The energy crisis – get ready

In a hard-hitting call to action, the G4C co-chairs, Harriet Wade of ISG and Jia Afsar, Design & Sustainability Advisor, make the case for aggressively pro-active decisions to combat the operating conditions facing Welsh construction

2021 proved to be a very turbulent year for the construction industry. There were major disruptions to imports from the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 and Brexit, along with delays in shipping caused by the incident on the Suez Canal. The shortage of raw materials was made worse by large infrastructure projects such as HS2 monopolising the supply that was available.

This was further exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, which caused turbulent energy security, and the resultant imposition of sanctions in Russia left many countries unprepared in finding alternative sources for fossil fuels. The subsequent spike in energy prices in places such as China, India and Europe led to a hike in the cost of the dwindling stocks of construction materials, with production dropping off significantly. Now soaring costs of electricity and gas are making materials increasingly unaffordable for many projects. Simultaneously it is significantly impacting the average household and their spending which has detrimental effects on the economic outlook.

In an eye-opening statement, the Guardian described ‘the energy crisis is hitting UK household budgets harder than any country in western Europe, according to analysis by the International Monetary Fund. It found that the average UK household is expected to lose 8.3% of its total spending power in 2022, because of having to pay higher energy bills.

Despite this, the continued use of energy intensive materials such as bricks, cement, and concrete, makes the building material industry one of the most energy-intensive sectors after aviation, shipping, and the chemical industry. In addition, many building material firms still use a large amount of gas in their energy mix compared to other energy-intensive sectors. This makes the sector particularly vulnerable to the interruption of Russian gas supply.

With the construction industry set to be hit hard, this is a demanding situation to be in, especially for the next generations. The actions of present leaders must be questioned given that Climate change and the detrimental effects of using fossil fuels has been known and documented for many years even being openly discussed in the 60’s and 70’s. It now begs us to ask the reasons behind the lack of change and the continuous reliance on fossil fuels. This coupled with inefficient home design and restricted wind and solar energy use, highlights a real neglect.

However, the future is not all bleak. There are solutions that can be found which need to be rolled out with a sense of emergency. A key aspect relying heavily on collaborative efficiency and use of technology, is to get the design right early! This includes planning for end-of life and adopting a lessons learned approach. It also requires a need to insulate existing residential stock better – Clients, designers, engineers must collaborate more effectively and much earlier to ensure that built elements are designed to standards such as Passivhaus and well-being, boilers, heat exchangers, and other elements should incorporate sustainable methods of construction, maintenance and offer renewable energy sources as a given. Local communities must be involved to a much greater extent and public sector policies must help lay out this plan further in actionable steps. The UK Net Zero Carbon strategy has already gone up in flames!

As a sector, we must learn from the lessons the pandemic has taught us, one of which is the need to be aggressively pro-active in our response to such challenges, especially for the next generation. The Welsh economy minister has openly applied pressure on UK Government to reducing the growing cost of energy and fuel but in a climate of war, restricted funds, pandemic impacted budget, more will need to be done locally and urgently.