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How can universities implement green goals to reach net zero emissions?

Published: 27th April 2021
Area: Education

The virtual Times Higher Education's Estates Management Symposium took place in March 2021, with this year’s theme cantering around “building confidence in the future of universities".

Attended by over 300 delegates, including estate directors, university leaders, higher education finance professionals and those involved in setting the strategy and plans for university estates, attendees heard from a number of experts on how to start planning now for the next generation of students.

In a period of economic uncertainty, how can our universities decide where to invest to ensure they are fit for the future? As part of the conference, construction expert Ruth Phillips and energy lawyer Sushma Maharaj delivered a session on the challenges of moving to a clean energy future, collaborating with Andy Nolan, development and sustainability director at the University of Nottingham, and Jeremy Bungey, an independent consultant at Woodlea Projects.

You can view the full recording of this session below or here.

Here we provide a summary of the main points covered during the session.

Net-zero emissions by 2050

Following on from the White Paper and the government’s ten-point plan, which set out the energy-related measures that will be needed to deliver the long term strategic vision consistent with net zero emissions by 2050, universities are under increasing pressure to decarbonise their campuses.

In order to reach their green goals universities need to make a shift towards using more renewable and low-carbon technologies on their campuses (e.g. solar PV, heat pumps etc.).

What challenges will universities likely to face?

The investment needed to do this is likely to be substantial, particularly for those universities that do not qualify for government grants or loan schemes. With funding cuts being made elsewhere, and the impact of COVID-19, where will universities find the money to make the necessary changes?

In addition to high investment costs and potential lack of funding, universities face further uncertainty as they must make decisions against proposed regulatory changes for heat and electricity sectors.

Additionally, they will also need to consider the expectations of their students - with recent reports indicating that students expect universities to be more sustainable and take an active approach in tackling climate change. This means that increasingly, universities need to take a holistic approach when developing sustainability plans and start to transition to low-carbon technologies  as for example, the type of low carbon solution chosen e.g. heat pumps which operate at lower temperatures,  would only work optimally with more energy efficient building fabric to buildings.

With the vast majority of university campus’ already well-established and developed, one other challenge they will face is around retrofits – with the addition of any new technology or features needed to be made or added to older systems.

How can universities work with the local community to drive down emissions?

We're starting to see local authorities and councils progressing large scale distribution schemes across cities and town, providing an opportunity for universities to effectively plug into an existing network to transport heat across a campus and help develop a wider energy system.

As society makes the vital transition to sustainable energy solutions, universities have an opportunity to lead the way.

We’re here to support you

If you need advice on implementing your strategy of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, or how to overcome any hurdles that may prevent you from doing so, our specialist energy and education teams are here to support you, every step of the way. For guidance and support contact Sushma Maharaj or Ruth Phillips.

Our updated guide to recovery and resilience covers everything you need to navigate your business out of lockdown, unlock your potential and make way for a brighter future. Further advice in relation to COVID-19 can be found on our dedicated coronavirus resource hub.

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