homenews and insights smart buildings or energy audit in a se university

Overcoming Barriers to Decarbonisation at a University in England

By Dr Andrew Eaton
27 February 2023

Product Marketing Manager

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Like others, this university has ambitious targets to meet net zero for Scopes 1 and 2 by 2030. However, some obstacles could potentially prevent this target from being reached. This study shows how SSE’s Whole Systems Thinking approach could be used to remove these barriers.

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Initially, offsetting was planned as a starting point, to be reduced over time by replacing existing gas boilers with heat pumps powered by electricity, and the extensive installation of EV charging points across the campus. This would mean an increased demand for electricity of 10%. However, they encountered a major stumbling block in that there was no additional capacity available from the National Grid, within the existing infrastructure in their area, to supply the required additional 10%.

Part of the plan all along was to install local solar panels on-site to provide additional electricity, originally because electricity is more expensive than gas. However, this would not provide the necessary reliability of supply that the University needed, and would provide the least power during the winter when the most power was required. Not willing to give up, the University sought a price to extend the existing grid infrastructure. They were quoted £5M. This capital cost coupled with increased energy costs was deemed to be unacceptable. In addition, the erection of pylons made of steel, which has a high level of embodied carbon, was contrary to their decarbonising ambitions. The answer, provided by SSE Energy Solutions arose from an examination of the typical percentages associated with ways associated with saving energy and carbon.

Ways to reduce

  • Buying additional renewable energy wasn’t an option due to being at full capacity.
  • The electrification of heat was increasing the problem.
  • On-site renewable energy expansion was restricted by the space available, and as previously discussed, could not be relied upon all the time.
  • Offsetting was only ever a temporary solution and was also expensive

The only option, therefore, was to look at reducing wastage in electricity usage. The new ISO 52120 international building controls standard facilitates the assignment of an energy efficiency standard. Extensive academic research shows that different building environments can achieve different levels of saving. The BCIA, the leading body in the controls industry, reports on efficiencies that can typically be achieved, including those relevant to universities shown below


A programme of rigorous energy efficiency audits was conducted according to the process described in the standard, and as a result, SSE was able to identify areas of inefficiency and wastage and make recommendations to reduce these. Savings above the required 10% were identified by measures costing significantly less than £1M, thus enabling the decarbonisation to be started as planned, with significantly less investment.

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