELL.

The impact of the federal policy change on the building HVAC and controls market will not be instant, but waiting for it to become obvious might have serious consequences for market players.  The unfolding of the green agenda by the federal government will strengthen ongoing efforts of market stakeholders and demand from consumers as environmental awareness creates favourable conditions for the shift towards efficient, environmentally friendly products.

Taking action on Climate Change

by Michelle Agha-Hossein, BSRIA Building Performance Lead

Most nations now recognise climate change as an established, perturbing fact that needs immediate attention. We can see the effects in the worsening and more frequent extremes of weather: flash floods, droughts, strong winds, heavy snow, heat waves, etc.

UK temperatures in 2019 were 1.1°C above the 1961-1990 long-term average and it was a particularly wet year across parts of central and northern England. Still fresh in the memory are storms Ciara and Dennis in February 2020 with strong winds and heavy rain that caused significant damage to homes and commercial buildings. There is growing evidence that periods of intensely strong winds and heavy rain are likely to increase in the future.

The UK is not the only country affected by climate change. Many other countries are (and will be) suffering disproportionately. The world’s leading climate scientists have warned that we might have just 12 years to keep global warming at a maximum of 1.5°C. After this point, the risk of extreme weather conditions will significantly increase. The increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather will affect all but is most likely to bring catastrophic consequences in many less economically developed countries, where food shortages and water scarcity can trigger deep social changes.

Immediate radical action is required to limit carbon emissions, and the built environment industry can play a crucial role by changing the prevailing culture.

Most building-related carbon emissions are generated from energy use in buildings. However, there are choices that building owners/operators can make and initiatives that they can undertake to lessen the related negative impact on the environment:

In brand new buildings, the most effective way for addressing emissions is reducing consumption through energy efficient design. In existing buildings, the issue can be addressed by efficient retrofitting and effective maintenance strategy. Adopting renewable energy technologies in both cases can significantly reduce building emissions.

Steps building owners and operators can take today.

There are several initiatives/activities that can help building owners/operators combat climate change:

  • Consider ‘net-zero carbon’ targets for your building: UKGBC launched its Advancing Net Zero programme in 2018 and published the ‘Net Zero Carbon Buildings: A Framework Definition’ in 2019. The framework provides the construction industry with clarity on the outcomes required for a net zero carbon building.
  • Ensure the required outcomes for a ‘net-zero carbon’ building are achieved: As advised by UKGBC in the framework definition, initiatives like BSRIA Soft Landings should be adopted in new build as well as in refurbishment projects to ensure a net zero carbon building will be achieved. The BSRIA Soft Landings framework provides a platform for project teams to understand the required outcomes for their project and ensure all decisions made during the project are based on meeting those outcomes.
  • Maintain your net zero carbon building effectively: Business-focused maintenance is a methodology developed by BSRIA that can be adopted to help building operators maintain critical assets effectively and efficiently to sustain a net zero carbon building within budget.
  • Investigate failure quickly: Is the energy bill for your building higher than it should be? Investigate the problem as soon as you can. The first and easiest step would be looking at the energy end use breakdown to see which areas are using more energy than expected. If the issue is related to the HVAC system, check the system’s setting points and monitor the indoor air temperature and relative humidity. Thermal imaging of the fabric of the building can also help to identify, thermal bridging, missing/damaged insulation and areas of excessive air leakage.
  • Promote a healthy diet among building occupants: This is a non-technical initiative that building owners/operators can adopt in their buildings. Eating less meat and gradually shifting to more plant-based foods is vital for keeping us and our planet healthy.  It is important to think about initiatives such as using signage or lunchtime talks, to educate building occupants about healthy diets and encourage them to eat more fruit and vegetables. Research has shown that adhering to health guidelines on meat consumption could cut global food-related emissions by nearly a third by 2050. Healthy diet is also supported by Fitwel and the WELL building standard.

Building owners and operators, to play their role in combating climate change, should ensure their decisions and the way they create and run their buildings contribute positively to the wellbeing of our planet and its citizens.

So, make a start today and choose the first thing you are going to assess/change in your building to help combat climate change.

To find out more about how BSRIA can help you improve building performance, visit us here.

The wellbeing and environmental effects of agile working

by David Bleicher, BSRIA Publications Manager

How many times in the last few months have you started a sentence with “When things get back to normal…”? For those of us whose work mostly involves tapping keys on a keyboard, “normal” implies commuting to an office building five days a week and staying there for eight or more hours a day.

