The Journey to Zero Carbon

These presentations discussed solutions to achieve net zero in education buildings, and also wider settings, taking into consideration elements such as digital technologies and their associated risks and opportunities.



Creating Schools for the 21st Century in Wales

The Vale of Glamorgan Council declared a climate change emergency in 2019, prompting the investigation of how to sustainably deliver 21st century schools.

At present, Llancarfan Primary School is being developed in partnership with Vale of Glamorgan Council and ISG – a global construction services company. It will be Wales’ first net zero school to be delivered and is due to open early 2022. Before the project began, it was essential to define the ambiguous term of ‘net zero’ to generate a unified understanding. The UK’s Green Building Council’s definition was subsequently adopted. It should be noted that in this presentation ‘net zero’ represented net zero in operation – the energy generated from running a building.

Rather than starting design from scratch, a model from a previous project – a baseline school named ‘Ysgol Nant Talwg’ – was adopted and refined to optimise its net zero design. It was key to find a ‘sweet spot’ to make the building both practical and affordable. Llancarfan’s initial objective was to be low carbon, not net zero. However, thorough evaluation of the building’s existing fabric made it clear they weren’t far off delivering the more challenging outcome, which resulted in them following a net zero approach. Photovoltaic systems were deployed on the building itself and a battery solution was implemented on-site to store energy. Upfront costs were a few hundred pounds more expensive per square meter (costing £3,437 per m2) than a standard project which typically uses gas boilers with some photovoltaic systems. However, this more expensive approach should result in greater energy and financial returns down the line.

Once the building has been occupied, learnings will be shared with the architecture and construction industry, the UK Green Building Council and Welsh Government to optimise future designs and accelerate the journey to net zero.


Getting ‘Carbon Fit’

Systematic change is needed throughout the construction industry to successfully address the risks and relish the opportunities that come with net zero. Three central areas need to be considered to successfully deliver a net zero future: buildings and construction; the ‘energy trilemma’; and enabling technologies and digital infrastructure.

Regarding buildings and construction; retrofitting and modern methods of construction (MMC) may play pivotal roles in the construction of education buildings. Evidence supports MMC’s role in decarbonisation and sustainable design. The ‘energy trilemma’ of energy security; environmental sustainability; and energy equity, presents its own set of challenges. This trilemma broadly refers to the need to deliver an energy system that is both equitable and affordable, secure and environmentally sustainable. Globally, there appears to be vulnerabilities in infrastructure, where climate resilience appears to be a low priority and cyber security is not sufficiently resilient. This is becoming increasingly important with the development and growth of smart cities, the internet of things and artificial intelligence.

We need an agenda which focusses on both adaptation and decarbonisation; this goes beyond just energy systems. New technologies, required to drive more efficient and resilient estates in the future, will not be appropriate without expansive and updated foundations from the outset.

A holistic approach and collaboration will be key to develop a roadmap outlining the steps needed to successfully achieve net zero, and therefore where and how to implement energy efficient and secure technologies.


Written by Holly Passmore, Thought Leadership Consultant, Step Connect2

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