We need to be more efficient

There is an obvious need for the industry to be more energy efficient and pay more attention to the ways in which energy is both used and wasted but should the industry be doing more and do we have the products on the market to meet our needs?
It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a building services equipment manufacturer in possession of an energy efficiency product must be in want of a customer.

But how far is the industry prepared to compromise on energy efficient technology in order to secure the sale? Will pride ensure the most innovative technology is employed to deliver the highest performance levels, or will performance be prejudiced in favour of cost to nail the order?

Few industry experts would deny that the technology already exists to achieve greatly improved energy efficiency in many areas of building services equipment and systems. Whilst the products exist, or could potentially exist, manufacturers’ willingness to develop and introduce such products to their customers is often restricted by the economic and practical realities of their routes to market.

Creating the most energy efficient product can be an expensive business and, inevitably, the initial capital cost to the customer is going to be greater. Businesses invariably want the most cost effective option but cost effective is often mistaken for cheapest, with a complete failure to look at the lifetime cost of ownership. Distributors and contractors have a significant influence on the final cost of the products sold. Contractors are under pressure to deliver ever more competitive project costs and, in turn, demanding manufacturers to offer low end, low cost models that, unsurprisingly, often become market-leading products.

Perhaps it is predictable for manufacturers to complain about route-to-market issues but, while competitive market forces have many benefits, if price becomes the overriding basis on which decisions are made, then there will be short and long term disadvantages for the whole supply chain. Innovation and investment will be limited and end users will be denied the sort of products that could offer the biggest reduction on operating costs and greatest protection for the wider environment.

How can these opposing forces be managed?

Education is increasingly important in a fast changing market. While specifiers have a good understanding of the technology available, end users – who pay the energy and environmental bill – are less aware and, therefore, less able to discern between cheap and good value.

More robust protection of specifications must be encouraged. It is too easy for cheaper less effective products to be substituted against the original design. Frico offers top of the range models across its entire air curtain and heating product offering that include every energy efficiency benefit that current technology allows. More often than not, however, we are asked to reduce specification to provide a cheaper alternative. For example, power output may be reduced – often a false economy as the unit works flat out and still falls short of the optimum. Thermostatic and other energy controls are also often forfeited; yet only add minimal cost to a project while delivering huge energy savings.

We often find that, while building service engineers do specify high efficiency products in their initial plans, the final fitment is some way from the specification or completely omitted. Nearly 50% of Frico UK’s sales are retrofits replacing ineffective original equipment or fulfilling a purpose envisaged by the original design. While retrofits are good sales opportunities, they often compromise performance, appearance and installation.

This has implications for the designer, whose initial aims will not be achieved, and, of course, the end user. It is also a certain way to drive manufacturers to lowest common denominator thinking. Building services engineers must remain stringent and vigilant in specifying equipment – stating the minimum energy efficiency requirements for example. Specification can frequently be open to interpretation and you cannot blame contractors for scaling down on costs to secure a sale. If this opportunity were not open, only the highest performance equipment would be installed, benefiting their customers in the long run, as well as the environment.

Installation skills training is a recurring theme that is particularly relevant in this regard. Undoubtedly new technologies demand new skill and awareness and more complex technologies can deter installers who fear callbacks and hidden installation costs. Manufacturers can provide contractors with technical training and support to ensure the installation goes smoothly before and after sale, which ultimately means that contractors will feel more confident in working with evolving energy efficient technologies and more willing to install high performance products and systems in the future.

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