Public Sector Decarbonisation Of Hot Water & Heating

Public sector decarbonisation is a core facet of the government’s Heat & Building Strategy, which has been published to outline how the UK can achieve net zero by 2050. By decarbonising public sector buildings, the government aims to demonstrate leadership and to encourage action in other sectors to make a direct contribution to net zero.

With around 40% of UK greenhouse gas emissions being accounted for by heating, cooling, and lighting the built environment, the government has said it is ‘essential that the public sector demonstrate leadership and drive down emissions by using credible and consistent approaches to decarbonise the public sector estate.’ The aim is to reduce direct emissions from public sector buildings by 75% against a 2017 baseline by the end of carbon budget 6.

Addressing decarbonisation within both new construction or refurbishment of existing properties has now become a key deliverable throughout the public sector which will need to be shown to be leading the way in decarbonising UK buildings in the 2020s.

What is the government doing to support the public sector?  

The government’s £1 billion Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme was initially announced in 2020 to provide funding until this year. Conceived to support the public sector in finding answers to heat decarbonisation additional funding was allocated to make public buildings greener and the second phase of the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme was launched last April with an additional £75 million of funding into this year. The government has subsequently committed to investing a further £1425 million for the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme between now and 2025. This funding is intended to provide public sector organisations with grants to fund energy efficiency and heat decarbonisation measures and supports the decarbonisation of the public sector in line with the government set net zero targets.

The funding will aim to deliver energy efficiency and heat decarbonisation improvements to organisations such as schools, hospitals and public sector offices, and present an opportunity to build wider support and acceptance for transformation of how the UK heats buildings. The government has stated it is committed to the continuation and extension of the scheme to “ensure that public sector bodies have access to finance to continue decarbonising their estates.”

What does the government expect of the public sector?

The government’s aim is to introduce greater transparency into how the public sector is making practical changes to achieve decarbonisation. At a basic level, the expectation is for “all public sector organisations to be thinking about how they will achieve Net Zero and should be taking steps to start this process now.” As publicly-funded organisations, they should expect to be held accountable to the public by reporting their progress. Through the Greening Government Commitments (GGCs) a framework for reporting against targets to reduce public sector greenhouse gas emissions has already been set in place, and now all public sector organisations will be expected to show leadership by taking steps to reduce direct greenhouse gas emissions. This should include monitoring their energy use and setting targets and plans to reduce emissions over the next five years. Different targets will be appropriate for different organisations, but all public sector organisations are expected to publicly report progress against their plans and targets.

The Heat & Building Strategy specifically calls on public sector organisations to plan to reduce direct emissions from their heating systems by making buildings more efficient. This should be achieved through:

  • improving building insulation
  • switching to low-carbon heating sources when it is time for heating systems to be replaced
  • implementing smart technology
  • installing low-carbon heating in new buildings, which means retrofitting will not be needed

If reporting of public sector emissions on a consistent and coherent basis is not done on a voluntary basis, and, if insufficient progress is made on reducing emissions in the public sector, the government will consider legislation requiring all public sector organisations work toward and report against a legally binding target to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

How can Adveco help?

The Heat & Building Strategy accepts that public sector organisations will require new specialist skills and expertise to decarbonise, both through making infrastructure improvements and by better managing operational energy use. As the public sector provides all public services, including education, healthcare, emergency services and social care to name a few, these organisations encompass a large and varied requirement for hot water and heating.

Including everything from showers, washbasins and kitchens, to varied space heating demands,   applications will vary dramatically across each bespoke case, making decisions on decarbonisation all the more complex and difficult without specialist support.

Currently, the government favours air source heat pump (ASHP) based applications for the public sector as the simplest and most cost-effective answer to being greener. But many have queried the expense and relevancy of the technology outside of new build properties. The Government has said it will work with the industry to help meet the goal of reducing ASHP cost, bringing them in line with current fossil fuel options by 2030, ‘with big cost reductions of between a quarter and a half by 2025 expected as the market expands, and technology develops.’

This and the practical benefits of switching to high-efficiency heat pumps to reduce energy consumption, which includes less CO₂ production and lower long-term operational costs, make the technology an important part of the process for achieving carbon-neutral goals on schedule. The high-temperature demands of commercial hot water systems do however curtail the current generation of heat pumps as a singular response, with existing, poorly insulated buildings further reducing efficiencies. For this reason, public sector organisations faced with delivering decarbonisation goals within the proposed next five year period will need to consider more complex hybrid systems, or if on gas, look to solar thermalas a practical way to reduce energy use and decarbonise their buildings.

There are a number of available responses and new lower-carbon technologies are under consideration by the government for further support but knowing what is best for your organisation is not always straightforward. Faced with varied building stock, technology options and fluctuating user demands for hot water and heating consulting with Adveco’s expert sales and engineering staff can help you truly understand those needs and the options best suited to your bespoke situation.

Discover more about Adveco’s renewable systems for decarbonising your building hot water and heating.