As we look ahead over 2020, what are the notable electrical industry trends?
The last few years have been dominated by shifts in technology, especially those related to “smart” buildings and sustainable practices. Are those areas still trending?
Here’s what we’ve found in terms of trends this year:
1. The growth of prefabrication
Within the construction industry as a whole, prefabricated and modular methods constructed away from the job site are a growing trend. The electrical industry is no exception. Using standardised processes to assemble offsite can significantly reduce costs and lead times.
Prefabrication can produce cost savings in terms of materials, labour and estimating. It can mean less running around transporting materials from place to place on a job site and more efficient use of labour. Another advantage of prefabrication is that electrical companies can develop set procedures around it - there is the potential to become more and more efficient as people get used to the procedure.
It is expected that electrical will join other construction trades more with preparing prefabricated components. For example, prefabricated electrical components such as panel builds and lighting packages are being integrated into modular data centre skids, built by construction firms.
2. Increased use of sustainable materials
It is expected that the trend toward sustainable materials and building methods will continue to grow. Data indicates that the construction industry accounts for 40% of worldwide energy usage and 40% of CO2 emissions. There is demand not only for “greener” construction practices but for greener materials.
In the electrical industry, that means more demand for energy-saving features and sustainably-made components. Recycled and reclaimed materials form part of this strategy and can also help to reduce costs.
3. Use of augmented reality
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are two areas which have been undergoing further development, creating new possibilities for electrical contractors. For example, you can see a report of how a person used HoloLens to repair an electrical panel for a demonstration here.
AR and VR can prove useful for different stages of electrical projects. At the planning stage, contractors might use AR to plan how to wire a building, or how to take the best approach to lighting. During the work phase, AR can be used to “show” someone who is not there what the person is seeing, allowing them to be guided through a task.
AR and VR can show real-time interactive and 3D pictures of wiring, as demonstrated by engineers wiring Boeing aircraft. There are also programs to help electrical contractors determine if an area they are looking at is live or not, helping to improve safety.
4. Smart home trends
Technology growth, including the wider spread of 5G, is expected to impact smart home and IoT (Internet of Things) trends. Smart technology is becoming more prolific, cheaper and accessible to more people.
For electrical contractors, this means demand for “smart” installations, both for private residences and commercial buildings. For example:
- Inclusion of smart appliances. This could be almost anything. IoT has created a network of devices for every room in the house.
- “Decor gadgets” such as touch-reactive countertops. The installation of these gadgets will require rewiring in most cases.
- Voice control integrations for more areas of the home or business. Things like doors (including garages) will need to be wired for this.
- Smart lighting and controls for everything from the shower to the heating and cooling.
- Artificial intelligence evolving for smart technology. For example, what used to be hands-free and voice activated may now be hands-free and voice-free, operated by AI and based on personal preferences.
5. The new phase of Brexit
While perhaps not so much a “trend,” Brexit is expected to enter a new phase which will leave questions for the electrical industry in the UK. The new Brexit deadline (the day the UK is expected to officially leave the bloc) is January 31, just days away by the time this post is live.
The next phase to follow is negotiations between the UK and the EU on what their future relationship looks like. For the electrical industry, all eyes will be on what that means for large projects, both in the UK and the EU.
One concern expressed across the entire construction sector is that there are already labour shortages, which have continued since the financial crisis. These have put constraints on productivity and growth in the sector. This segment is from the Ibisworld Electricians in the UK market report:
“...one in three employers in the UK construction sector employ migrant workers, and EU nationals are vastly more commonplace than non-EU migrant workers. Moreover, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors states that approximately 8% of the UK construction sector's workforce are EU migrants. If restrictions to the movement of free labour are introduced following the UK's exit, concerns over the sector's shortage of skilled labour will likely become exacerbated.”
The report concludes with some opportunities and threats for electricians in the UK as a whole. The key threat highlighted is: “Demand from commercial building construction is expected to fall in 2019-20 as EU referendum-related uncertainties continue to induce a risk-averse attitude among private investors, threatening spending on new construction projects, including electrical installations.”
On the other hand, opportunity is seen in the residential building sector: “The government's long-term commitment to building a baseline 300,000 homes annually by the mid-2020s should create several contract prospects for electricians in the coming years, despite prevailing uncertainty since the EU referendum.”
6. Cloud-based tools
Software that helps electrical contractors to manage their work is getting increasingly more advanced. For example, there are cloud-based project management tools and of course, cloud-based takeoff software like Countfire.
Increasingly, electrical contractors are able to use these tools on the job site, meaning that updates can be made quickly and there is less need to go back and forth between the job and the office.
The spread of 5G data capabilities is expected to help encourage more usage of these cloud-based tools, as companies integrate them into their daily workflows for better efficiencies.
A lot of the trends we are seeing are a natural progression of trends over the last few years. Issues such as sustainability have been on the record for some time, but as new regulations, awareness and demand come into play, they’re seeing a surge.
Technology keeps moving ahead, as does the market landscape. Together, they form a good portion of the notable trends.
Can you see your company affected in any of these trends? We’d be interested to hear from you.