The Retail Revolution: The Changing Nature of UK Retail Specifications

Tony Ryan, Divisional Building Technology Manager, Kingspan Insulated Panels. One of the most profound changes to the UK’s architectural landscape over the past 20 years has been the proliferation of large retail premises. The shift towards online and out-of-town shopping has driven the creation of millions of square metres of retail and distribution space across the nation, fuelling demand in the construction industry.

But while most of these buildings are relatively new, their energy performance can often leave a lot to be desired. All-too-often, haste and a lack of consideration has resulted in sub-par buildings that fail to perform as they could and should, resulting in increased energy consumption and higher operating costs. The reasons for this are manifold; changing standards, time pressures, perceived cost and uncertainty over specific use have all played a part.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. With a holistic design approach, it is possible to improve the energy performance of any retail or distribution building What’s more, these improvements can be achieved through specifications that actually reduce the capital cost of the project.

The good news is that the industry already recognises this potential, and has been making solid progress towards better buildings for a number of years now (including an impressive 50% reduction in overall retail building energy use between 2005 and 2015). The British Retail Consortium launched a new initiative in February to help UK retailers to improve their energy efficiency even further; 25-in-5: Unlocking Energy Efficiency through Smart Regulation. The initiative highlighted a number of policy tweaks that could help drive down energy costs and reduce the overall environmental impact of the retail industry.

This initiative, and others like it, recognises the enormous impact retail premises have on the overall energy consumption of the built environment. Buildings represent 40% of the EU’s total primary energy consumption, and in the UK, retail is the second highest energy consuming industry. This makes it a prime candidate for energy efficiency measures.

As one of the most competitive industries in the country, with often razor-thin margins, reducing overheads is of vital importance to the entire sector. Cutting energy costs through improved efficiency, especially where that efficiency comes at little to no capital cost, is a no-brainer way to reduce costs and improve margins without impacting on product or service.

There is also the impact of ‘better buildings’ on people. Retail prices will remain the principal determinant in the all-out war for share of market, but sustainability credentials will become increasingly important to consumers seeking other ways to differentiate between retailers. Meanwhile, employees are happier, healthier and more productive in better, more energy efficient buildings.

Of course, it isn’t feasible to perfectly optimise the performance of every single retail building to match its operations, simply because of the changeable nature of retail tenancies. But, there are some general principles that can and should be applied to ensure that the ‘typical’ building is as efficient and effective as possible under likely operational conditions.

The key is to take a holistic approach to every element of the building design, and assess capital cost and operational costs as part of this model. Our own approach follows a distinct process called the Route to Net-Zero:

  • EnvelopeFirst & Optimised Building Services – Optimises the thermal efficiency, airtightness, heat loss/gain and daylight design of the building envelope for its entire lifecycle, while also ensuring the building services (HVAC, lighting and hot water) are optimised to complement the envelope design, helping to achieve energy efficient operation in a holistic manner.
  • Insulate & Generate: Integrated Low or Zero Carbon (LZC) Technologies – Additional enhancements to the building envelope and/or internal insulated duct/pipework are introduced, and LZC technology systems, such as Kingspan Energy Rooftop Solar PV, are added to further reduce its overall energy footprint.
  • Net-Zero Energy Buildings (NZEBs) – Enhances the low or zero carbon technologies already incorporated in the building, and considers off-site energy saving opportunities.

The holistic approach should also assess the likely lifetime energy performance of the building. This will change over time as some components may degrade with age, which can cause a decrease in energy efficiency. Where this degradation can be predicted, the impact it has on performance should be accounted for in the building design. Products with long-term performance guarantees should be used wherever possible to maintain the optimal level of energy efficiency for as long as possible.

All of this ensures retail stakeholders get an end-to-end solution that locks in optimal performance at the lowest possible capital cost and best possible return on investment.

We conducted extensive research with AECOM last year to test our model for a range of scenarios, including a typical retail warehouse, a large supermarket, and a distribution centre. Each scenario was calculated using three starting building fabric standards: backstop (less insulation), notional (medium insulation), and enhanced (more insulation). Having applied an envelope, a building specification was assigned based on cost-effectiveness to develop the capital cost model. Lifetime operational costs were thereafter calculated using annual energy consumption and predicted future fuel costs. It was then possible to recognise the financial benefits of various building specifications over others in terms of Net-Present Value (NPV), Return on Investment (ROI), and Internal Rate of Return (IRR).

The results showed how holistic specifications can lead to notable improvements in return on investment, lifetime operational cost savings, enhanced EPC and BREEAM ratings. In some cases, the specifications with enhanced insulation resulted in reduced capital and operational costs; offering both immediate and long-term financial benefits. This helps build an even more direct link between specifiers and end clients.

This is not the end of our research into the topic. We are working on new methodologies to further refine the approach, with a view to developing a standard model for the optimal retail building that turns theory into easy-to-replicate practice. We look forward to sharing our findings with Specification magazine as this model is developed.

Visit to download the Cost Optimal Energy Saving Building Solutions data.


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