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How cutting-edge technology can cut energy prices in construction


4 min read

Head and shoulders photo of Dave Mitchell Photo: XYZ Reality
Dave Mitchell, CEO, XYZ Reality

Photo: XYZ Reality

To deal with sky-high energy prices, the construction industry needs to exploit ways to reduce waste and increase productivity as this can both save money and slash emissions, argues David Mitchell, Founder & CEO of construction technology company XYZ Reality.

Inflation in the UK is at a 40-year high, making life difficult for many, including the construction industry. With gas prices hitting £5.55/therm in August 2022, companies such as British Steel have announced a rise of £150/t for all new orders. The Building Cost Information Service has also reported that materials costs are at a 40-year high.


It is a challenging situation so perhaps it’s no surprise that building firms are experiencing reduced activity, with new construction orders falling 10.4% in 2Q2022, according to industry analysis. Notoriously low profit margins due to waste and high energy costs are a growing concern across the industry and, to make matters worse, the ongoing climate crisis is further tightening the noose on construction.


So, what can business leaders do to improve the situation and boost construction productivity now and in years to come?  


Minimise mistakes on site 
While volatile energy prices may be out of construction contractors’ hands, there are ways to reduce project costs from within the industry. In particular, tackling process inefficiencies and minimising construction waste will ensure a degree of damage control, reduce emissions and could significantly impact finances over time.


One way to do this is by investing in technologies that can reduce the need for cost-heavy ‘rework’, ie rectifying work carried out as a result of mistakes, errors and miscommunication, which can lead to wasted materials and squandered energy. Digital technologies such as augmented reality (AR), for example, are helping to achieve greater efficiency, transparency and accuracy, minimising energy requirements and overall project costs.


By facilitating greater accuracy when building, AR allows construction teams to perfect the building process by reducing human error and ensuring specifications are adhered to as tightly as possible. Ultimately, this leaner construction approach reduces mistakes in the field and the amount of energy needed for operations and materials.


Let’s take a deeper look into exactly how this is done.


Turning to technology 
With the potential to help build faster and more sustainably, digital technology is changing the face of modern construction. Computer aided design (CAD) has changed how teams on and off-site can manage and carry out projects. By viewing holographic 3D architectural models, created using building information modelling (BIM), engineers and field teams can use AR to compare specifications against structures in real time and determine if there are any errors or potential clashes.


Identifying inaccuracies during, and even before, installation means fewer materials are wasted and projects are not extended beyond planned timelines, reducing the amount of energy that goes into building.


Other game changers include collaborative file management platforms which allow architects, engineers and construction workers to manage projects more holistically. Greater accessibility to information, thanks to collaborative software platforms, helps to ensure there is clear communication across the board, and that misinformation is limited – again reducing instances of wasteful rework.


What’s more, by using this software to collate quantitative data about carbon emissions and waste levels, construction teams can develop a greater understanding of the environmental impacts of projects, as well as identify areas of improvement to minimise energy consumption.  


What will the future of construction look like? 
To cope with rising energy prices, we may see manufacturers implementing surcharges on materials to cover profit deficits, further limiting developers’ appetites to take on new projects. However, if the industry makes the most of digital technologies, the impact of these costs can be reduced. Fortunately, well-known construction contractors like PM Group and Mace are already adopting advanced technologies such as engineering-grade AR to boost productivity and efficiency.


It’s becoming increasingly important that the built environment finds a way to deal with rising energy prices. Greater process transparency, thanks to more accessible data alongside increased building efficiency facilitated by digital tools, is laying the ground for a new era of construction. There is a glaring opportunity to reduce project costs, as well as help construction become more environmentally friendly.


We now need to see an industry that’s more open to new ideas – the technology is in place, and the evidence to reduce project costs and improve building standards has been proven. It’s now up to contractors and developers to do their homework and look for the latest cost-saving solutions. If they don’t, we could continue to see the industry suffer as a result.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author only and are not necessarily given or endorsed by or on behalf of the Energy Institute.