Making the transition to a net zero Wales a practical reality
The Future Generations Act aims to improve the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales, through sustainable development principles
The Welsh Government expects to double the use of electricity as it makes the transition to renewable energy by 2035. This will entail change in the way the country thinks about planning, skills development and infrastructure and recognition that net zero in infrastructure and commercial plans must be considered concurrently with decentralised net zero ambitions for prosumers (consumers who both consume, generate and store energy efficiently).
The Farmer report shifted the emphasis on carbon emissions from buildings. The focus is now on the amount of carbon produced by the whole lifetime of a building, rather than simply the construction phase (which represents only 10% of the whole-life cost of a built asset).
Net zero technologies are now vital in every sector to achieve the Welsh Government’s Future Generation goals. Engineering services firms who not only install and integrate, but maintain the built environment, are ultimately responsible for whether Wales achieves its goals across the whole population. New low carbon technology in our homes, public spaces and transport network are underpinned by complex systems which affect the air we breathe, energy efficiency, storage, and carbon emissions. Engineering services professionals understand how to monitor and measure environmental standards and work with others to achieve an environment which enhances communities.
What’s the issue?
The expertise of engineering services firms [CJ1] has often been overlooked in achieving net zero goals. Engineering services cover utilities and services in the built environment, including heating, air-conditioning, lighting, water and drainage, electrical supply, and fire and security protection. These firms provide the interface between designers, construction, operators[CJ2] and end users.
Those who design, install [CJ3] and maintain net zero technologies are primarily problem solvers and integrators. They must ensure interrelated technologies are safely installed and maintained to meet performance outputs. They collaborate with others to deliver energy efficiency and safe, clean environments. And, increasingly, their role is that of educator.
Achieving maximum benefit from net zero technologies requires a huge culture change. With the greatest carbon emissions coming from when a built asset is in use, everyone involved needs to think differently. This includes those designing and planning, but also those who are maintaining and using the space.
Wales has already established a Welsh Ministerial Construction Forum and the Welsh Construction Federation Alliance. Both of which have decarbonisation (zero carbon route map for public buildings) on their agenda from a construction perspective.
Traditionally, engineering services have been seen as a component of construction. With the exponential rise in electrified technologies, this is changing. Engineering services is now as important as architecture and no longer a sub-discipline of construction.
Knowing the operational cost of a built-asset is 80% of whole-life cost, along with the recognition of a building’s lifetime of carbon emissions, the role of engineering services becomes pivotal. Electrotechnical engineers cut across traditional construction and operation silos and play a vital role in achieving Welsh Government’s net zero and well-being targets.
Without the expertise of delivery experts, project net zero in Wales will take longer and could face unintended consequences[CJ4] [JD5] [JD6] . Early adopting consumers of net zero technologies already complain new systems are not fit for purpose, have safety issues or simply don’t work. Without input from those who integrate, install and maintain, public trust in the net zero transition will be easily lost.
A whole-life approach to net zero in Wales will mean consideration is given to innovative procurement and delivery models which consider operational use alongside construction cost. It will ensure economic resilience in Wales, allowing SMEs, jobs and communities to thrive. It will, however, require guidance and support for Welsh firms. To place net zero at the heart of their business models they will need help to adopt an innovative approach.
Create a network of delivery experts who connect with influencers from the Welsh Government, industry, manufacturers and renewable energy developers[CJ7] [JD8] . Their aim is to deliver practical outcomes and achieve the sustainable and well-being goals outlined in the Future Generations Act.
The network will:
- join up and create whole-life thinking across energy, construction, operation, education and local authorities;
- plan for innovative delivery, operation and implementation models within the context of the asset life-cycle;
- advise on the professional skills needed; and
- deliver integrated, practical solutions to the future needs of Welsh communities.
- consider how open source project evaluation platforms may deliver continuous improvement in Wales. [CJ9]
- share innovative solutions with local authorities, other public bodies and across all sectors
It will do this through the collaborative efforts of experts from education, energy, technology, industry, local communities and business. By tapping into existing structures, it will become a vital resource to connect, rather than become another formal group.
Convene a roundtable of invited experts from delivery disciplines to decide how the network might operate.
Suggested network composition
Training Providers working with employers.
Identifying how training is best delivered, considering centres of excellence and gaps in teaching provision.
Demonstrating to educators and trainees how practical skills can deliver net zero benefits to communities.
Horizon scanning for collaborative methods of delivery, highlighting opportunities for new delivery models.
Sharing knowledge resource about a facility to form a reliable basis for decisions during its life-cycle.
Leveraging net zero innovations and global links
Bringing emerging technologies to market and creating open-source benchmarking for Welsh industry improvement.
Technical standards and safety (Part L)
Embedding competence and compliance to deliver work to the highest standards and prevent unforeseen consequences
Energy Efficiency and air quality specialists
Measuring, monitoring and reporting
Consumer education/behaviour change
Understanding the implications of new technologies on communities. Creating a virtuous circle by increasing demand, speeding up transition, driving recruitment into the sector, delivering growth.
Three links relating to the Building Safety Act & NZ case study