A Strategy For Education Estates: Sustainability And Climate Change:

As the government pushes for rapid adoption of net zero, the brunt of early development will inevitably fall to the government-funded public sector, in the latest policy paper, the government has outlined a strategy for education estates to address climate change and sustainability.

The government has set a vision for the United Kingdom to be the world-leading education sector in sustainability and climate change by 2030. To achieve this will require education to play a positive role in responding to climate change and inspiring action by supporting the delivery of the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and Net Zero Strategy.

The strategy applies to the Department for Education (DfE), its agencies and public bodies, as well as early years schools (and independent schools where applicable), further education, higher education and children’s social care. The strategy commits to encouraging children to be close to nature both in and out of school, whilst legislating to meet net zero by 2050 placing a restriction, through legally binding carbon budgets, on the total amount of greenhouse gases the UK can emit over a 5-year period. In the latest, Carbon Budget 6, the UK legislated to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels.

Strategy For Education Estates: Aims

The government’s vision for the education sector is based on delivering four strategic aims:

  • Excellence in education and skills: through learning and practical experience prepare skill base for delivering a more sustainable future
  • Net zero: by reducing direct and indirect emissions from education buildings and providing opportunities for students to engage practically in the transition to net zero
  • Resilience: adapting education buildings and systems to be resiliently prepared for the effects of climate change
  • A better future environment: enhancing biodiversity, improving air quality and increasing access to nature in and around education settings

Whilst the government has set out a broad holistic approach to addressing sustainability and climate change across the education sector, a considerable portion, through net zero and the need for resilience, directly addresses the buildings within the education estate.

Strategy For Education Estates: Where To Begin?

To reduce energy usage and achieve legal targets for carbon emissions the education sector needs to get a better understanding of the scale of the problem. Schools and universities represent 36% of total UK public sector building emissions with costs being both significant and on the rise. Financial benchmarking shows schools alone were spending around £630m per annum on energy in 2019, with costs rising subsequently.

Adapting existing buildings and designing new ones to respond to climate change and reduce emissions presents a significant challenge. By standardising reporting for decarbonisation and climate resilience the government aims to develop evidence-based actions to support a reduction in energy demand and help adapt buildings to climate risks through innovation in construction that also deliver capital and operational savings. With increased legislation on net zero, consistent reporting will become a necessity. The government’s Net Zero Strategy commits to legislate reporting of emissions if insufficient progress is made voluntarily. It has committed to working with BEIS in the development of guidance on monitoring and reporting for the education sector

This reporting is set to include published risk assessments of overheating of the education estate, to be reviewed on an annual basis from 2023, and on-site emissions from the education estate, baselined by 2024, and progress against national targets published from 2025 onwards. The reports should directly address the requirements of net zero, climate adaptation and decarbonisation activity within education buildings.

This activity is also seen as a way to enhance and contextualise valuable learning opportunities. Through participation, pupils should gain insight into the implementation of climate adaptation measures, learn how buildings can be designed for net zero, and better understand the impacts of energy and water use.

The government’s focus for education estates through until 2025 will involve evidence gathering and reporting on the various new technologies, innovation in sustainable building design, retrofit, and building management to supply further guidance alongside that already to help public sector organisations achieve net zero. Once a best value for money approach is decided upon the process of investment will accelerate.

Strategy For Education Estates: Existing Buildings

The building energy efficiency survey indicates that approximately 60% of energy use in education settings is associated with high carbon intensity fuels such as natural gas, coal and oil. Reducing demand for heating and hot water use, and/or delivering via more sustainable means is a critical need.

For existing buildings, the strategy begins with further trials of smart meters and energy management systems that can help reduce usage and operational costs. Improved collation and use of data on energy usage, water and heat will help to drive individual settings for education buildings. Current delivery of Energy Management Systems in schools which will provide real-time information about energy usage, enabling evidence-based decisions and wider advisory of setting to improve energy efficiency. This is designed to enable Climate Action Plans to be put into place to inform government on the implementation of decarbonisation strategies.

One approach is to address sustainable heating and hot water by providing off-site manufactured, low-carbon, heating systems on the existing school and college estate. These ‘Energy Pods’, similar to Adveco developed packaged plant rooms, are viewed as a potentially strategic approach to safely deliver sustainability for the education estate.