When lockdown restrictions were imposed, things that were previously unthinkable, such as working from home every day, conducting all our meetings by video call, and not having easy access to a printer, became “the new normal”.

One thing the pandemic has taught us is that changes to our work habits are possible – we don’t have to do things the way we’ve always done them. Since lockdown, agile working has been high on companies’ agendas; but agile working has a broader scope than flexible working. It is defined as “bringing people, processes, connectivity and technology, time and place together to find the most appropriate and effective way of working to carry out a particular task.”

Working from home with a cat

The triple bottom line

Agile working is indeed about much more than changing people’s working hours and locations. It’s about how people work – becoming focused on the outcome rather than the process. It’s about making the best use of technology to achieve those outcomes and it’s also about reconfiguring workplaces to better suit the new ways of working. But, when considering these outcomes, we should be looking further than the financial bottom line. The term triple bottom line is a framework that also brings social and environmental aspects into consideration.

How, when and where people work has a major impact on their wellbeing. The past few months have served as an unintentional experiment in the wellbeing effects of mass home working. Some people are less stressed and more productive working from home, providing they have regular contact with their colleagues. Other people – particularly those who don’t have a dedicated home working space – returned to their offices as soon as it was safe to do so. It depends on the individual’s preferences, personal circumstances and the nature of the work they do.

On the face of it, it would seem that increased working from home or from local coworking spaces would be a win-win for the environment. Less commuting means fewer CO2 emissions and less urban air pollution. But a study by global consulting firm and BSRIA member, WSP, found that year-round home working could result in an overall increase in CO2 emissions.

In short, it reduces office air conditioning energy use in the summer, but greatly increases home heating energy use in the winter – more than offsetting carbon savings from reduced commuting. Perhaps what this highlights most is just how inefficient the UK’s housing stock is. If we all lived in low energy homes with good level insulation and electric heat pumps, the equation would be very different. Perhaps a flexible solution allowing home working in summer and promoting office working in winter would be best from an environmental perspective.

A possible long-term effect of increased home working is that some people may move further away from their offices. For example, someone might choose to swap a five-days-a-week 20 km commute for a one-day-a-week 100 km commute. If that is also a move to a more suburban or rural location with more scattered development, less public transport and fewer amenities within walking distance, then (for that individual at least) there’ll be an increased carbon footprint. Not very agile.

Impact of technology

There’s another aspect that may not yet come high up in public awareness. Remote working is dependent on technology – in particular, the video calls that so many of us have become adept at over the past few months. All this processing burns up energy. The effect on home and office electricity bills may be negligible because the processing is done in the cloud. This isn’t some imaginary, nebulous place. The cloud is really a network of data centres around the world, churning data at lightning speed and, despite ongoing efforts, still generating a whole lot of CO2 emissions in the process. Videoconferencing definitely makes sense from both an economic and environmental perspective when it reduces the need for business travel, but if those people would “normally” be working in the same building, isn’t it just adding to global CO2 emissions?

We don’t yet know what “the new normal” is going to look like. Undoubtedly, we’re going to see more remote working, but responsible employers should weigh up the pros and cons economically, environmentally and socially. Terminating the lease on an office building may seem like a sensible cost saving, but can a workforce really be productive when they never meet face-to-face? Does an activity that seemingly reduces CO2 emissions actually just increase emissions elsewhere? Any agile working solution must take all of these things into account, and not attempt a one-size-fits-all approach to productivity, environmental good practice and employee wellbeing.

For more information on how BSRIA can support your business with energy advice and related services, visit us here: BSRIA Energy Advice.

Alarmingly, less is more

This blog is by Mark Glitherow, Key Account Manager for UK Trend

Trend’s Key Account Manager, Mark Glitherow, explains why the generation of too many individual alarms is deterring end users from configuring a BEMS to undertake the monitoring of their key compliance needs.

When given the choice, most end users with a fully optimised BEMS opt for as many alarms to be configured as possible. On one level this is understandable, as it usually doesn’t cost them anymore and they might think that it’s better to be alerted to a potential issue than not be notified at all.

The reality leads to what can only be described as the ‘boy who cried wolf’ scenario, where so many alarms are generated that they are soon ignored and considered a nuisance. This was recently highlighted to me at a seminar of healthcare professionals, who all felt that in order to mitigate the risk of legionella they would rather manually check temperatures of tank held water than receiving alarm based notifications from a BEMS. The reason for this was purely down to the high levels of alarms that they already receive.

