A Happy New Year to you all and what a start to the new decade we’ve already seen.
Ongoing fires burning uncontrollably through the Australian bush, a highly volatile situation in the Middle East, and a UK Parliament about to push through the EU exit bill and legally commit itself to an extremely tight timescale to negotiate a replacement deal.
So the climate crisis and economic uncertainty are still likely to be dominant themes throughout the coming year, but what else do we think is going to come up in the year ahead?
Whilst none of us have a crystal ball, here are 20 important things I think we should all be aware of and watch out for as we start a new decade?
Not quite the full alphabet, but here are my predictions for the year ahead
The news that smoke from the Australian bush fires has reached New Zealand, over a thousand miles away, shows that, regardless of where you are on the planet, it’s impossible to cut oneself off from what is happening to the world.
At the same time, our buildings are becoming more sealed and airtight to 1) save energy and 2) keep out the poor quality outdoor air, so I believe we will also see more of a focus on indoor air quality in the coming year.
How do you bring fresh air into a building without also bringing in the outside pollutants?
And with an increase in refurbished offices and tall, mixed use buildings, how can occupants be certain that the ventilation provided is helping them and not actually harming them?
I think we will therefore see a real increase in news items about air quality and its effect on our health.
The B word
The Prime Minister is allegedly banning the B word after January but any sensible person knows that the vote to leave the EU on 31 January will not be the end of Brexit.
Not only do we need to negotiate new agreement with the EU before our self-imposed deadline of the end of 2020, we also need to open up trade deals with other parts of the world, such as the US.
Regardless of the political decision, which will formally end our membership of the EU, we will still face a period of uncertainty in 2020, at least until our future relationship with the EU is clearer.
We are also going to see more about this over the coming year – a lot more.
Any and every flood, fire, or perceived extreme of weather is going to be seen as a sign of climate disaster.
For those of us already aware of the need for action and working hard to find realistic solutions that can be achieved without completely destroying our modern way of living, this ongoing obsession with ‘disaster’ presents a real opportunity and a real danger.
Firstly, the more we can raise awareness amongst you, me, our families, and every other consumer out there, the more that we as individuals can make a difference ourselves. This will lead to more protests, which in turn will place more pressure on governments and business to make a difference themselves.
The downside and danger of an overemphasis on ‘disaster’ is two-fold.
Firstly, there is a danger that we make people lose hope and think there is nothing that can be done, when there clearly is.
Secondly, we are in danger of mixing the important facts with disaster ‘trivia’ which clouds the whole issue.
Look how much the news has been dominated over the past week when that well known ‘climate scientist’ Meatloaf criticised Greta Thunberg for example. The awful truth as well, is that some people will actually believe Meatloaf simply because of his celebrity.
Let’s stick to the science and the facts which are more than capable of speaking for themselves!
Diesel & oil
If you are a company car driver like me, then you will no doubt still feel a bit cheated that you spent years driving a diesel car having been convinced that this was the right thing to do for the environment.
However, diesel if now officially ‘bad’ and this will lead to an increase in electric vehicles, which brings its own challenge in terms of overall energy production and charging points.
One thing is now crystal clear though – our days of simply burning things like diesel and oil without any thought or care should now be over.
We now know how bad these things are for the planet and whether it is diesel for vehicles and transport, or gas and oil for our heating, we have to change and change is coming.
Electrification of the economy
The rapid growth of energy production from renewable sources has helped reduce the generation from coal and gas plants.
In 1990, 75% of the UK's electricity came from coal, yet last year this had fallen to just 2.1%.
This makes the case for an electric economy much stronger and reinforces the government-backed drive to use heat pumps as the dominate source of heating for UK homes.
The challenge for our economy will be in developing storage for this renewable energy so that excess energy produced by wind and solar can be kept until it is needed – and this can be arranged and organised on a micro AND a macro scale.
We will therefore see an increase in home and community battery storage for energy and are also likely to start viewing our cars as storage ‘batteries’, which can be used for our homes when they are parked up. As long as your car is ready for you in the morning, why wouldn’t you use this stored energy?
If you are connected with the HVAC industry, then you will have heard of the F-Gas Regulations, and you will know that there is a Phase Down in the use of refrigerant gases that have the potential to harm the environment.
If you are unaware of this or think it has little to do with you, then ask yourself how long you could last without a fridge in your kitchen? Or how our hospitals could cope without the ability to refrigerate medicines and medical samples? Or how uncomfortable your office, shop, hotel, school, gymnasium, clinic, warehouse, etc, etc, etc, would be in the height of summer without comfort cooling?
