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Innovating the future: six trends that will shape the future of construction in 2024

Trends By Simon Wyatt, Partner, Sustainability – 19 December 2023

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Simon Wyatt

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Dr Maria-Anna Chatzopoulou

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Rob van Zyl in a dark suit and tie with office blurred background

Rob van Zyl

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Peter Ridge in a white open collar shirt and suit jacket in front of a brick wall

Peter Ridge

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Michael Gosling

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Simon Wyatt

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Dr Olli Jones

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As we head into 2024, the UK construction industry is on the verge of a transformative period marked by substantial growth. The imperative to achieve net zero carbon will continue to dominate the agenda, and the adoption of regulations necessary for reaching our targets will be dependent on the outcome of a potential general election, which could usher in the first Labour government in over a decade.

Cundall has unveiled six pivotal trends that are set to shape the trajectory of the UK construction industry in the coming year. It is no surprise that sustainability plays a key role across all of them, given that the industry’s agenda to create a sustainable future has become increasingly vital.

From the ‘S’ in ESG and the influence of green finance, to lab-enabled offices, net zero data centres, workplace energy in use and battery energy storage systems as a key tool in facilitating the transition to cleaner energy, Cundall’s experts predict the emerging challenges and opportunities that will shape the future of our industry.

The S in ESG

ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) is not new to the corporate agenda, but while we’ve finally started to get to grips with the E and the G, the S, for social, remains something many businesses, particularly in the built environment, continue to grapple with. Measuring and quantifying our projects’ impact on society is a challenging prospect. The industry is still navigating how to do this, and while, at present, it might seem like a daunting endeavour, we are starting to see innovative solutions come to the fore as we strive to do good for the communities in which we live and work.

Dr. Olli Jones, Head of Sustainability – North East at Cundall, commented:

“When it comes to measuring social value, the industry has made slow progress in recent years. This is partly because quantifying the social impact of projects is challenging, and because there has been a lack of clarity and good industry examples to define what social value could and should look like for different sectors.

“As the industry has found the global voluntary carbon offset market is somewhat ‘broken’, in the year ahead, I predict we will start seeing even more clients keen to work with us to devise strategies to assess, report and offset their carbon emissions internally while developing novel solutions that also provide social value to the communities in which they operate. Some key city stakeholders like football clubs, arenas and event spaces have already started down this path. They are aligning their sustainability agenda, public commitments and ESG strategies to supercharge social impact in their local communities – thus significantly boosting their social value impact and, in the process, realising an avalanche of co-benefits, from better public relations to increasing revenue through new green business models.”

Net zero carbon data centres

The data centre industry is undergoing rapid changes, and in 2024, there will be a significant focus on sustainability, specifically addressing embodied carbon and scope 3 emissions. This is particularly relevant considering the upcoming mandate applying to European companies, that from 2025, they are required to report indirect emissions through their value chains. Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing (MEP) equipment plays a significant role in this. However, accurately collecting data poses challenges, leading to discrepancies in quoted figures and complexities in quantifying embodied carbon.  

Maria-Anna Chatzopoulou, Principal Engineer at Cundall, elaborates:

“At Cundall, we see clients increasingly concerned about reporting scope 3 emissions. Standardisation will become vital as audits move towards stricter, more comprehensive lifecycle analyses. Starting from material extraction, data collection in lifecycle analyses is complex, especially across supply chains. The need for standardisation in measuring embodied carbon has become increasingly apparent, driven by environmental consciousness and legislative requirements.  

“In 2024, the data centre industry is expected to focus more on examining and measuring its practices against standardised benchmarks. Specifically, kg CO2e per kW of IT capacity shall be used as the metric, which will be more representative for evaluation of the embodied carbon impact for data centres. To achieve this, organisations must actively engage with sustainability initiatives that align with legislative standards and involve all stakeholders to ensure the metrics being developed are accurate. This collaborative effort is essential in navigating the challenges posed by embodied carbon and Scope 3 emissions and propelling the industry towards a more sustainable future. As the sector begins to pave the way to reaching future targets the journey towards net-zero carbon practices is on the verge of a significant leap.”

Lab-enabled offices

Development in the Science and Technology sector has exploded in the last year. Where the sector once favoured remote locations, now there is a preference for inner-city offices to attract young talent. Developers are investing in lab-enabled offices, taking a leaf out of the tech-giants’ book, and aiming to provide smart, sustainable, wellbeing-focused workplaces that meet consumer demand.

At the same time, the Science and Technology sector is aligning itself with sustainability goals. Real estate in the sector now prioritises low-carbon designs, integrating energy-efficient technologies, and adopting green building practices. Sustainable materials and energy-saving systems will not only reduce the carbon footprint but also contribute to cost savings in the long run.

Rob van Zyl
, Partner and Science and Technology sector lead at Cundall, has noticed this shift in demand for lab-enabled offices increase over the past 12 months.