This situation is both worrying and frustrating, given that a BEMS should be a focal point in ensuring delivery of a compliant, resilient and sustainable built environment. A BEMS should support decision making but do so in a way that provides genuine value, rather than allowing generic, worthless alarms to complicate a user experience.

One answer to this conundrum is to reduce the volume of alarms and rationalise the amount that are set, so that the end user can gauge the importance of a notification. Alternatively, a graphical user interface (GUI) such as the Trend 963 Supervisor could be used to improve the presentation of valuable information so that users quickly recognise situations requiring their attention. The 963 Supervisor could create clear, relevant and succinct metrics – the premise being to create indicators that are just as effective as the actions they are intended to instigate.

These visual indicators can be configured to suit the exacting needs of the end user and be based upon an understanding of specific objectives, how they are to be achieved and who is going to action them. They could take the form of dashboards, ‘traffic light’ style devices or graphs.

A BEMS that issues alarms in a more structured, meaningful and discerning way is far more useful that one that simply bombards the end user with notifications that are ignored. Integrators and end users, therefore, need to work together to decide upon levels of importance for different events and configure the BEMS appropriately. It is simply a case of less being more.

For further information please call Trend Marketing on 01403 211888 or email marketing@trendcontrols.com

Always look on the bright side

This post is by Casey Wells, Trend’s UK Marketing Manager

I’m Casey Wells, UK Marketing at Trend, and in this blog talk about how integrating lighting along with heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) into a BEMS can bring together the largest consumers of electrical energy in a building and why such integration makes sense.

According to recent industry studies, lighting accounts for 19-23 per cent of the energy used in a building, with 40-52 per cent normally being used for HVAC. This means that companies have the potential to control up to 75 per cent of their energy usage through a BEMS.

Although controlling HVAC installations by BEMS is well known, many people are still unaware of the benefits of integrating lighting control. Devices like the Trend 963 Supervisor use dashboards that visualise lighting and HVAC points on a common head-end and detail the occupancy status of different zones, as well as the current luminaire status in each area.

The normal pattern of a working week can also be catered for automatically and lighting can, for example, be scheduled to turn on and off at certain times. Of course, life doesn’t always operate to a fixed schedule, so a BEMS can offer timed schedule over-rides to cater for changes such as a late networking event.

An additional benefit for integrating lighting with a BEMS is increased levels of safety and reliability. For example, emergency lighting can be continuously monitored by the BEMS. If an irregularity does occur, the BEMS will be configured to email the facilities manager or other designated person, and provide a complete report.

Building and facilities managers have much to gain from using a BEMS that integrates lighting control. With such a system, they can take advantage of real time energy monitoring and proactively save energy.

For further information please call Trend Marketing on 01403 211888 or email marketing@trendcontrols.com.

A BEMS is the key to unlocking a more sustainable and resilient data centre

Sam Fitzgerald, Key Account Manager at Trend Control Systems

Sam Fitzgerald, Key Account Manager at Trend Control Systems

Sam Fitzgerald, Key Account Manager at Trend Control Systems, explains the functions of a Building Energy Management System (BEMS) and the vital role this technology can play in today’s state-of-the-art data centres.

In order to minimise the potential for downtime, data centres must be resilient, compliant with all relevant standards and operating procedures, while at the same time minimising overall energy consumption. BEMS have the proven ability to maintain the high levels of uptime and energy efficiency that are demanded by users by proactively monitoring, analysing, understanding and improving a data centre’s building services infrastructure.

Under control

A BEMS monitors, manages and controls building services and plant by ensuring that it operates at maximum levels of efficiency and reliability. It does this by maintaining the optimum balance between conditions, energy use and operating requirements.

By controlling an entire estate’s building services from a centrally managed location, it enhances the ability to interact with, and improve the quality of, the data centre infrastructure. Intelligently understanding and responding to patterns of usage means that, for example, cooling can be fully optimised and lighting turned off in unoccupied areas.

Being aware of the way a data centre works makes it possible to determine which best practices to implement in order to protect IT assets, while minimising costs and the potential for downtime.

Energy levels

It is estimated that data centres account for around three per cent of the world’s total energy consumption and with growing use of the cloud and the rise of the Internet of Things, that figure is only going to go up. Furthermore, according to the Digital Power Group, the sector uses 50 per cent more energy than global aviation and is now considered one of the major sources of global CO2 emissions.

Efficient use of energy is clearly no longer an option and there is a growing raft of legislation and regulation that is specifically designed to ensure that energy consumption and carbon emissions are measured accurately, and that any applicable data is available for analysis.

