With the Government’s target for the UK to be net zero by 2050, and local authorities tackling the climate emergency as a priority, the transition to net zero carbon is high on the agenda for organisations across the public sector including education, healthcare and councils.
The challenge of transforming to net zero carbon can seem overwhelming for many; local authorities are responsible for such a varied portfolio of properties and assets, each with differing ownership arrangements, that even the task of quantifying carbon emissions can be extremely complex.
Many councils have a shortage of funds, meaning they have limited resources to invest in carbon reduction measures and new low-carbon technologies. Add to that a lack of time and expertise in under-resourced organisations, and many simply don’t know where to begin in their net zero transition.
Quantify the challenge
The starting point for any effective net zero programme must be an assessment of the current carbon emissions associated with your operational business. That means you must first determine your scope of responsibility and decide which areas and properties are within your remit before you quantify the associated carbon emissions. Councils also need to determine whether they want to focus only on emissions in their direct control, or whether to widen their initial scope to influence emissions in the wider council area.
Specialist energy consultants such as ENGIE can help accurately assess carbon emissions. These will include ‘scope 1’ direct emissions from fuel consumption and vehicle fleets, and ‘scope 2’ energy-related indirect emissions, including emissions from purchased electricity, heating and cooling. Councils may also need to assess ‘scope 3’ indirect emissions, such as those associated with waste disposal, transport and employee business travel. All of these emissions combined make up the baseline carbon footprint against which carbon reduction targets will be set.
Analyse: create a net zero roadmap
Through analysis of baseline emissions, energy consultants can recommend the most effective measures required to reduce carbon emissions to net zero over an agreed time frame. There is a hierarchy of measures, beginning with easy-to-implement, low-cost energy-efficiency strategies, through to longer-term renewable generation and green thermal schemes that require greater capital investment. The options available fall into five broad categories:
- Energy efficiency – introducing energy-efficient products and services, such as LED lighting or building insulation, as well as changing operational practices to optimise energy use.
- Asset conversion – transferring fleets to electric vehicles, converting oil and gas boilers to low carbon technologies, such as electric heat pumps.
- Green power – sourcing electricity from renewable generators, installing on-site or off-site renewable generation facilities (e.g. solar PV, wind), corporate power purchase agreements.
- Green thermal – sourcing green gas for heating, installing on-site or off-site renewable heat generation plant (e.g. biomass, hydrogen, anaerobic digestion) and local heat networks.
- Offsetting – tackling residual missions by funding certified carbon-offsetting schemes overseas, or ‘insetting’ through tree planting, green corridors and sustainable landscaping within the region. Councils often prefer such local measures, as they provide a visible demonstration of their net zero commitment to local communities.
It’s important to calculate the correct mix of options that will best deliver net zero carbon, taking into account the demands and operational requirements of your specific properties, assets and activities. These measures can be set out in a net zero carbon roadmap, which will provide a framework around which to build your carbon reduction programme.
Plan: develop costed proposals
From this roadmap, a detailed plan can be developed that sets out the options to be implemented, year-by-year, over time. Using this plan, organisations can set a realistic target date for reaching net zero. In developing a delivery plan, detailed technical specifications and investment-grade proposals will need to be developed for the measures and projects planned for delivery.
At this stage, funding options for each proposal must be identified, to enable effective budgeting throughout the transition period. A whole range of funding options are available to help overcome budget constraints, ranging from green grants such as the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme (PSDS) and government-backed interest-free loans to funding directly from energy partners or other third parties. These provide the essential capital funding required to get projects off the ground.
Carbon savings mean cost savings
Many carbon-reduction measures offer an excellent return on investment, enabling councils to repay any funders over an agreed period. In fact, a significant benefit of many net zero projects is the cost savings they will deliver alongside carbon reductions. So, at a time when budgets and revenues are under pressure due to Covid-19, net zero carbon initiatives can help to redress the balance and improve public-sector finances for the long term.