En route to 2021: future trends in the electro-technical industry

Electrical Contractors' Association, ECA, NCEIC, ELECSA
The future becomes more uncertain — Paul Reeve.

Midway through a 10-year forward-looking vision of the electro-technical industry, how is that perspective shaping up in practice? Paul Reeve of the Electrical Contractors’ Association gives an insight.

At the beginning of this year, the ECA*, NICEIC* and ELECSA updated the popular '2021 Vision’ report, originally produced in 2011, which focused on the future of the electro-technical industry.

The original report was produced when the electro-technical industry was suffering from one of the worst economic recessions ever. One of the key aims of the original report was to ‘help the contractor to see past short-term survival, and prepare for the next stage of their business development’. The 2011 report also aimed to give a valuable insight into what would be required in the electro-technical industry over the next 10 years, and to help ‘develop the necessary skills and services’.

The 2017 review offers a commentary on how things are at the halfway stage to 2021, focusing on current and upcoming developments in seven key areas:

Skills: The review notes that concerns about the shortage of skilled managers and operatives are even more pressing than before. The situation could become more acute, given the increasing range of new technologies that require installation. However, the review notes that The Electrotechnical Skills Partnership (TESP) is making a positive impact in this area.

Social and business: The review says that profitability is most likely in diversified specialist and service activity. The price of materials has varied in recent years, but there are new cost pressures since the Brexit vote.

Political: The decision to leave the EU, entirely (if understandably) unforeseen in 2011, will reopen policy and regulatory debates on energy, health and safety, and employment policy — among other issues.

Financial support from Government has been reduced for some renewable technologies, such as solar PV, and also for initiatives such as ‘zero carbon homes’. If Government is unable to provide financial support, it must at least remove barriers.

Customer needs: Customers are increasingly turning to social media and apps to find out more about contractors, arrange work, and otherwise seek out customer service. They expect equipment to be smart and compatible.

Sustainability: Renewable electricity has ousted coal as the UK’s energy source of choice, with further developments expected to shift the country’s energy mix further towards renewables, even if gas-fired electricity is currently king.

Electrical Contractors' Association, ECA, NCEIC, ELECSA
Revisiting a 10-year vision.

The potential value of the Government’s smart-meter rollout remains to be seen, and much more needs to be done to improve the national grid and to support local power generation.

In particular, there should be more opportunities in energy storage, allowing electrical energy be deployed cost-effectively at times of peak demand.

Building design: There are growing trends towards using ‘plug-in and function’ technology, wireless systems and BIM — which is steadily being utilised on major public and private projects. It is hoped that BIM will ultimately result in better building process efficiency and asset maintenance. However, this will only be optimised if the entire supply chain can work collaboratively.

There may be further opportunities due to the planned inclusion of energy efficiency requirements in the new 18th edition of the Wiring Regulations.

Product development: Given the significance of technological development in the engineering services industry, it seems clear there will be an array of commercial opportunities for electro-technical and other specialist engineering contractors up to 2021, and, of course, beyond.

In addition to new products for energy, lighting, security, fire and data communications applications, the ‘Internet of Things’ is set to dramatically change the overall landscape — with smart, connected, buildings and infrastructure becoming increasingly common.

The 2017 interim review also highlights and assesses over 30 industry predictions made in the original report. The review uses a ‘red, amber, green’ system, with supporting narrative. Some predictions have already been achieved or are well on course, while for many others, it is too early to tell. The main area where 2011 predictions fell over related to the ‘Green Deal’ — the now broadly defunct household energy-efficiency retrofit programme, superseded by new structural recommendations for credible delivery to domestic customers in the Government-commissioned 'Each home counts' report.

With the UK decision to leave the EU, the policy road to 2021 now looks far more uncertain than expected back in 2011. Even so, over the next five years and beyond, the ECA will continue to collaborate with key industry partners to engage with the challenges and opportunities above. The key aim is to secure a supportive commercial environment for businesses operating across the entire electro-technical contracting industry through to 2021, and beyond.

Paul Reeve is director of business at the Electrical Contractors’ Association and a joint author of the 2017 review. It can be downloaded from the links below.

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