Given that up to 84 per cent of a data centre’s energy consuming devices can be directly under its control, a BEMS is without doubt the most effective way to gain a true understanding of where savings can be made, monitored and sustained. A properly specified, installed and maintained BEMS will ensure that building services operate in strict accordance with demand, which will also help to deliver the lowest power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating.

Far from being ‘fit and forget’, a BEMS can evolve with the building over a period of time. It must be regularly maintained and, where necessary, adjusted to ensure that it provides the best possible quality of service.

The bigger picture

Sustainability isn’t just about energy usage though. A BEMS can also limit wear and tear on plant equipment by using it more efficiently and making sure that any maintenance issues are highlighted.

In addition, a properly configured BEMS will be scalable, future proof and full backwards compatible. A system that allows easy upgrading and reconfiguration is always preferable – not all systems are the same and the costs of installation can vary depending on the protocol used.

Trend is committed to ensuring the backwards compatibility of its technology. For example, its new IQ®4 controllers are able to communicate with the very first device that it manufactured way back in 1982. The IQ®4 modules are also interchangeable for additional future proofing, scalability and system longevity – all of which can protect the financial investment in a BEMS.

Always on

According to research carried out by Emerson Network Power and the Ponemon Institute, the cost of data centre downtime is just over $7,900 per minute. Total data centre outages in 2013 averaged a recovery time of 119 minutes, equating to about $901,500 in total cost.

As well as being incredibly inconvenient, it’s the damage to mission critical data, impact on organisational productivity, harm to equipment, legal and regulatory repercussions and lost confidence and trust among key stakeholders that can prove difficult to recover from. A data centre should therefore look to build resilience into its operation via a BEMS, minimising any risks associated with situations such as plant failure or environmental conditions falling outside acceptable parameters.

Alarms can be programmed into a BEMS, so that in the event of equipment malfunction the problem can be identified and rectified as quickly as possible. For instance, on an air-handling unit, if a flow sensor highlights that airflow is decreasing it is likely to mean that a filter is blocked. Addressing problems like this early on will ensure that temperature conditions in a data centre remain within those agreed in a service level agreement (SLA), minimising the possibility of penalties. A BEMS can also minimise the amount of time required to carry out such tasks by either automating them or undertaking comprehensive data acquisition.

Rules and regulations

Compliance with statutory legislation, key performance indicators (KPIs) and SLAs are fundamental to the success of any data centre.

A BEMS provides overall visibility of plant energy use and allows personnel to see in real time what’s happening within a facility, therefore helping to make sure that equipment stays within a manufacturer’s specified temperature and/or humidity range. In addition, details of data centre conditions on a 24/7 basis can be logged to provide a full audit trail.

A growing number of data centre operators are also choosing to put an energy management system (EnMS) in place to achieve compliance with ISO 50001 or the standards used to measure data centre efficiency developed by The Green Grid. Having a BEMS in place will help demonstrate a desire to continually improve a data centre’s energy efficiency.

Therefore, the requirement for this technology in data centres is only set to increase.

For further information please call Trend Marketing on 01403 211888 or email marketing@trendcontrols.com.

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Just when you thought it was safe to relax about Energy

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

Did you hear about the crisis that hit the UK on 4th  November, causing  massive disruption, and provoking outcry in industry, and suddenly sent energy rocketing back up the UK’s political agenda?

You probably didn’t hear this, because the first major threat to the UK’s national grid this winter still left it with a princely 2% spare capacity, sufficient for the National Grid to issue a “notification of inadequate system margin” (NISM), but insufficient to actually disrupt the service.

While this was only the first stage of alert, and while an abnormal lack of wind was an aggravating factor – bringing the UK’s now significant wind generation capacity almost to a halt, one of the mildest starts to November on record may have helped to save the day. As so often in human affairs, a “near miss” is treated as a near non-event. A single “hit” on the other hand could have major repercussions, prompting much more urgent action not just on the resilience of the UK’s national grid, but on how buildings respond to peaks and troughs in energy demand.

BSRIA has been reporting and analysing on Building Energy Management and the issues around it for a number of years now. One of the trends that we have noticed is that over time, more suppliers of building energy management solutions include some form of Demand Response as part of their solution. This enables a temporary reduction in the power drawn by certain services in the building where this does not impact on productivity or well-being.

Our latest review of the global leaders in Building Energy Management showed that almost half now offer demand response, the highest figure that we have seen to date. This includes both the global leaders in Building Automation and Energy Management and suppliers specialising in energy management.