HVAC – Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning is now an essential part of modern life and we cannot simply go back to living in caves, even if we wanted to.
What we can and must do though, is minimise the amount of energy that this essential equipment uses and reduce any potential harm to the environment from the gases used within these systems.
It will be interesting to see how this young lady develops in the coming year as the figurehead for the climate change movement.
She has already shown herself as fearful and courageous, braving a sea voyage back and forth across the Atlantic and standing up to outright bullying on social media.
She has also shown humility and humour, especially with the ‘Sharon’ incident on Mastermind.
I expect the attacks and vitriol to continue towards her unfortunately, whilst her fame and popularity will grow further as more people, especially but not exclusively the young, decide that they have to get involved in some way to try and force through change.
One thing is for sure as George Clarke has already eloquently expressed – let’s not shoot the messenger!
For the first time in well over a decade, we have a government with a healthy majority in the UK, which means that it should be able to get things done and one of the main areas that everyone would agree as a priority is surely the housing shortage.
Whether that will mean more affordable housing to stimulate the buying market, or more housing for rental by both private and public sector, or a mixture of both, something needs to be done.
Yet according to a new report, councils face several barriers despite the lifting of the Housing Revenue Accounts (HRA) cap in 2018.
The report says that all of the councils and Arms Length Management Organisations (ALMOs) surveyed did plan to build this year, but several of them were likely to build more if there were less restrictions.
Whether this refers to planning or budgetary restrictions is unclear but we do have a government that has promised less red tape, so we shall probably see action in the coming year.
Indoor air quality
We’ve already touched on air quality as one of the areas that will grow in importance over the next decade and this will increasingly become a focus for housing, especially as we convert more commercial properties to residential.
The shape of our high streets are changing beyond recognition and we are seeing more and more office blocks converted to apartments.
We will therefore have more people living in the middle of our towns and cities, who shouldn’t open windows, even if they can, but will need fresh air to replace the stale, impure internal air. We also need more people to realise that the energy efficient ways of achieving this already exist with heat recovery ventilation systems such as Lossnay.
Whatever you or I think of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is now irrelevant. He has a stomping majority and what is seen as a huge mandate to ‘get things done’.
Allegedly wanting to model himself on Winston Churchill, let’s see how Mr Johnson sets himself up to be remembered in history books?
He has already managed to confound many by avoiding being the shortest-lived PM.
Could he confound even more and prove to be one of the longest-serving?
2020 is the year when he will lay down his markers on how he can and will be remembered.
From this April, private landlords face legislation that forces them to meet the new Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard (MEES) regulations. These require rented homes to have a minimum Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of E.
Patrick Mooney of Housing Management & Maintenance has written further about this here.
The rules were first introduced in 2018, but at the time they only covered new tenancies and renewals. From April, they will apply to all existing tenancies, which could affect an estimated 200,000 rented properties.
However, who will ‘police’ these new regulations remain vague with councils likely to struggle with the limited resources available.
As we see an increased focus on ‘wellbeing’ within our buildings, we are also starting to talk about other health aspects such as the mental pressures that modern life places on us all.
Editor of PHAM News, Chris Jones has already touched on the dangers for sole traders who face business pressure, loneliness and may have no-one to talk to.
Here at Mitsubishi Electric we have also recognised the importance of mental health and have recently trained specialists alongside our more traditional first aiders.
Expect more focus on all aspects of health and wellbeing in 2020.
Noise and neighbourhoods
The noise that your heating, cooling and ventilation systems make will be of major importance in the coming years, especially in residential areas and, as our towns and city centres convert more to apartments these noise levels will become an increasing focus over the next year and decade.
As my colleague Max Halliwell also discusses here, Permitted Development already looks at this in the domestic arena, which is why the sound emitted from heat pumps is going to become one of the most important things that consumers will focus on.
Surely one of the biggest debates we will see in the coming year is about the quality of buildings that are being constructed.
How do we ensure that the major housebuilders for example, are able to build decent, well-sized, affordable, quality homes and still keep in business?
One suggestion is that we increase the amount of offsite construction which can significantly increase the quality and reduce the construction time on site.
TV presenter George Clarke has written passionately on The Hub about the need for increased quality in housebuilding and it’s worth a quick re-read of his celebration of ‘Prefabrication’.
So, have we ‘won’ the battle against plastic?
