Richard Smith

Richard Smith

UK & Europe

Richard is a professional building services engineer with over 35 years of experience on international projects and 20 years with Atkins. Richard was the founder Group chair for carbon critical buildings, the vice chair of the Emirates Green Building Council and the UAE CIBSE chairman. Richard’s current role is a technical director within the project delivery stream of the UK design and engineering team at Atkins in London.

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So who are the mystery men and women who design these services and make our buildings work? As the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) describe it ‘Building Services Engineering is all about making buildings meet the needs of the people who live and work in them’.

We used to be known as ‘M&E’ (mechanical & electrical) engineers and some parts of the world still know us as ‘MEP’ (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) or even ‘Electro-Mechanical’. So what do we call the millions of engineers worldwide that are involved with the engineering services within buildings? Things are converging and over time the world is coming around to building services as the term to describe our role.

Over the past 20 years, the complexity of the buildings and systems that building services engineers design and install has increased. Moreover, we find ourselves involved in a great deal more simulation of systems, buildings and internal environments to achieve sustainable, low impact and optimised spaces.

All of this has forced the requirement for more sub divisions within the building services sector. With more building services specialisms emerging, there is an increasing need for building services engineers – and their employers – to understand where their knowledge limitations lie, what specialists are needed for what work, and how different specialisms should collaborate and work together.

Those of us who practice as building services engineers soon realise that we can only achieve a high level of competence in some fields of building services. During our careers we tend to develop a deep capability in our chosen areas and a broad understanding of the other areas. However, while most of us understand the breakdown of building service specialisms to some extent, the definitions we have are rarely complete, are often from only one standpoint and vary from one source to another.

I believe we need a standard building services taxonomy and if possible, one that can work globally. A standard taxonomy would bring more rigour to our collective understanding of building services and a more consistent approach to collaborative working, skills analysis, career development, and knowledge and interface management. This sounds like a simple task but in practice it is surprisingly complex. At Atkins we are working on a four tier, skills related, building services taxonomy, illustrated in this pdf.

This diagram aims to cover building services and all of its sub-divisions. Although it is by no means exhaustive – and may never be, with the huge amount of change we continue to see in what we do and how we work – we believe it goes some way to providing the breakdown the industry needs to improve our understanding of everything building services covers. With a more detailed definition of what a building services engineer does, we can finally start to piece together, and describe to the rest of the industry, what the anatomy of a building services engineer really is.

Middle East & Africa, UK & Europe,

Eye catching press headlines like those about Vancouver and China provide readers with hope that we will be able to reduce our carbon emissions to target levels through the use of renewable energy sources. However, it is not quite that straightforward and emission reduction strategies vary immensely for different global locations.

Take Vancouver for instance, where as a consequence of its mountainous terrain and high rainfall the majority of its energy is already provided by affordable, carbon neutral hydro-electric sources that can easily store energy and meet the fluctuating demand profile. To achieve their future goals it’s about adding more hydro-electric and a modicum for wind, bio-mass and tidal and maybe some geothermal renewable sources.

Another simple example is the deserts of the world where solar power plants are possible and less than 3% of their global potential is needed to power the planet. To put this into context, a solar plant the size of Lake Nasser in Egypt would produce the same amount of energy as that produced by the oil industry in the Middle East. But, it is not that simple, because there are unresolved issues with affordability, energy storage and transmission.

The United Kingdom has shown great leadership and was the first nation to pass primary legislation requiring carbon emissions to be reduced. Presently the UK is on target to produce 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 and has an 80% emission reduction target for 2050, against a backdrop of population increase, improving quality of life and increased personal travel.

The UK emission reduction strategy beyond 2020 has not been established because it is too difficult to do at this stage. Unlike say the mountainous and desert locations that have an abundance of the right natural resources needed by renewables, the UK and Europe rely irregular God given forces of wind, sun and wave to power renewables that do not coincide with the demand profile and this makes it a much harder problem to solve. Flexible alternatives like bio-fuels will be utilised but the feedstocks for these are massive and is severely limited by available arable land. The UK is currently considering over 40 emission reduction strategies with each impacting on the other to some extent and DECC have produced an award winning tool that allows anyone to speculate on the emission reduction mix and understand the complexities involved. The tool included examples of how the target may be achieved by organisations like The National Grid, Friends of the Earth and Atkins.

Reducing energy demand costs a great deal less that the procurement of green energy sources, so the UK and Europe have set a high priority on energy efficiency and for example this is enshrined in the new building regulations that require zero carbon housing by 2016 and all other buildings by 2019. Several other government incentive schemes to improve efficiency of existing building stock have been introduced and this is expected to gather momentum in the next decade.

China has a similar challenges to that of Europe definitely no silver bullet solution for emission reduction. They are running many emission reduction initiatives and fairly extensive research and development in this respect the Quartz headline is significant and shows leadership.

The low emission transportation challenge is not so different the world over and universally we will see an increase in electrically powered public transport systems and pressure to reduce private automobile mileage. All automobile manufacturers are running hydrogen fuel cell, and ‘plug in’ electrical development programmes but achieving targets relies on a technological breakthrough in battery technology or hydrogen production avoiding an energy intensive processes where at present, four times the amount of energy of that contained in hydrogen is required to create the hydrogen. Recently there was a Daily Mail headline that claims such a breakthrough has been achieved by Bath and Yale Universities. If so, this will provide us all with great confidence in our future because it will be able to solve the transportation emission issue and provide an energy storage solution that can be used in tandem with the variable renewable sources.

UK & Europe,