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How electrical contracting is evolving in this ever-changing world

Lesley Rudd

Lesley Rudd

Chief Executive of Electrical Safety First
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Electrical Apprentices

Here, Lesley Rudd, Chief Executive of the campaigning charity, Electrical Safety First, considers how electrical contractors have a host of opportunities available in our increasingly electric world.

During lockdown, electricians were among those considered ‘essential’ workers – a clear illustration of how important electricity is to our society, and it’s becoming more so.

The Government’s green agenda has ambitious climate change targets to reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas (GGH) emissions. As a large proportion of the UK’s emissions arise from domestic buildings and vehicles, this will have a major impact on the homes we live in and the way we use energy. It will also open up an array of opportunities for the 21st century electrician.

In 2018, it was estimated that our homes were responsible for 15% of our GHG emissions and transport over 25%. Road transport – particularly cars – were the biggest contributor. So it is not surprising that homes and cars are at the cutting edge of our electrical transition.

Decarbonising heat — reducing and eliminating the greenhouse gases it produces —  is essential to tackling our climate emergency. Currently, the UK has around 27 million homes, with most (around 85%), heated by gas. Heat pumps are considered a green alternative to gas boilers, so Ministers have proposed banning conventional gas boilers in all homes.

The Government’s Future Homes Standard will require from 2025 that all new homes be future-proofed and provide low carbon heating. So electricity, now increasingly produced from renewable sources, is set to play a key role in new builds. Retro-fitting low carbon heating in existing homes will be a greater challenge – the UK needs to retrofit approximately 26 million homes, but also a greater opportunity for the forward-thinking electrician.

The mainstreaming of electric vehicles (EVs) creates another natural opportunity for the electro-technical professional. Official figures estimate that over 38 million cars in the UK will have to be replaced by Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (ULEVs).

Wherever possible, people prefer to have a dedicated EV home charging point installed, as it offers rapid charging and built-in safety features. The demand for such charging points will increase, particularly as the emerging second-hand market in EVs matures, making them more affordable. Revised infrastructure and planning measures will be needed to address this growth  – and the significant installation issues for apartments and areas of high-density housing. But such ideas can’t be translated into a reality that is both safe and effective without appropriately qualified and competent installers.

A continuing legacy of the pandemic appears to be the increase in homeworking, which may be convenient but isn’t without safety concerns. Around half of all UK domestic fires arise from electricity, with most caused by electrical products – homeworking usually requires a number of these items, from laptops to printers and mobiles. At the beginning of the first lockdown, we did some research around this issue. Outcomes showed that over 40% of new homeworkers were at risk from electrical fire from various sources. This included overloading sockets and daisy-chaining leads – not surprising, given the frequent lack of sufficient sockets to deal with the modern proliferation of electrical goods.

While many of those working from home don’t currently need a particularly sophisticated technology to do their jobs, the increase in hybrid or home-based working is likely to change that. And the development of the home office is likely to provide further encouragement to the inevitable mainstreaming of the smart home and whole-house integration of the Internet of Things. Living in a home that doesn’t fully meet your needs might be tolerable when you spend most of your time elsewhere – but addressing this becomes increasingly important if you spend more time at home. So, here is another clear opportunity for the evolution of the ‘traditional’ electrician.

It won’t be news to anyone reading this article that these expanded opportunities for electrical contractors exist in the midst of a significant skills shortage. One estimate is that an additional 12,500–15,000 skilled electricians will be required by 2024, to meet anticipated demand. The electrification of heat and transport, combined with the ongoing development of smart technology, means that this is likely to be a conservative estimate.

Suitably qualified electro-technical experts are key to our future – not simply to achieving the green agenda but to delivering it safely and professionally. Difficulty in finding suitably qualified contractors could lead to households using incompetent or unqualified installers to undertake work – or, worse still, do it themselves. This could not only be potentially dangerous but also breach regulatory guidelines.

Growing the base of highly trained, specialised and certified installers now, will be critical if we are to reach net zero – and ensure safety. So Electrical Safety First is campaigning for the Government to introduce a clear and consistent policy framework, to provide industry with long-term certainty of demand and encourage investment in training. Grants and/or tax incentives to encourage individuals to upskill and enter the low carbon market, must also be considered. And, as the market grows, we would want to see minimum installation quality standards introduced across the whole industry.

The charity believes that the Government must consider how consumers are supported through the transition to decarbonisation of heat and the greater use of electricity in their homes. Concerns around cost to the consumer have already hit the headlines and a lack of awareness and understanding of the forthcoming changes required on our road to net zero must also be addressed. But to make the changes needed, first and foremost, we need professionals who can do the job. Because the future is definitely electric.

Electrical Safety First is the UK consumer charity dedicated to preventing deaths, injuries, and fires, caused by electricity. It is recognised by Government and industry as the leading campaigning charity and technical authority on home electrical safety.

The Charity’s annual product safety conference – The Connected Consumer – will be available free and online, over two mornings: 9.00AM-12.00pm, Wednesday 24th and Thursday 25th of November 2021. To register, visit: https://hopin.com/events/electrical-product-safety-conference-2021

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