Heating, cooling and electrical systems regularly designed with up to 50% more electrical capacity than they will ever need, according to a study led by Ramboll

Commoditised or ‘play it safe’ design in the UK is regularly resulting in new buildings being constructed with building systems that have 50% more electrical capacity and 30% more heating and cooling capacity than is ever needed, according to Ramboll.

Ramboll experts calculated that, when applied to the 11.8 million sq ft of offices currently under construction in London alone, this over-design is costing the UK £70m in capital expenditure and 23,000 tonnes of C02 per annum. This is based on estimated achievable savings to be in the region of £60/m2 in Cap Ex and up to 50% in both energy savings and carbon emissions.

Their analysis showed that often this is down to the industry over-designing in its efforts to achieve technical compliance and adhere to current codes and guidance, inadvertently resulting in excessive building system capacity due to a significant gap between predicted performance and reality.

In addition, pressurised consultants commoditising and re-using ‘safe’ designs, compounded by a procurement system that stifles innovation by focusing overwhelmingly on price, is adding to this inefficiency.

Mathew Riley, UK managing director at Ramboll, said: “Over-design is wasting capital investment for building owners and driving higher energy consumption for building occupiers. Nobody wins.

“The key to efficient design is to really understand how a building will perform, by simulating its operation early in the design development, allowing more informed decisions to be made. At Ramboll, we learned from our work, engineering buildings in extreme environments such as the Antarctic, methods that we are now working to apply back into the UK so that we can deliver leaner and greener systems.

“We need to break free from outdated delivery models and conventional thinking. By embracing data-driven design the industry can reduce capital expenditure, cut carbon emissions, reduce energy consumption and deliver leaner and more sustainable buildings.”

Andrew Henderson, executive director, UK Buildings, at Ramboll, added: “Our analysis shows that in the UK, designing to current Codes and Guidance and pressurised consultants commoditising and re-using ‘safe’ designs, often with only minor adaptations from previous projects, is resulting in massive inefficiency. The reality is there are smarter ways to achieve, and indeed, exceed compliance standards without increasing capital expenditure.

“Outdated procurement approaches is also stifling progress. Price is of course still the key factor in determining contract awards, and so innovation is rarely encouraged or recognised. The full capabilities of talented engineers in our industry are not being harnessed by the market and there is little prospect of improving industry productivity unless something changes.”

Ramboll’s analysis is based on the studied operational energy performance of over a hundred commercial properties, using real life data.

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