NABERS, circularity and the metaverse: what consultants predict
Andrew Parkin is global head of acoustics and chair of the Cundall Futures Group at multidisciplinary engineering and design consultancy Cundall
Change is something the built environment has struggled with, but as an industry we need to accept that it is inevitable. As net-zero carbon drives the agenda, consultancies and contractors need to brace themselves for the changes that are due to follow. We are in the era of rapid advancements in technology, with the rise of metaverse-stealing headlines. Instead of being fearfully avoidant, we must embrace these advancements and view them as opportunities to drive the net-zero transition.
“The idea of net zero will no longer be a small part of the conversation, but at the heart of everything we are trying to do and build”
The Cundall Futures group listened to the views of different service and sector leaders to discover what consultants predict in the next few years and what opportunities contractors can expect. Some of the most significant trends include:
Lessons to be learnt from NABERS UK-rated buildings in operation
In the past few years, the recently introduced energy-rating system NABERS UK has really started to make an impact on the UK workplace sector. It relies on a strong scientific and data-based approach to energy measurement, which makes it a more reliable and robust energy-rating system than previous ones such as DEC (Display Energy Certificates). So far, 30 new buildings have achieved the NABERS UK design review target rating, and in the year ahead we will start to see how they perform in use. The next step would be targeting the NABERS UK energy for offices rating.
As we start to see performance in use, there will be a lot of learnings that can be applied to design and build the next wave of NABERS UK-rated buildings. It also means landlords need to work closely with tenants to keep energy down by monitoring and controlling energy use. Looking further into the future, we should expect to see an increase in existing buildings acquiring NABERS UK energy rating to avoid becoming stranded assets in property owners’ portfolios.
The implementation of circularity
Like energy, which cannot be created or destroyed, but can only be converted from one form to another, a truly circular model has zero waste. The circular economy has been of interest to the industry for several years now, viewed as an ideal scenario. In 2024, circularity in the built environment will go beyond words and become action as companies in every sector strive to find solutions to implement it.
For the built environment, this means increasing the use of reused, repurposed, recycled, upcycled and recyclable materials. Alongside this, we can expect more material passports that are digitised information on all the components of a product to enable circularity. Take-back schemes, where manufacturers agree to buy back products at the end of their lives and repurpose them, can also be expected to rise in popularity – especially where the products are not readily recycled. The industry can also anticipate a kickback against Cat A fit-out considering the scale of waste it creates and the hindrance it is to achieve circularity. A more sustainable alternative solution that contractors can look forward to is leaving buildings at shell and core stage and using augmented reality to visualise how a space could be fitted out.
The future of the energy sector
A key milestone to a net-zero-carbon future is decarbonising the power grid. However, a challenge with this transition and increased need for electrification is that the demand for energy far exceeds what the grid can produce and reliably distribute.
Obvious alternatives to fossil fuels are solar and wind energy, which are the largest sources of renewable energy in the UK. If the industry is to take a net-zero-carbon future seriously, we should expect greater reliance on them to power the grid. The challenge lies in that they are not constant sources of energy nor resilient enough to solely power the grid. Battery storage energy schemes will be of significance in facilitating the grid to use renewable energy. They connect to the grid and store excess solar and wind energy and release it back to the grid during a deficit. There is also the potential for carbon-neutral power stations that use fossil fuels as a source, harvesting what would otherwise be waste products and carbon and using them to benefit other nearby buildings and processes.
The concept of localised microgrids is also due to rise in popularity. Introducing this would help prevent losses caused by power transmitted over long distances and make communities self-reliant as they would not need to depend on a single centralised grid.
The concept of the metaverse – an entirely digital world – and its relevance to the built environment is still in its infancy. Currently it can be used to see various iterations of a building or a masterplan’s design to create the most sustainable and low-cost design within the parameters that are set. It will also play a key role in achieving a true circular model in construction. We can expect to see metaverse-as-a-service, which contractors will need to embrace – this could be the next evolution of cloud model sharing, on a much greater scale.
These are just some of the trends we can expect in the year ahead. The idea of net zero will no longer be a small part of the conversation, but at the heart of everything we are trying to do and build. The increased use of technology will facilitate this much-needed transition. Contractors can expect to see changes to business as usual as a result. While these changes may incite trepidation in the industry, they are also necessary to build a better future.