2021 vision report for the electrical contracting industry: A review
A major study looking at the future of the electrical contracting industry up to 2021 makes for some interesting reading.
Published by industry leaders NICEIC and the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA), the report entitled 2021 Vision made key predictions and aimed to provide strategic foundations to help electrical contractors plan for a secure and profitable future. It included the findings of a major survey across the industry, combined industry input with expert commentary and conclusions.
NICEIC and the ECA say they hope their report will provide strategic foundations which will help electrical contractors to plan for a secure and profitable future.
Published initially in 2011, the report was updated in 2016 to offer a midway viewpoint assessing which of the initial predictions had changed and what had stayed the same. It also looked at other significant developments that have arisen including the UK referendum result to leave the EU, digitisation of industry processes, ‘very big data’, and the ‘internet of things’.
It provides an update on the opportunities, challenges and issues across seven key industry topics including skills, social, political, customer needs, sustainability, building design and product development.
For anyone working in the electrical contracting industry, it is useful information so we thought we’d highlight what we think are some of the key points.
- As electrical contractors, we were pleased to read the report’s statement that the need for the traditional electrical contractor will continue, although the point is made that it will only be one of a range of skills.
- Concerns about the shortage of skilled managers and operatives has been growing in the electrical contracting for a while, and the report say this remains an issue, with a need to focus on training and upskilling to increase numbers and equip the workforce to design and fit an array of existing and new technologies.
- And as competition for talented young people increases, the industry needs to take steps to promote the work it undertakes and the complex, engineering and professional skills that are necessary.
- Since the recession which prompted many of the comments in the original 2011 report, there has been modest growth in construction and the electrical contracting industry. However, this has varied by region. Higher profitability has most often been seen in diversified specialist and service activity.
- Future UK sector growth is far from assured and may be impacted by the UK’s Brexit decision and other international or investment factors.
- The report points out that low energy prices and lack of government policy support have also lessened client demand for energy efficiency, compared to high expectations. However, there are additions around energy efficiency and new guidance on energy efficient production and storage installations in the new 18th edition of the BS7671 IET Wiring Regulations.
- A prominent feature of the original report was the anticipation of strong government policy and legislative support for energy efficiency and renewables, in particular The Green Deal, but this initiative failed to deliver.
- Uptake of solar and macro-wind power has been higher than the initial report hoped for and the Paris Climate Change declaration indicated a major “kick-start for global renewables.” Nevertheless, the NICEIC and the ECA say steps need to be taken to improve the national grid and provide effective support for local power generation.
- The UK’s decision to leave the EU means energy, employment and health and safety commitments may be reviewed, subject to the outcome of EU negotiations.
- 2021 Vision states that the energy efficiency behaviours of clients has remained largely unchanged despite action by the government. However, it says there are some opportunities mainly in the commercial and public sector as a result of larger company requirements under ESOS and renewables, for example.
- When it comes to energy efficiency, the commercial market centres around customers who want short payback energy measures, while the domestic market relies very much on ‘distress purchases’ of new electrics and boilers.
- In the future, it appears opportunities in electrical contracting may well come from moving into various specialist areas, not just those related to energy savings.
- Many consumers are focused on product functionality and convenience, and this feeds in to the growing market for wireless-enabled systems of all types.
- The initial report in 2011 expected high energy prices and government initiatives to drive energy efficiency, but the updated 2016 report says this has been overtaken by the need to decarbonise the UK’s energy mix by using gas, nuclear, and renewables. It also says infrastructure needs to work more efficiently and support growth in renewable energy.
- Electrical heating is steadily increasing because the carbon footprint of electrical energy has fallen significantly as coal-fired (high carbon) electricity generation is replaced, notably by gas-fired and renewable energy. As mentioned previously, the report says more steps need to be taken to improve the national grid and support local power generation.
- A national smart meter roll-out is still expected, although the NICEIC and ECA don’t see it as a major installation opportunity for competent electrical contractors, but rather one for installers who only have job-specific training.
- While some building engineering technologies are complex, the trend is towards ‘plug in and function’ technology. In the commercial sector, wireless/digital monitoring and actuation are also on the rise. The report predicts that design, installation, monitoring and maintenance will continue to provide commercial opportunities for those contractors that have the know-how and capacity to operate in these areas.
- 2021 Vision also anticipated there would be a ‘lighting revolution’. So far, the revolution has mainly focused on the rise of LED lighting for its flexibility and energy efficiency.
- In 2011, the report anticipated a major boost in energy-driven client choices but the 2016 update points out it has not yet taken place. However, it says there have been useful developments in products that offer energy efficiency, renewable energy and energy storage.
- Commodity prices are highly dependent on international demand and may be affected by Brexit. The potential for data communications activity is significant and likely to continue growing, along with ‘plug and play’ technology and emerging moves to DC distribution.
- We’re pleased to see that the NICEIC and the ECA are predicting numerous opportunities for electrical contractors in the application of wireless system capability and capacity in the domestic, commercial and infrastructure markets.
- Further developments are anticipated in LED and other lighting technology, both in terms of functionality and energy efficiency.
- The emerging area of electrical energy storage is also highlighted as a budding technology that may give a sustained boost to local renewable energy.