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Utilities firms winning retrofit battle

The construction industry is missing out on retrofit work as utilities companies secure increasing levels of work in the sector, according to experts.

Willmott Dixon’s new head of sustainability Robert Lambe, said firms such as British Gas were among the contractor’s biggest rivals for work in the low-carbon sector.

He said utilities firms were often better placed to roll out retrofit schemes than many construction firms owing to their expertise and the demands placed on them by government carbon reduction targets.

Mr Lambe said: “The problem for us is funding. There are a lot of investors willing to put money into the area of energy efficiency but it is about scale, it has to be of significant proportions and the market has not matured yet.

“Major utilities providers are in a better position than we are as they have been told they have to do the work and are putting billions of pounds into it because they are obliged to do so.”

However, he added that there was “space for both of us” in the sector.

British Gas said it was seeing high demand for energy efficiency measures and hoped to capitalise on it.

A spokesman said: “We no longer simply focus on supplying units of gas and electricity but on helping customers to manage their energy use and generate their own renewable energy. 

“British Gas will also be helping them with microgeneration so they can create their own renewable energy and take advantage of the government’s feed-in tariff payments.”

He said the tough national targets for carbon emission reduction were leading to the policies needed to deliver the decarbonisation of the economy.

“We view this not as a threat but an opportunity to grow low-carbon markets, develop new revenue streams and change our society for the better.”

But one construction industry insider said that it should be of “concern” that energy and utilities companies were actively training their workforces in the area of retrofit and increasingly moving into the area of construction.

A recent survey commissioned by the Cut the Carbon campaign, backed by the Federation of Master Builders, the National Specialist Contractors’ Council and CITB-ConstructionSkills, found that although there are significant business opportunities for small contractors, firms that are slow to acquire low-carbon knowledge and skills may find it much harder to win work in the coming years.

British Gas said demand for energy efficiency had proven to be significant and that it had insulated more than 2.7 million UK lofts and cavity walls in the past five years.

The spokesman added that there were approximately 13m lofts requiring insulation, 6m unfilled cavity walls and around 3.5m G-rated boilers that need replacing.


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