The subject of energy seems to be being talked about nonstop at the moment – from attempts to rein in suppliers to the risk of the Grid reaching capacity to, of course, the rising cost of the stuff.
We have thrown our two penn’orth into the debate by way of our first Building Energy Question Time (see RAC January issue). It was a fascinating discussion which had in about equal parts good news for the industry, depressing news for the industry and challenges for us to rise to.
As is traditional, here’s the bad news first: there is a clear sense that much of the regulation surrounding energy isn’t working, for either the supply chain or for customers. At the Question Time, panellist after panellist talked about regulations that were missing the mark, whether it be Green Deal, which has expensive interest rates, deterring take-up; Part L, which has dropped the consequential improvements element so crucial to keeping heat in a building; or Energy Performance Certificates, and the woeful take-up of the air conditioning inspections – the mandatory inspections remember – which were supposed to help building owners improve energy efficiency.
However, the good news is that the cooling industry can play a major role in improving building energy. Former Cibse president Andy Ford painted a particularly compelling picture of using ground source heat pumps to manage heating and cooling across a year, to the extent of linking buildings that have a heat need with those that have cooling. As he wryly noted, this approach ‘introduces the idea that cooling is actually good – not wicked as many green people seem to think’. I hope Ecobuild and its speakers have taken note.
The main challenge is to galvanise our industry to take on these opportunities, and to shout louder than some of the other noisy lobby groups to convince government we have some of the solutions to reducing buildings energy. We will be returning in 2014 with another Buildings Energy debate, so watch this space.
The other thing that a lot of people are talking about (still) is the fallout from the demise of WR Refrigeration and what the industry might be able to learn from it. There has been reaction from across the industry to the opinions of Kelvin Lord in last month’s issue, and we carry some of the responses, as well as a counterpoint from Thermacom’s Trevor Dann in the January issue.
One of the overarching themes is that the retail contractors’ margins are becoming too low to be sustainable. Doing something about this is of course the big challenge – it has been suggested the only reason retailers get away with consistently driving down prices is because no one is standing up to them. But it isn’t quite as simple as that when the buying team across the desk holds the power over 30 per cent of your business. Or more.
What the industry doesn’t need is for the WR debate to increase tension between contractors and customers. Because now, perhaps more than any other time for decades, the supply chain needs to pull together to meet the demands of a reduced emissions, reduced energy future.