At the same time, energy storage is being taken more serious as a viable and cost-effective way of providing additional resilience and peak capacity, both for energy suppliers and in some cases for consumers. While the UK is still some way from having a thriving market in home energy storage systems comparable to that developing in Germany (where residential electricity is significantly more expensive), it seems quite likely that any significant grid outages will give a boost to the market for battery storage for both residential and non-residential use.

It is still quite hard to judge how probable a major power outage is in the UK this winter. There are already further processes for demand reduction which can be invoked if the situation gets tighter than it did on November 4th. However a coincidence of severe cold with a lack of wind, and unplanned outages at power stations is not inconceivable. And the major strategic initiatives, such as the construction of two new nuclear power plants, will take years to come online.

The UK has got used to ‘living dangerously, and so far has got away with it. But the sensible response to a lucky escape is to learn the lessons, and  not to assume that your luck will go on holding indefinitely.

The very least we can say is that all organisations should be looking at the potential implications of even a short interruption to power supplies, and how they can best mitigate these.

I shall be talking a bit more about BSRIA’s latest research into building energy management and related areas in a webinar on Tuesday 24th November, so I hope that you will be able to join me then

Have you been blackmailed by your Dishwasher? Who Owns the Smart Future?

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

Having recently updated BSRIA’s key market studies on Building Automation Controls (BACS), Building Energy Management (BEMS) and Smart Evolution – towards the Internet of Everything, I was struck by a world in a state of flux with  implications for the built environment and technology in general that could be as profound as they are unpredictable.

The structure and make up of our buildings and cities have always been intensely political. The most visible of all human creations, they speak volumes about our abilities, our status and our values and our aspirations. I felt this last month  when viewing the ruins of Ephesus – once the second city of the Roman Empire –  as much as when  I am visiting London or Chicago.

At least since the turn of the millennium there has been a tacit assumption that while technology is the great enabler, much of the change in the way our buildings and cities are designed and organised will be driven by social concerns, typically expressed through politics. In particular, the perception that the threat of climate change requires far reaching action has led to a sustained series of targets, guidelines and regulations to increase both energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy, which naturally impacts on the built environment as one of the biggest consumers of energy.

Is this movement losing momentum? The financial crisis and recession affecting much of Europe, North America and some other parts of the developing world has proved to be the most prolonged since the 1930s. Even countries which appeared to escape the worst impact have since experienced either recession or a dramatic slowdown, including Australia, Canada and of course China.

With falling or stagnating production and rising government debt levels in so many countries, it is no surprise that finances and basic economics have come to the fore. Violent conflicts, especially in the Middle East, Africa  and Eastern Europe, but overflowing into other parts of the world, and in turn fuelling mass movements of refugees and economic migration are also seizing attention in developed countries as well.

All of this has sometimes appeared to leave the “green agenda” somewhat on the back foot. Even in countries like Germany, Austria, Australia and New Zealand, where Green parties have attracted mass support and had a major influence on government, they have seemed to become more marginalised. Britain’s recent elections resulted in a new majority government which has very quickly moved to relax requirements on the energy efficiency of new buildings, and also to phase out subsidies for wind power.

While there is argument as to how far this is simply a question of means, and how much it represents a shift in priorities, there is little doubt that measures to improve energy efficiency or to promote use of smart technology face an uphill path if they cannot also provide a quick pay-back.

Where governments get involved in technology, it tends to be for old fashioned economic reasons.  When  mega-corporations  like Microsoft, Apple, Google and Amazon have been in the spotlight it has mainly been because of accusations of anti-competitive practices or because of their tax policies. Rather less thought has been given to the ways in which companies like these could change the basic structure of society, the balance of power, and the whole environment.

Increasingly these global brands interact directly with a global audience, influencing their behaviour, and in turn being influenced by them. It is no accident that Microsoft, Apple, Google and Amazon, having established themselves as consumer brands, are now all active in the area of smart buildings, ranging from the smart home to, in Microsoft’s case, providing the data crunching to manage and optimise whole campuses of buildings.

Increasingly we can link these to wearable devices and to creators of virtual realities which could radically change our day to day activities and environment. Even the basic blocks  from which buildings are made can have ‘smart’ properties, from ‘self-healing’ bricks to glass that responds dynamically to different levels of light.

threatsWith artificial intelligence already surpassing human intelligence in certain well defined areas – such as chess playing – questions are raised about how far the technology goes, who owns it, and how much power they will have. Even our homes and offices can study, learn and predict our habits and our preferences, in ways that can certainly be useful, but also potentially disturbing.