This year the government has also committed to testing the feasibility of replacing school boilers with ground or air source heat pump applications that can be upscaled to accelerate decarbonisation between 2025 and 2035 as part of a wider effort to replace fossil fuel heating systems with low carbon heating.

To support the future retrofit of the education estate and act as catalyst to the construction sector for implementing new technology the government intends to generate building technology pilots. These projects will provide evidence for mitigating the causes of climate change, investigating the resilience of existing buildings and how their environmental conditions can be improved.

Working with BEIS this year, education will be helped with accessing the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme, with better-aligned application processes and funding windows. By 2023, all bids for capital funding for further education and higher education will need to consider environmental impact, carbon reduction and adaptation measures, and align with the government’s targets and objectives.

Strategy For Education Estates: New Builds

All new school buildings delivered by DfE which are not already contracted will be net zero in operation.

They will be designed for a 2°C rise in average global temperatures and future-proofed for higher indoor temperatures should there be a 4°C rise. The delivery framework for centrally delivered low-carbon, climate-resilient projects was published late last year and local authorities will need to consider environmental sustainability, carbon reduction and energy efficiency when planning with basic need grant-funding rates in place to deliver these new school capital projects. From now on bids into the Further Education Capital Transformation Programme will also be assessed to determine if the new works will be net zero in operation.

The implementation of ultra-low carbon education buildings will be accelerated. By 2025 at least four schools and one college will have been built via the Gen Zero Platform that was demonstrated at COP26. Over time, all centrally delivered new-build projects are to be built using ultra-low carbon methods.

To help understand how elements of this strategy can be quickly and cost-effectively implemented visit Adveco’s education resources for schools, academies, colleges and universities or contact us to discuss options for a site assessments to give you the accurate data you need to make a more educated decision on evolving hot water systems to be more sustainable.

Scenarios For Greener Buildings in the UK

Building Back Greener is the government’s campaign to improve the energy performance of buildings, reduce costs, minimise the impacts of transition on the energy system, and make switching to low carbon systems easier in order to reduce emissions and achieve net zero by 2050. Underpinning this process are three illustrative scenarios for greener buildings that reflect different technology mixes that would allow the decarbonisation of heating in buildings. The three scenarios are high hydrogen, high electrification and a dual-energy system scenario.

Today, the importance of driving these scenarios forward has been given greater urgency by the long-awaited report  from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). To stay under the critical 1.5C threshold, according to the IPCC, means that carbon emissions from everything that we do, buy, use or eat must peak by 2025, and tumble rapidly after that, reaching net-zero by the middle of this century.

To put it in context, the amount of CO2 that the world has emitted in the last decade is the same amount that’s left to us to stay under this key temperature threshold. “I think the report tells us that we’ve reached the now-or-never point of limiting warming to 1.5C,” said IPCC lead author Heleen De Coninck. This is why quickly achieving goals towards net zero by 2050 is so important if we are to curb the worst implications of global warming – heat waves, drought & flooding.

The immediate focus from the government is to achieve Carbon Budget 6 targets, to ensure the UK is on target to achieve net zero, although many already doubt these budgets will be met as simple measures such as closing down coal-fired power stations are replaced by a far more complex mix of options that deliver more incremental steps to reducing carbon emissions. To achieve the level of emissions reductions across the built environment in line with the government’s delivery pathway to 2037, will take an estimated additional public and private investment of approximately £200 billion which will need to be focused upon one or more of the outlined scenarios.

Three Scenarios for Greener Buildings

The high electrification scenario assumes that there is no significant use of hydrogen for heating in buildings. This may be because hydrogen is not proven to be feasible, cost-effective, or preferable as a solution for low carbon heating, or because its deployment has been significantly delayed.

Under such conditions, the choice would be to continue the rapid growth of the heat pump market which the government has already seen as the best low carbon heating option for new buildings or those off the gas grid.  This would mean increasing new installations (domestic and commercial) beyond the currently envisaged minimum of 600,000 per year in 2028 to up to 1.9 million per year from 2035. Currently, the UK sees approximately 35,000 heat pump installations per year, and commercial demands are already outstripping available stocks in the market as a result of raw material and component shortages caused by Covid.

