< Features | 15.02.2018 |

Learning potential

Learning potential

Schools and colleges stand to benefit more than most from energy and water-saving projects, creating significant opportunities for installers who know how to get involved

Major projects for educational establishments of all sizes and types have for a long time represented an excellent opportunity for forward-thinking installers to grow their business. However, the opportunities now are arguably greater than ever, and are potentially set to grow further.

The need to ensure compliance with legislation such as the Disability Discrimination Act – now being enforced more rigorously than ever – and to mitigate system breakdown or failure has brought about substantial change in the way many schools, colleges and universities consider their requirements.

In tandem with this, many of these establishments are essentially individual businesses with their own profit-and-loss accounts. This means that not only must they make their physical environments and provision of facilities attractive to their customers – the students who have the choice to come and study there, or go elsewhere – to maximise revenue, but also that every opportunity must be seized to minimise cost of both installation and operation of new equipment.

This makes product choice absolutely vital, so a knowledgeable local installer, able to advise on and then supply and maintain the very latest energy-saving products, can be worth his or her weight in gold.

Traditionally, major installation projects for heating, water, electricity, lighting systems and so on has taken place primarily in the Easter holiday and the long summer holiday. While this generally remains the case, it is important to remember that budgets for these projects tend to be set a whole term in advance, so if you are seeking to win work for this summer, then there is no time to lose in making contact with the establishments near to you to see what they are planning.

WHO MAKES THE CALL?

A number of individuals can influence the decision, depending on the establishment concerned and the type of project. Larger establishments may have their own procurement teams handling the mechanics of the tender and award process. Heads of maintenance, bursars and estates managers will also have their say. For extensive heating works, for example, the establishment may call in an engineer to scope the project.

However, the final decision is typically made by a head teacher, principal or vice-chancellor, based on recommendations from colleagues. Some local authority areas also maintain an approved suppliers’ list, which an installer needs to appear on to be considered for work. It is well worth establishing at an early stage where decision-making responsibility lies within each of the establishments you are seeking to target, to ensure your name is on the list when they are seeking quotations.

The days of simply quoting for an installation and nothing beyond are coming to an end. Installation cost is still a driver but far more important is the ability of a supplier to offer a complete solution, not just fitting what they are told to but being able to advise on the most cost-efficient and appropriate solution, then providing a cost for fitting and maintaining it on a long-term basis too. This is especially the case when it comes to heating systems that onsite maintenance teams are not generally well equipped to look after, given the highly specialist nature of the equipment and legal requirements around safety.

FINANCIAL SUPPORT 

Helping establishments drive down costs for the major installations is an important way for installers to win business. The government’s Enhanced Capital Allowance (ECA) scheme has been designed to support businesses – including educational establishments – in major capital investments they might not otherwise be able to afford.

Central to this is the Energy Technology List (ETL), which classifies all eligible equipment. Installers who select from this list can point to major savings their customers will enjoy as a result of specifying it, and use this information to provide guidance on the likely payback time for the energy-efficient equipment they are recommending.

Delivering hard data of this kind – with a focus firmly on total cost of ownership (TCO) rather than initial purchase and installation costs alone – will help convince even hard-nosed procurement teams, who may still be driven primarily by the initial purchase cost, of the benefits of the investment. Most requests for quotation for replacement systems are now put together on an ‘equal or approved’ basis so there is plenty of scope for installers to take this route and recommend a truly smart solution. Further information on the ETL can be found at www.gov.uk/guidance/energytechnology- list

The opportunity for installers does not begin and end there. It is unfortunately still the case that some establishments that have made an investment in energy-saving products are not necessarily using them to their best advantage. This is especially true when it comes to heating systems such as combined heat and power units. Once again, an installer who can demonstrate deep knowledge of how these systems operate will be well placed to win an ongoing contract to provide advice on exploiting the full potential of these systems, as well as providing a service package.

This represents an excellent fi t for organisations seeking to pass on the responsibility of maintaining the more technical systems to external suppliers to help maintain legal compliance with health and safety regulations. Meanwhile, it also frees up in-house maintenance teams for other, more rudimentary, work to keep the facility functioning day-to-day. Put simply, the days of ‘fi t and forget’ for specialist installations are set to be consigned to the past, and this extends beyond heating, water and energy systems into other physical assets such as lifts, shutter doors between lecture rooms, and so on.

QUICK WINS 

So where exactly do the opportunities lie for installers? In short, any product that can be shown to reduce energy or water usage is likely to be attractive to decision-makers.

Lifestyle changes continue to drive up annual water usage despite rises in supply costs and there are a number of technologies that can support a drive to cut consumption. Dual-flush toilets, waterless urinals, delayedfill cisterns, water-saving shower heads and infrared taps can all play their part and represent quick wins for both installers and the establishment concerned as they can be installed rapidly with minimal disruption.

Rainwater harvesting systems – ideally suited to schools as they typically have large roof areas and handle high toilet usage – can pay for themselves in as little as two years, with long-term water savings after that.

Lighting is another area where major savings can be achieved through correct product specification and use. Lights are often left on for extended periods in classrooms and lecture theatres when unoccupied, so the fitting of motion sensors and timers, as well as the use of more energy-efficient luminaires such as LEDs, makes sound economic sense.

HEATING UP

Perhaps the greatest opportunity, however, lies with heating systems. Major system overhauls, or installations into new buildings, employing products from the ETL wherever possible, have the potential to provide substantial revenue opportunities for installers alongside a long-term service agreement.

Optimised control systems can have an enormous impact, ensuring that rooms are kept at the best temperature – typically 15°C for high-activity areas such as sports halls, and 18°C for classrooms – and that rooms are not being heated while they are not in use. Payback time can be as little as four years for an appropriate investment in boiler controls.

A further option is the introduction of renewable energy systems in the form of heat pumps, biomass boilers and solar thermal systems. The Non-Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive provides help for organisations seeking to invest in these technologies, and once again an installer who is knowledgeable in this area and the support available will be in a prime position to secure work. Further details can be found at www.ofgem.gov.uk/environmentalprogrammes/non-domestic-rhi

In short, there has never been a better time for installers to seek to develop their portfolio with the education sector and those who are prepared to go the extra mile to develop knowledge of products, available support, payback time and TCO , while offering ongoing service provision, have the opportunity to develop their business significantly.

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