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  • Writer's pictureRussell Burton

£4.8m green energy project begins at Gloucestershire College

Updated: Mar 7, 2022

Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report stating greenhouse gas emissions must peak for the last time in the next 4 years if we are to avoid a climate crisis.

This is an alarming message for everyone to hear. Don’t despair, though. It is intended to galvanise the attention of governments across the world and stimulate support for those taking action to level up the carbon balance sheets.

How can we protect the planet in a way that is beneficial, practical, and with the urgency clearly needed? By building sustainable, achievable carbon reduction plans which factor in risk and affordability. Our work with Gloucestershire College fits that bill well.

Gloucestershire College is establishing itself as a community beacon and role model in the education sector by pledging to be carbon zero by 2030 (20 years ahead of the UK Government’s commitment to 2050). This means the carbon they generate running all of their facilities will be 100% offset by the carbon they save operating renewably and responsibly.

To give you some idea of the task, it takes the equivalent of 13 million kettles being boiled to run their main campus every single day. Or 63 million hours of continuous Xbox play. Or 17.7 million miles in an electric car. We don’t take that task lightly and have been planning and working on this project since February 2020.

The Hillside team has supported them with an environmental audit and report, business case and economic model, a successful application to finance the project, plus procurement of trusted suppliers. We are now moving into delivery, project management, and reporting to measure success.

No matter what sector you're in, if you're considering making changes to reduce carbon emissions or wondering about the commercial benefits, Gloucestershire College is a shining example of an organisation taking net-zero seriously and reaping the rewards. Working with Hillside, they have identified that the upfront investment needed can be paid for via Green Finance and government funding, with the rest of the cost mitigated by future energy savings. It goes to show that the “Green Premium” potentially needed to combat climate change, may not be as big a payment as we thought. In many circumstances, it can actually provide economic savings.

Watch the video here for an introduction to the project, then keep reading for a breakdown of the project stages and expected outcomes...

Stage 1: Environmental Audit & Emissions Reduction Strategy

Back in February 2020, our team started working with colleagues at Gloucestershire College. We identified their sources of carbon emission and developed a full scope emission reduction strategy. This included auditing the college’s energy, transport, food, waste, and water supply, then building a 20-year economic model to support the project financing process.

The outcomes of the audit clarified emission sources across various categories and established 2017 as the baseline year for future reporting. This means that the college can prioritise carbon footprint reduction in the areas that will have the most impact. In addition, it allowed the team to understand where the college stands at the moment - just how far do they need to go to become eco-friendly?

With water and waste already being managed effectively, the key areas to address were identified as:

1. Building energy use

2. Transport

3. The consumption of 3rd party goods and services for curriculum activity

Energy was established as a significant, and critically the most controllable, source of emissions. With a clear focus on the scale of opportunity, energy forms the foundation for the college’s net-zero plan, which is where efforts have been focused.

Stage 2: Engagement, Awareness, and Collaboration

Recognising the need for cross-functional advocacy, Hillside developed a program of environmental awareness workshops. To progress the eco-project, stakeholder engagement was vital. The executive team was brought together to clarify and align project accountability and deliverables across all college functions: covering course leadership, HR, Estates, and Finance.

Stage 3: Project funding

We're thrilled to have helped Gloucestershire College with a successful application for grant support from the UK Government's Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme. Hillside Environmental Services supported them in submitting an application that secured £2.8m of investment for the £4.8m energy retrofit.

Our team has helped to develop the technical designs, business case, and a financial plan to ensure the project supports Gloucestershire College's economic objectives. Alongside the grant, the project costs will be mitigated by the savings made from switching to renewable energy and revenue from selling surplus energy back to the grid.

With a 20-year business model, we have shown that the college will recover its investment within the life of the project plan and enjoy a substantial period of free green energy.

Stage 4: Installation of innovative technology and renewable energy systems

The energy retrofit has been designed to run as efficiently as possible in 3 steps:

1) Electrifying heating

Example of the heat pump planned for use at Gloucestershire College
Example of the heat pump planned for use at Gloucestershire College

Heat pumps reduce the amount of energy needed to generate thermal load to heat buildings. We're working with HEX Energy to install heat pumps that warm buildings via renewable electricity rather than the combustion-based fossil fuels used in traditional methods.

Of course, this is eco-friendly, but also means the building can be heated using green energy produced onsite.

2) Generating renewable power on-site

Example of the solar PV planned for installation on campus
Example of the solar PV planned for installation on campus

We have procured Evo Energy to install solar PV (power) to generate green electricity on-site. This means heat pumps can be fuelled without reliance on fossil fuels.

Premises are less reliant on the grid, can produce their own fuel, and choose the most cost and energy-efficient times to use grid-sourced energy. It also offsets the additional electricity heat pumps will use, helping to manage costs further.

3) Optimising energy use

MSP Technologies Ltd will install battery storage and Automated Building & Energy Controls Limited (ABEC) will implement energy controls. Thermal stores, grid-connected battery technology, and smart energy controls will allow Gloucestershire College to balance its energy needs to use power at the most economic times.

This includes producing heat overnight in readiness for the next day’s consumption and storage of surplus electricity generation for use during peak grid electricity pricing.

The result: buildings do not need to rely on the weather to facilitate green energy and can also partake in market trading with any energy they don't require.

Where are we now?

Working with the college, we have procured a Managing Contractor, INTEGRAL, to provide site coordination, principal contract support, and all builders' works in connection with the specialist supply chain.

We have concluded the test drilling to confirm the ground conditions and finalise the pre-construction design process. Now, the construction of the project is due to start in Mid-October.

What’s next?

The aim is to conclude the installation for the renewable energy technologies by February 2022 and finalise commissioning in March to allow the college to convert to their new energy system in Q2 of 2022.

The final outcome

We say ‘final’ here in its broadest term. These changes will make a lasting impact. The college is leading the way in its communities by taking action that will combat climate change for good. They’ll reduce their carbon footprint by 63% in year 1 and, following the decarbonisation of the UK national grid, by 95% in 2030.

Of course the above is the most critical outcome of the project but there are commercial and social benefits, too.

There is growing pressure from the younger generation for institutions to reduce their effects on the planet. PR coverage will help to market Gloucestershire College to bright, new students in their local communities. Thanks to their eco-credentials, the college can successfully onboard a growing number of students who are passionate about sustainability.

They’ll also practice what they preach. As the market is pushed to become green, so will the job market. The curriculum will move to train future generations to lead the way in eco-friendly technologies. It’s important that colleges providing these skills are credible.

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