“We’re in the middle of a war for talent,” he said, “this trend for lab-enabled offices that must also be smart, sustainable and have an emphasis on wellbeing. It is indicative of the need to attract the best talent and provide a working environment where their ideas can flourish. Incorporating elements like natural light, green spaces, and wellness amenities are no longer just a moral imperative to keep employee wellbeing at the forefront, but a necessity to attract the best talent.

“The future of Science and Technology real estate is closely intertwined with technological advancements. Real-time data analysis and predictive modelling will become essential components of laboratory operations, influencing the design and functionality of life sciences facilities. The rise of virtual and augmented reality technologies will also transform the way research and development processes are conducted. These technologies must be integrated into the design of facilities to create virtual laboratories or collaborative spaces, enabling remote collaboration and training.”

Grid-connected battery storage energy schemes

Electrification emerges as a pivotal driver in the transition toward net zero. It will lead to increased demand for electricity and a need to decarbonise existing energy consumption patterns. The next 25 years are crucial for achieving decarbonisation, net zero and renewable capacity targets. While wind and solar are the primary sources of renewable energy in the UK, they face critical downsides, such as variability and non-dispatchability, that pose challenges to their integration at large volumes.

A compelling solution to these challenges lies in grid-connected battery energy storage systems, which will play a pivotal role over the next 12 months. These schemes present a promising solution to both near-term system stability issues and the long-term energy balance challenge associated with renewables. They achieve this by providing fast-acting ancillary and stability enhancement services, effectively smoothing out the fluctuations between renewable energy supply and fluctuating electricity demand. This is achieved by storing energy during low-demand/high-generation periods and discharging it during high-demand/low-generation periods.

Peter Ridge
, Associate Director and Head of Cundall's Energy sector, noted:

"As part of the transition from fossil fuels to renewables, battery energy storage systems will continue to be deployed in 2024, with 10GW under construction and an additional 60GW in the pipeline. For context, the UK’s current peak demand is around 60GW.

“The new queue management rules for renewable energy projects should free up capacity on the network from zombie projects and allow commercially and technically viable projects to get connected sooner. National Grid ESO's release of 10GW of new capacity is also expected to stimulate shovel-ready schemes in 2024.

“Grid-connected battery storage schemes have emerged as a viable solution that enables the decarbonisation of the grid, and in 2024, we anticipate a heightened focus on designing effective grid connections for battery storage schemes and ensuring regulatory compliance. This marks a milestone in the pursuit of a net zero carbon future; however, it also heralds a paradigm shift in the controllability and operability of future power systems, indicating ongoing advancements in the field.”

Operational energy in the workplace

When it comes to the workplace sector, the trend most likely to dominate discussions in 2024 is energy performance in use.

In the last few years, we have welcomed headlines proudly announcing the first NABERS UK-certified buildings, including Eden, New Bailey in Salford, the first new-build building in the UK to achieve a 5.5-star NABERS UK ‘Design Reviewed’ target rating.

This is a welcome step in the right direction regarding the sustainable future of the sector; however, it is only the first tick in the box on the journey to net zero. Next, we need to see how this first wave of NABERS-rated buildings actually perform in use, and the lessons learned will no doubt inform how the next iteration of net zero buildings will need to be designed.

Mike Gosling
, Partner and Cundall’s Workplace sector lead, said:

“This is an exciting time for the workplace sector and an important reminder that the journey does not stop at the design stage. To holistically assess performance in use, landlords need to work with tenants to lower operational energy altogether.

“NABERS UK Design Reviewed projects such as Eden, New Bailey in Salford and Three Chamberlain Square in Birmingham are already an excellent “greenprint” for the design of low operational energy workplaces. As they move into their initial stages of occupation the key will be to gain an understanding of how tenants use these spaces on a day-to-day basis. This, together with how they are maintained and operated, will truly maximise their performance in use and allow comparison with design-stage predictions. This initial operation phase will give the opportunity to shape and inform the design and specification of future net zero workspaces.”

Green finance – strategy, compliance and implementation

The coming years will see a slew of sustainable financial regulations come into effect that will dictate the direction of our industry for decades to come. Mandatory ESG disclosure requirements are on the horizon for European asset managers and financial market participants, and similar standards in the UK are not far behind. This is ultimately good news for asset owners because compliant assets will be more attractive to investors. It will also mean an increased demand for architects and engineers who can support with detailed design briefs, monitor their implementation and help asset managers realise their ESG targets.

Simon Wyatt,
Sustainability Partner at Cundall, explains:

“The incoming financial regulations will have a huge impact on the built environment. Asset managers will be looking to employ teams of people who know how to develop a strategy and then have the skills to implement. This represents a massive opportunity and a new area of specialty for multi-disciplinary engineering and design consultancies who can interpret the new regulations and develop practical strategies for compliance to help their clients drive greater investment value for their assets.”

To find out more about these trends, get in touch.