For over a hundred years there have been fears about the prospect of vital areas of technology  being dominated by a single concern or perhaps a cabal of companies. So far, in practice, it has been innovation itself  that has come to the rescue. Even the most nimble footed technology giants have been caught off-guard by new waves of technology, from IBM, to Microsoft to Nokia. In the case of building technologies the requirements are particularly diverse, and  it is quite unusual to find a country where a single supplier accounts for more than 25%-30% of the market.

Nonetheless as we look to a future where corporations and, by implication, governments have access to information about almost every aspect of where we are, what we are doing, how we feel and what we want and fear.

While you can probably rest assured that your dishwasher probably doesn’t have a motivation to blackmail you (why were those extra glasses washed out at 3 o’clock last Thursday morning?) you can be less assured that it won’t soon have the evidence to do so.

More information about the latest editions of BSRIA’s market studies on Building Automation, Building Energy Management, and Smart Evolution is available here.

BSRIA Diamond Group Forum – A glimpse of the future?

How buildings can improve productivity and wellbeing will continue to be one of the most researched questions over the next decade. This touches all aspects of building design, construction, use, and maintenance. It also relates to the relationship of buildings with their immediate environment as well as their connection to the wider world. There is a lot changing in this industry and the players need to be aware of this and decide how they will respond. They need to evolve, move up the value chain, embrace new technologies, develop the necessary processes, and build the necessary skills.

60th anniversary finalsmallResponding to this, BSRIA held a 60th anniversary “Diamond Group Forum” with senior executives at the AHR Expo in Chicago in January to discuss and debate the changing landscape around the design and use of buildings, their evolution, and to uncover how the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and building controls industry should be shaped in future in order to best respond to client needs and prepare for the positive and profitable development of the businesses that support it.

The event brought together approximately 30 senior executives from major players representing a mix of manufacturers, specifiers and end users in the industry. The forum, which was opened by BSRIA CEO, Julia Evans facilitated active debate and networking.

Following three summary presentations on HVAC and smart control technology by experts from BSRIA World Market Intelligence, the participants broke out into several workshop groups to address the following key questions:

  1. What do you think are the biggest, most relevant changes in buildings now and over the next 10 years?
  2. What will be the impact on our industry?
  3. What products and services will be required in the future?

The majority of participants were from North American organisations, with a small number from Europe and Asia. So it may be assumed that the many insightful conclusions had a North American focus, even though many relate to issues of international relevance. Amongst the many topics discussed, some of the main conclusions are summarised below.

Participants concluded that the march of green construction and sustainability will continue, aided by regulation and integrated building design. Increasingly, buildings will need to adapt to people – up to now it has been the other way around! The Internet of Things is already seen as a reality and combined with analytics and big data, has the potential to deliver radically improved value for building owners and occupants, whilst spawning a host of new value streams for suppliers.

The team still see some barriers, such as how best to finance projects and there is continued concern around grid stability and energy prices.

New challenges will undoubtedly appear, not least the need to understand how new building designs work and to understand the challenge of more complex building systems. There is often a disconnect between building use and how control systems are applied and this needs to be addressed. At the same time there is a need for smarter, integrated construction practices.

One of the most important challenges facing the industry is the shortage of people educated to understand the new types of technology. This needs to be tackled and new ways need to be found for engaging the younger generation with our industry.

New competitors will enter the market, not least from the IT and software fields and industry needs to develop new partnerships, for example to bridge the gap between the HVAC and the IT world.

Smart technology, in the form of smart, self-learning and self-diagnosing products is emerging as well as building data capture, software based analytics and an increasing proportion of applications going to the “cloud”.

There is a growing need for devices to be interconnected and converged on to common platforms and networks, with increased adoption of standards for open connectivity. Cybersecurity for building systems is currently a major weakness and consequently has moved rapidly up the agenda.  It represents a threat to development of the building controls industry but can be turned into a new business opportunity.

Suppliers need to sell solutions and focus more on life cycle costing. A migration of controls onto the HVAC equipment, delivered as a single package, with a simple man machine interface, is expected to become more prolific. In the next stage, these packaged solutions will be connected to the cloud and the service business model may have to change in the future.

Above all, the products of the future should be designed with the small and medium building retrofit market in mind. These represent the vast majority of buildings and floor space.

A second Diamond Group Forum will be held at the ISH exhibition in Frankfurt on Tuesday 10th March for senior executives of top BSRIA clients. For more information contact Jeremy.towler@bsria.co.uk

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