It was great to have the opportunity to speak at the Westminster Forum last week on the topic of delivering low carbon heat for the UK.

Heat production and decarbonising the built environment is falling behind on netzero targets compared with other areas such as energy production and transport. How can some of the principles of the Construction Playbook help solve what is a significant part of the netzero equation?

At the moment so much of the built environment is heated by gas and individual gas boilers – which doesn’t work for netzero purposes. The question is what will the netzero solution be, and how to deliver that.

There remain a number of potential options, including:

  • increased use of heat networks, which themselves will need to have a low carbon heat generation system; and
  • increased use of heat pumps, of which there are various types – which can use renewable energy to generate usable heat.

Gas and gas boilers are a comparatively cheap ‘go to’ solution in many cases, and have well established infrastructure to support them, giving them economic advantages over other low carbon solutions. The construction industry will need to continue to work with key stakeholders to work out how such solutions can be delivered in demanding timescales, at the same time as being a value proposition.

Delivery and the Construction Playbook

The Construction Playbook has a number of principles within it that can help on the delivery side of low carbon heating. Whilst the Construction Playbook is developed for public sector works, a number of the 14 principles within it are of application to the private sector, or can help with working through analogous scenarios – things like:

  • Promoting longer term contracting and portfolios - compared to smaller ad-hoc packages, which doesn’t allow the supply chain to build as much a head of steam and invest and innovate. This won’t always be practical, but where it is and a portfolio or longer term approach is taken, it will help give the supply chain the opportunity to plan and realise economies of scale.
  • Greater use of digitalisation, offsite construction and MMC, which we’ve spoken about a number of times previously, and which should be a by-product of the above. Digitalisation and modular construction should help with future-proofing, which will be important if solutions change as technology develops.
  • Early contractor involvement – this will be important given the nature of the assets being delivered in low carbon heating, and the significant role of M&E contractors / OEM suppliers. We could see collaboration agreements helping the supply chain work out how best to deliver solutions for clients in conjunction with the professional team.
  • Sensible risk allocation and effective contracting – not over-burdening the supply chain with risks it isn’t well placed to take. We will have to try and square this with the current insurance market, particularly in relation to professional indemnity insurance. This sector has an element of crossover between building fabric construction and operational plant, which has a performance element to it, and needs to be carefully thought through for contracting and risk purposes.

Given the number of stakeholders and interfaces in this area, careful up-front planning and adopting relevant principles from the Construction Playbook will help improve outcomes and avoid problems further down the line.