How electrotechnical installers can future-proof their skills

Luke Osborne (left) is energy & emerging technologies solutions advisor and Shahid Khan is technical manager at the Electrical Contractors’ Association

As low-carbon technology and energy efficiency take centre stage in the UK’s energy strategy, commercial opportunities are booming. It’s also a time for electrotechnical designers and installers to consider how to win these opportunities, and future-proof their skills and businesses.

Many factors have set the stage for a low-carbon future. First, members of the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA) are reporting growing interest from clients in energy-efficient or renewable low-carbon solutions, such as solar photovoltaic (PV), electric vehicle (EV) charging, battery storage, heat pumps and smart control systems.

Second, energy prices have reached worrying levels. This affects every commercial, public sector and domestic customer in the land. Local authorities and social landlords have a responsibility (as stated in the BEIS document, Domestic private rented property: minimum energy efficiency standard – landlord guidance) to ensure their properties are energy efficient and help protect their tenants from fuel poverty.

Third, the UK and other governments are looking to remove national dependence on fossil fuels, which, in the context of UK buildings and infrastructure, mostly means moving away from gas, but also has implications for traditional measures such as diesel standby generation.

New building regulations

Finally, on 15 June, a suite of Building Regulations Approved Documents entered the fray, seeking to enhance requirements for energy efficiency in almost all buildings. These apply to all new-builds and buildings undergoing extensive renovations.

Some of the more important documents issued in June were:

  • Part S, which mandates the installation of EV charge points and, where required, cable routes for future expansion; and
  • Part L – conservation of fuel and power.

Along with Part S, Part L brings extra opportunities for electrical and engineering services businesses. It focuses on ensuring the fabric of a building and its energy usage are highly efficient. The methods used to calculate this account for CO2 emission rates, fabric efficiency rates and primary energy rates.

“These already significant changes will be boosted by the Future Buildings Standards, expected in 2025”

Part L also mandates that new solar PV panels be installed on new buildings (see box below) and it includes considerations for onsite energy storage.

While heat pumps have not yet been mandated, heating systems must be designed and installed to be ‘heat pump-ready’, with a maximum flow temperature of 55oC. Building automation and control systems (BACS) are highlighted in guidance notes for both dwellings and non-dwellings.

These already significant changes will be boosted by the Future Buildings Standards, expected in 2025, so installers may want to understand and engage with these new requirements sooner rather than later.

Wiring regulations point to prosumers

In addition, Amendment 2 to BS7671 has just introduced its landmark Chapter 82: The Energy Prosumer. This further highlights the options and configurations available for newly-built and retrofitted buildings, including on-site generation, energy storage and smart grid interaction systems.

All of these show the national and industry direction of travel. The new mandates and mechanisms described above are quickly funnelling the changes we need to meet our commitment to net-zero carbon by 2050, if not well before.

Finance, funding and incentives

There are several ways in which customers can get funding to install low-carbon technologies, including:

  • 0 per cent VAT currently applies to heat pumps, solar PV, battery storage systems (where installed as part of a new solar PV system) and energy-efficiency controls, following representation from the ECA and industry partners.
  • The Boiler Upgrade Scheme – an upfront grant of £5,000 towards the installation of air-source heat pumps (ASHP) and £6,000 for ground-source heat pumps (GSHP).
  • Home Energy Grant – insulation measures for supported individuals who qualify (visit simpleenergyadvice.org.uk/grants for details).
  • Green mortgages and mortgage extensions are starting to appear, which can provide low-interest finance options for low-carbon and energy-efficient installations.
  • Time-of-use tariffs and arbitrage enable customers to use lower-cost energy (during times of excess grid availability) to power homes and offices or store energy for use when the cost of grid electricity peaks. Through arbitrage and participating in ‘virtual power plants’, energy (mainly in the commercial sector) can also be traded.

PV systems

Photovoltaic systems must be installed where feasible in newly constructed buildings.

Capacity required for houses: kWp = 40 per cent of ground-floor area (including unheated spaces) ÷ 6.5.

Capacity required for  flats: kWp = 40 per cent of each dwelling floor area ÷ (6.5 x number of storeys in block).

System facing south east or south west.

Source: Notional specification for new dwellings. Revised Approved Document L, Volume 1, Table 1.1.

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