Working together key to energy efficiency

If the UK’s building sector supply chain is to achieve energy efficiency targets it will need to overcome an accepted culture of fragmentation and recognise the value in working together.

You don’t have to look far to see the benefits of a joined-up approach. Through membership of SEMATECH, semiconductor manufacturers work with equipment and material suppliers, universities, research institutes, consortia, start-up companies and government partners to accelerate the commercialisation of new technology.

The automotive and aerospace industries take a similar approach. For example, a Jumbo Jet may last 60 years and be refitted five times during its life. That requires retrofitting to be designed in from the beginning and for information to be shared down the supply chain — something that historically hasn’t happened in the UK’s building sector.

This balkanisation affects the commercial viability of capital projects beyond energy efficiency initiatives. Infrastructure UK’s recent report found that major projects were significantly more expensive in the UK than in countries like Germany. One hypothesis for this difference is that Germany’s joined-up supply chain means a single insurance policy can cover an entire project.

I recently helped to organise an event bringing together industry leaders, policy makers and academics working in the built environment. Speakers from the financial sector argued that they could leverage the energy efficiency business model if they could get certainty about payback. They need help from a joined-up supply chain to understand factors such as human behaviour and the efficiency of technical solutions. They need ‘frog-kissers’ who can tell them if technical solutions actually work.

The government recognises the demand for data, and its chief construction adviser, Paul Morrell, has announced that building information modelling (BIM) will soon be compulsory for all public sector projects. The government also has a role to play through regulation, which can help to create new markets and drive improvements.

But everyone in the supply chain must act. At Arup, we invest in collaborating with industry and academia on research projects because we recognise the value this can unlock. If this approach were more common, a coordinated approach to energy efficiency could be the norm for our industry.