To ensure the extended level of heat pump deployment, further policy would be required to phase out installation of new fossil fuel heating faster while continuing to follow natural replacement cycles. The proposed increased deployment of heat pumps will need to be accompanied by investment in the infrastructure needed to meet increased electricity demand, including the generation of low carbon electricity and additional grid capacity.

If hydrogen proves both feasible and preferable as a method for heating most UK buildings, and decisions taken in 2026 support a path to converting most of the national gas grid to hydrogen then the high hydrogen scenario would take effect. Pilot projects to provide heating for an entire town by the end of the decade would, once successfully implemented, see an accelerated rollout on a national scale. The conversion would likely start by building out from existing hydrogen production and use in industrial clusters, and roll-out would involve switchover on an area-by-area basis in different locations.

Due to the infrastructure and supply chain requirements of a hydrogen conversion the government estimates new heating system installations should be low carbon or hydrogen-ready, meaning ready for a planned future conversion, from 2035, with approximately 30% of existing low carbon buildings to be supplied by hydrogen at that time.

This does mean approximately 53% of buildings with low carbon systems would be reliant on heat pumps and 15% heat networks. This is why the third, and most realistic of the scenarios for greener buildings is one based around a dual-energy system, where both hydrogen and electrification prove feasible and preferable for heating buildings with a widespread demand for hybrid systems that utilise a mix of energy sources.

For example, if all, or most of, the gas grid is converted to low carbon hydrogen, but the costs and benefits of switching to hydrogen versus installing a heat pump are viewed differently by organisations we might see a high switchover to both hydrogen and heat pumps on the gas grid. Based on differing geographical or built environment factors, there may be a partial, but still extensive, conversion of the gas grid to hydrogen. Under this latter scenario, more careful consideration would be required of which parts of the grid would be converted and where responsibility for decisions about the costs and benefits of converting different areas should lie.

While the government claims it remains early days in terms of determining the policy framework that might support this mixed transition, global conditions, both political and environmental, are driving fresh demands on the government to accelerate commitments.  Any scenario in which hydrogen is an available option from the grid will require public policy decisions to enable cost-effective and coordinated investment in infrastructure and supply chains. If the case for converting the network to hydrogen differs strongly from area to area, more preparation may need to take place at a regional or local level.

What does this mean for the commercial sector?

Whichever scenario becomes the one of choice, you can expect greater consultation over new regulatory powers that can be brought to bear on the commercial sector to bring it into alignment with the government’s goals for delivering these scenarios for greener buildings.

Initially expect to see the phasing out of heating appliances that are only capable of burning fossil fuels. This would be consistent with the ambition to phase out the installation of new and replacement natural gas boilers by 2035, and the phasing out of the installation of high-carbon fossil fuel boilers in commercial properties not connected to the gas grid by 2024.

The government’s Energy White Paper has already set a minimum energy efficiency standard of EPC Band B by 2030 for privately rented commercial buildings in England and Wales. And you can expect further consultation on regulating the non-domestic owner-occupied building stock and consideration on whether this should align with the private rented sector minimum energy efficiency standards. There is also an expectation for a response to the 2021 consultation on introducing a performance-based policy framework in large commercial and industrial buildings, with the aim to introduce a pilot scheme sometime in 2022.

Further consultation is expected on the Small Business Energy Efficiency Scheme (SBEES). This scheme aims to remove barriers for SMEs in accessing energy efficiency measures, drive forward better buildings performance and aid SMEs in meeting regulatory standards.

Finally, you can also expect to see a strengthening of the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS), which is a mandatory energy assessment scheme for large businesses’ energy use and opportunities to improve energy efficiency.

What is very clear at this stage is that commercial organisations face a complex technical and regulatory challenge in the coming decades if they are to successfully navigate to a future with decarbonised buildings across their estates.   Consulting with expert providers at the earliest planning stages can pay dividends in the longer term, balancing the use of cost-effective and familiar technology now with new developments in the mid-to-long term. From a business perspective, the advantages of decarbonisation can be valuable in terms of operational savings and corporate social responsibility gains, but higher capital and operational expenditure also need to be considered if realistic steps are to be made. With more than 50 years of experience delivering bespoke commercial hot water and heating applications and deep knowledge of renewable systems,  including both heat pumps and solar thermal, Adveco is perfectly positioned to advise and assist organisations seeking to begin the decarbonisation process now.