Since late November 2019, the rapid spread of a new and high-risk strain of coronavirus, Covid-19, has uprooted communities the world over as governing bodies establish strict regulations for the sake of cushioning the blow of a truly unprecedented global health crisis. From the 28th February 2020, when the first case was confirmed within the United Kingdom, the public and private sectors have been forced to quickly acclimatise to entirely new ways of living and working.
As a nation, we have proved ourselves capable of adapting to a new, precautionary way of living, but very few sectors are emerging from the upheaval of the past few months unscathed. While many have managed to ensure continuity — albeit with some difficulties — through remote working, the UK construction industry has suffered from the need to introduce a number of social distancing measures.
Read more about the impact Covid-19 is having on the UK’s construction industry — and the fight for a cleaner and more sustainable future — and what measures are being taken in order to ensure continuity through this difficult time.
Is Construction Work Able to Continue Despite Covid-19?
On the 23rd March, Boris Johnson announced a UK-wide lockdown in order to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. Under these regulations, any individual is permitted to leave their home only for essential shopping and work, once-daily outdoor exercise, and hospital appointments. Only members of the same household are permitted to come within two metres of one another, and all shops deemed non-essential must close.
Upon the introduction of the new lockdown measures, there was a great deal of confusion within the construction industry as, shortly after the Prime Minister’s address, housing secretary Robert Jenrick released a series of Tweets stating that construction work should continue where possible. While other politicians — including the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan — speculated that building work should be put on hold unless it is absolutely essential, Michael Gove followed up the debate by reinforcing Jenrick’s position, stating that open air construction work should continue wherever possible.
Of course, Such discrepancy between politicians left the construction industry baffled; no longer simply a matter of contractual and financial obligation, the ongoing debate over continued construction work became a moral issue, as workers feared for their household’s safety.
Although some sites have chosen to remain active, the rise in confirmed coronavirus cases among contractors — perhaps stemming from a continued reliance on public transport systems — has impacted the workforce itself.
What is Being Done to Protect the UK Construction Industry?
In a bid to protect employees, a number of construction companies have elected to take advantage of the government furlough scheme, allowing workers to remain in the safety of their homes without loss of income.
In a bid to circumvent the difficulties brought on by so many building sites being unable to continue with work as scheduled, Scotland has extended all planning permission deadlines due to expire in the next six months. This is in place to ensure that construction companies and their clients are not too negatively impacted by the lockdown.
The CLC’s Demands
In a letter to the Prime Minister, the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) have made a number of demands which they deem vital to save the construction industry from collapse. These additional measures include:
- Suspend PAYE and CIS tax due to HMRC in April and May for construction and consultancy firms and workers with no financial penalty
- Defer/cancel Apprenticeship Levy payments for the duration of the crisis
- Government to advise all public sector clients, regulated utilities, and firms in the private sector to expedite cash flow throughout the supply chain
- Support the directors of micro-businesses, who currently fall between the support provided by the Job Retention Scheme and assistance for the self-employed
- Direct all Government bodies to release all retention monies
- Extend the £25k SME business continuity grants scheme to the construction sector.
Continuity within the construction industry is vital not only to its workers, but to the economy at large. The CLC have issued up-to-date Site Operating Conditions, whereby additional measures must be taken to ensure the safety of all essential on-site workers.
They have also requested that, wherever possible, building materials and products continue to be made available through the preservation of key manufacturing processes, and that electrical, plumbing, and general builders’ merchants are permitted to remain open in order to ensure that the construction industry can persevere through the coronavirus crisis.
The Coronavirus and Renewable Energy
In the face of significant interruptions to the supply chain, labour, and demand — and with all of us left wondering, How long will the lockdown last in the UK? — there are those already envisioning major interruptions to the roll out of renewable energy sources within homes, and the potential for further commercial solar installation, across the UK.
There is, however, some heartening news. Due to the closure of pubs, warehouses, many shops and factories, the UK’s overall energy usage has fallen by up to 13%, meaning that energy providers are able to increase the share wind and solar have in energy production. The world may well be shaken — from an unparalleled pandemic to a fiery oil price war and rising coal prices — but the weather, and the renewable sources of energy we can freely derive from it, will remain constant.
The momentum garnered by renewable energy over the last decade, however, must not be lost, and when commercial enterprises are able to reopen for business and production, we must not allow ourselves to fall back into old habits.
In recent months, the planet has shown remarkable propensity to heal; recent findings have shown that the ozone layer is healing itself, largely due to the Montreal Protocol introduced in 1987. With carbon emissions now falling significantly around the world due to measures against Covid-19, the potential for lasting change — and improvement — is unmistakable.
Similarly, as a significant portion of the country’s workforce makes the switch to remote working, their reliance on energy during the daytime has increased, and those without solar panels are dependent upon the national grid. A clean, ever-available source of energy keeps homes and businesses clear of the price wars and the continued use of damaging fossil fuels.
Commercial Solar Installation
It would be easy for the immediate threat of illness to displace our fight against fossil fuels and climate change, but the momentum gained over the past years must be sustained. By the end of 2019, for instance, the UK’s installed capacity for solar panels was 13GW, and the use of clean energy (48%) had surpassed coal and gas use (47%).
These are immensely difficult times, and we are all being called upon to practice resilience and forge a new, safer way of living until the immediate threat passes. Every one of us has been greatly affected by the current crisis, but the ability to keep our minds on the future, and to continue to focus on the many years that will follow these trying times, is one of the greatest tools we have at our disposal. And while the renewable energy sector exists in a ‘grey area’ at this uncertain point in time, we must commit to continuing the progress already made, and to hold fast to commercial solar installation targets despite much adversity.
As the world returns to normal, and industries across the globe are able to resume work, commercial solar installation is a fantastic investment, not just for the health of our planet, but for the many benefits brought on by switching to a free, secure source of energy.
A Turning Point for the UK's Renewable Energy Sector
It was recently reported that, as of the end of 2019, the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions have now dropped for the seventh year in a row. It is no coincidence that the solar capacity of the UK increased from 5,488.6 MW 13,259 MW between 2014 and 2019. Furthermore, our maximum net generating solar capacity was 13.1 GW in 2018, making it third among all EU countries.
Solar panels are more affordable than they were just a few years ago, and they remain a lucrative option for UK homes and businesses. And with more energy companies able to draw upon renewable energy sources than ever before, a cleaner, more sustainable future remains in sight — even in spite of the current crisis.
Solar panels ensure reliable access to power, and in a time when great swathes of the public are choosing to stock up on essentials — from toilet paper to flour and water — the motivations behind many wishing to create an additional line of defence for keeping their homes and businesses powered are clear to see. And as China is now out of lockdown and beginning to recover from the devastation wrought by Covid-19, the production of solar panels is able to resume; in light of more positive news, it would be remiss to lose sight of the potential renewable energy has to transform our capability for self-reliance, and a healthier, cleaner way of life.
The current global health crisis has prompted all of us to increase our independence, and to find alternate ways of living in an evermore isolated world. And while there is immense uncertainty felt within all aspects of life, and no way of knowing quite how long this uncertainty will last, there remain opportunities to look ahead to more sustainable ways of living in the future.