Obviously not, but increased awareness amongst consumers of the dangers of the unregulated use of plastic is a major part of why I believe the climate crisis is more mainstream now.
People are simply more aware now, which can only be a good thing.
Understanding how your own plastic bottle can harm nature places an obligation on you as an individual and highlights how your choices have consequences.
We still need manufacturers and retailers to reduce plastic packaging. We still need to clean up the oceans. We still need to find alternatives to incredibly ‘useful’ materials such as polystyrene, so plastics will still be a major part of the environmental debate for the time being.
One of the major challenges facing the world, is how to continue the ‘consumerism’ that so much of our business is modelled on, without destroying the planet, or burying it in waste.
Over the coming years, I think we are therefore likely to see a focus on things that are built to last, rather than built to be disposed of.
This will see us looking at the whole lifecycle of the products and things we consume, from ‘cradle to grave’ resulting in a more holistic, circular economy where everything that can be reused or recycled is, and all harm to the environment is minimised or mitigated for.
This will build on the back of activism such as the School Strikes and the Hollywood-led ‘Fire Drill Friday’.
Both of these movements are questioning our very lifestyles and forcing society to focus on wastefulness and this will change the model of consumerism but should still allow us to exercise enough choice.
The government is predicting sales of air source heat pumps to reach 1 million each year but 2030, but I personally expect us to reach this figure well before the end of the decade, especially if housebuilders can be encouraged, incentivised, or forced to abandon gas heating for new homes.
Last year’s report from the Committee on Climate Change – ‘UK housing: Fit for the future?’ demands that from 2025, new homes should not be connected to the gas grid, with gas boilers being banned in all new-build within the next five years.
So a lot will depend on how ambitious this government wants to be in pushing the country to the front of the renewable ‘pop chart’.
Our heat pump ambassador, George Clarke has been pretty scathing about government inactivity to date, calling it ATNA or All Talk and No Action!
Let’s see how things change in the coming year.
2020 will be a year where we continue to see school children play an important role in keeping up the pressure – and facing criticism and charges of ‘get back to school’.
The strikes have grown into a global phenomenon and have led to other actions such as Extinction Rebellion, who disrupted several city centres last year with their impromptu protests and blackages.
The news that the UK Police wanted to place Extinction Rebellion on the ‘watch’ list of terror organisations shows just how seriously the climate crisis protests are being seen.
Built on the back of the school strikes, the Extinction Rebellion protests have ratcheted up the pressure several notches but, as the beating up of protestors holding up a commuter train in East London shows, public support can quickly be lost. It will be interesting to see how the Extinction Rebellion movement evolves and we may well see it diversify into other forms of protest, which may mirror the ‘Fire Drill Friday’ protest led by actress Jane Fonda and recently joined by Joaquin Phoenix and Martin Sheen, who were both “arrested”
I think 2020 is the year when the noise of protest about the climate crisis is going to get too loud to ignore any more.
As we face more extremes of weather, the ability to provide comfort and sanctuary within our buildings will become increasingly important.
This will place a focus on HVAC equipment as never before and make us question its use – which can only be a good thing.
We have long advocated a Lean, Mean, Green approach to HVAC, so that the right equipment is selected, designed, specified, installed and commissioned, rather than just a short-term fix.
We will also see increasing pressure on events such as the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, which will require air conditioned football stadiums to ensure both players and audiences aren’t overheating.
Although it seems unlikely that the event will be cancelled or moved, many will question how this can be sustainable as the planet faces such climate crisis.
We’ve covered Wellbeing on The Hub before and it’s safe to say it will remain an important subject for 2020 and beyond.
Current and future generations of employees are now demanding better workplaces, which means a more holistic focus on how we provide for staff, customers, guests and occupants in buildings. In turn this means that we look more at both physical and mental health and the impact of the environment on ourselves.
With ventilation, cooling and heating being vital to health, comfort and productivity in indoor environments, this emphasis on wellbeing also provides huge opportunities to make a real difference in terms of energy efficiency and carbon reduction because it places more of a focus on using the best HVAC equipment.
Whether I am right or wrong about these predictions, one thing is clear, 2020 and the next decade are important in helping shape the future of humanity and the planet.
Mankind is an ingenious being and to me, it seems unlikely that we face complete extinction, but the world and all the beauty of nature is simply not safe in our hands if we continue as we currently are.
We therefore face a choice – all of us, and it is up to us to make a difference in every single way we can.