future view

Is the building services sector ready for technological development?

20 April 2018 • 5 min reading time

What will the Netherlands look like in 2025? How will we generate energy? How will we heat our homes, offices and factories? How many devices will be connected to the Internet of Things by that time? And what is the situation vis-à-vis remote healthcare? The range of what is technologically possible is growing all the time. But first, all the technical systems need to be in place. A massive task. And the big question is: to what extent is the building services sector ready for this?

“Building services engineers are traditionally rather modest,” says Doekle Terpstra, chair of the UNETO-VNI business organization. “Historically, they have always been in the role of subcontractor. However, that is changing rapidly now that it’s becoming clear that technology is more and more often an essential aspect of the construction world. It is now more usual for building services engineers to claim the role of key player, rather than remaining in the background.”

The Netherlands is changing fast

Building services engineering companies are currently in an enviable position. Now that the economy is going so well, engineers are running from one project to the next. There is already a significant shortage of employees in the sector, and the amount of work will only be increasing in the next few years. That is because the Netherlands is changing fast. The energy transition, circular economy, urbanization, digitization - these are all developments that will have far-reaching consequences for how we live and work. And everything suggests that these developments are set to move ahead even more rapidly. That means opportunities. “Without the building services sector, though, we won’t get there,” stresses Terpstra. “Whether it’s about energy, care, mobility or infrastructure - there is no social change that can be brought about without technology.”

“Whether it’s about energy, healthcare, mobility or infrastructure - there is no social change that can be brought about without technology”

Exploration of the future

But are building services engineering companies ready for everything they are going to be faced with? That was the main question last year at an exploration of the future that was carried out on behalf of every organization in the building services sector. TNO played an important role in the process. As well as sharing knowledge, TNO was also the process manager, a pivotal player. “In total, we involved more than 200 parties in the exploration: around 150 from the building services sector and some 50 stakeholders from outside the industry, like banks, insurance companies, manufacturers, construction companies and scientists,” says project manager Hugo Gelevert. “How do all these parties view the forthcoming changes? What is their own position? What still needs to happen? These were the questions that featured strongly in the interviews and the many meetings we organized with those in the field. And we managed to unleash a great deal of energy in the process.”

Connective factor

“Most building services engineering companies are only too aware that major changes are coming their way. So there is no lack of awareness,” explains Bas Kuypers. At Kuijpers, a large building services engineering firm, he is responsible for business development. He is also the chair of the UNETO-VNI Innovation Committee. “During the exploration of the future, it became increasingly clear how important the term ‘connecting’ is,” he continues. “That is what we building services engineers do. Whether it’s about gas pipelines out of Slochteren or connecting households to the electricity network. We are also engaged in the process of connecting with different types of parties. The building services sector therefore has all it needs to be a connective factor with new technological developments.”

“The building services sector has all it needs to be a connective factor with new technological developments”

CONNECT2025

Connecting. That is the main theme of the report recently presented by Terpstra. An apposite title: CONNECT2025. “The report gives a clear picture of the opportunities and possibilities that exist for the building services sector. With thanks to TNO, too. They have guided the creation of this exploration of the future with the greatest of care. And I very much admire how they have succeeded in involving so many stakeholders.”

Responding to trends and developments

As well as the most important conclusions from the exploration of the future, the report also contains concrete recommendations. “Together with Panteia, our partner on this project, we started identifying trends and developments. We then clustered them into six themes and five action lines,” explains Gelevert. “We at TNO then obviously shared our knowledge. As a result, the subject has come even more alive for us. I am now regularly approached by colleagues with ideas who are keen to share them with the building services sector.”

Energy transition

Energy transition is one of the six CONNECT2025 themes. And in that area, huge opportunities await the building services sector, says Huub Keizers. He is the Energy in the Built Environment programme manager at TNO. “To meet climate requirements, we will eventually have to move away from natural gas altogether. This will have major consequences on heating engineering and installations. They will in all likelihood be largely all-electric. Also, companies will be supplying integrated solutions. Possible examples include the generation of energy, energy storage, heating and cooling. Moreover, new techniques will be used. Building services engineers will, as a result, have to work more and more often with combined systems. And then there are the sensors. They will be playing an important role in controlling and in guaranteeing quality. The Internet of Things will provide the necessary data connections. This all means that building services engineers can expect to have their work cut out. They will have to move with the times. As well as knowledge of heating and electrical engineering, they will also have to be firmly up to date with developments in the areas of ICT and data. The field will be more complex but also more interesting. Meanwhile, the building services sector will have to invest heavily in the next few years in order to have sufficient numbers of well qualified employees. After all, it is they who will be making the energy transition possible.”

“Building services engineers are gaining a more equal ‘status’ to that of architects and contractors. More and more often, they are taking control of the process themselves”

Transformation of the building services sector

“As a sector, we still have much to do,” confirms Terpstra. “In the meantime, we are busy with a transformation of our own. In the past, you had an architect, a contractor, and the building services engineer who was a kind of subcontractor. After all, every home needed a central heating boiler. Nowadays, however, clients are increasingly asking for buildings that meet the ‘Paris norms’. To an ever-greater degree, it is all about the technical installations. Only at the second stage is consideration given to the question of what building should be constructed around them. This development means that building services engineers are gaining a more equal ‘status’ to that of architects and contractors. More and more often, they are taking control of the process themselves. To me, this is an amazing development.”

Jointly deciding the direction in which the transition is to go, in seven stages

TNO uses the following method for initiating and guiding the transition of a sector.

More information?

For more information, please contact Huub Keizers

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