A CIBSE perspective

Published:  03 April, 2014

CIBSE, Graham Manly, Tadj Oreszczyn
The dramatic effect of the financial crisis — Graham Manly.

Two CIBSE Board members — Graham Manly, OBE, and Tadj Oreszczyn, director of the UCL Energy Institute — reflect on the past decade and what can be done to improve the next 10 years.

LOOKING BACK — Graham Manly

In April 2004 I had been studying the now infamous EPBD (Energy Performance of Buildings Directive), launched on EU member states the previous year, to contemplate how it might affect the design and operation of buildings in the future as I was preparing to follow in the footsteps of that ‘Orwellian’ guru of the building-services industry, Terry Wyatt, as President of CIBSE.

Terry’s wisdom had predicted and warned that climate change would not only affect our lives, but also our whole approach to the built environment in his presidential address, stunningly titled ‘Adapt or die’. My specific concern and theme in 2004 was the silo mentality of much of the construction industry, where the absence of collaboration across the disciplines created inefficiency, contractual conflict and disappointed customers.

What a journey the following 10 years has been for the industry. For most of us it can only be described as challenging, a rollercoaster even. Legislation has been a major influence. Since 2006, architects and quantity surveyors have regularly discussed Part L — not a place in the alphabet that many of them had been before — but it did mean they talked to building-services engineers. To think that this month sees its third revision coming into force.

The EPBD gave birth to EPCs, DECs, SBEM software and an army of energy assessors, some even having a building-services background, and theoretical energy performance became the criteria for building approval. The UK ducked the EPDB requirement for boiler inspections, although condensing boilers were mandatory from 2005, but introduced air-conditioning inspections in 2009.

The financial crisis of 2008 dramatically affected the industry and stalled many energy-performance initiatives by consistently watering down legislation.

Company survival took precedence, recruitment and training suffered for most, and some major contractors (including EMCOR and MITIE) left construction altogether to concentrate on operating buildings efficiently.

The UK industry has, however, managed over the last five years to construct many high performance buildings such as those recognised at the CIBSE Building Performance Awards — including highly praised facilities for the London Olympics, and the tallest structure in Europe.

It seems we have learned to design and construct more energy efficient buildings, although many are not achieved in practice, but addressing the existing stock is still a challenge.

Is it possible that the combined requirements of energy performance, construction efficiency, off-site manufacture and BIM will demand, and lead to, the more integrated and collaborative industry that many hoped for in 2004?

One thing is sure — Terry was right about climate change, as almost every year since has produced a weather record of some kind; at least he gave the Prime Minister and everyone else due notice to buy the waders they needed last month.

LOOKING FORWARD — Tadj Oreszczyn

Over the four decades since the mid 1970s we have been trying to deploy energy-efficient technologies in the built environment sector — with some successes. The next four decades will, however, require a scale and ambition that is an order of magnitude greater than we have historically achieved.

The UK has a statutory commitment to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 50% by 2025, and by at least 80% by 2050, relative to 1990 levels.

The 2011 UK Carbon Plan states how this commitment can be met in practice, including: ‘By 2050, all buildings will need to have an emissions footprint close to zero.’

Although the UK is not alone in its need for significant refurbishment, some countries have historically built better energy performing buildings, so they will have a slightly more manageable task.

To stand any chance of meeting the UK Carbon Plan, the next decade is critical. We must move from small-scale, sometimes poorly deployed, energy-efficient and low-carbon technologies to mass and significant deployment. However, the scale and timing of such deployment will require very significant structural change to the education and skills of our sector, to policies including planning and regulation, and to the way we do research and how industry learns from its mistakes.

The barriers to achieving these targets are as much social and institutional as they are technical. Overcoming such barriers in such a short time scale will take massive commitment and leadership.

This is not a case of doing more of the same, it will involve radical changes to many aspects of industry, government and academia if we are to step up to the challenge.

At the same time much of our construction industry will be employed upgrading our very neglected and aging infrastructure. This includes upgrading our electricity infrastructure into a more controllable system capable of balancing a less-controllable low-carbon mix of nuclear and renewable electricity with an increased demand for electricity to provide heat and transport.

The Carbon Plan requires both a shift to the use of de-carbonised electricity and a reduction in energy demand. These two infrastructure changes need to be deployed in phases; if this does not happen then we either risk the security of our energy supply or we risk massive investment in underused infrastructure — i.e. excessively high fuel bills. If we are not up for this challenge, then what is Plan B? It will certainly need more than a pair of waders!”

With new thinking and collaboration needed to meet fast-approaching targets, technology and graduate engineers provide exciting opportunities to shape the outcomes of the next decade.



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