Observations and pledges centred on climate change and the transition to net zero, can feel stagnant – all talk and no action. What we seldom hear, and should, is the triumphs and successes so far.
The world can decarbonise. The UK can decarbonise. There are countless approaches, multiple sectors, and serious obstacles to overcome; but it is achievable. It is not only achievable – it is happening, so we should share best practice and celebrate success.
At a time when we are facing a cost-of-living crisis, skyrocketing energy bills and mass uncertainty, we need to acknowledge critical steps that have already been taken and learn from both the successful and less effective measures applied to help us come through this stronger, greener, and more prepared for what the future holds.
The vast majority (300) of councils in the UK have declared a climate emergency or developed Local Area Energy Plans (LEAPs) and are taking action to reduce carbon emissions. Many have appointed strategic partners, like EQUANS to support in these efforts and develop net zero carbon roadmaps; as well as apply for government funding to put them into practice.
With grants available including the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme (PSDS), the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF) and the Low Carbon Skills Fund (LCSF), there are a myriad of options for council’s to kickstart this journey.
Several regions across the UK are taking full advantage of this and are spearheading the approach to net zero. The North East of England is a prime example.
We are lucky enough to work with a multitude of partners across various sectors in the North East, including local authorities, housing associations, NHS Trusts, universities and schools. So, we have a clear picture of the volume of work that is being done to decarbonise, with no stone unturned.
We have worked across the North East to introduce measures including, ground source heat pumps, air source heat pumps, solar PV panels, smart building solutions, thermal efficient windows and doors, low carbon heating and hot water, EV charge points and community engagement; all in an effort to decarbonise homes, public buildings and commercial real estate.
Some of the standout projects which have made a big imprint on this route to decarbonise the region include delivering the largest tower block gas replacement in the UK for Gentoo Housing Association. As well as stopping 2,600 tonnes of carbon being emitted into the atmosphere over 20 years – the scheme helped 364 families at risk of fuel poverty, benefit from warmer, more efficient, and cost-effective homes.
This was an exemplar in making meaningful decarbonisation plans. Gentoo recognised it was important to reduce carbon emissions from an environmental standpoint, but ultimately the wellbeing of customers was the priority. By taking a dual approach to tackling carbon emissions and fuel poverty, it created warmer and more affordable homes for tenants, while supporting the regional plans to reach net zero.
A flagship scheme for EQUANS is that we designed, built, and now operate a low carbon district energy scheme providing low carbon heating and water for buildings and homes in Newcastle city centre and surrounding areas, which is projected to save 30,650 tonnes of CO2 in its lifetime – the equivalent of driving 74 million miles in a petrol car.
More recently, a pivotal project we were proud to support on, was helping Newcastle City Council to obtain £27m from the PSDS; and using the money to decarbonise 12 public buildings across the city, including museums, leisure centres, libraries, and theatres. Once complete – these projects will save more than 4,000 tonnes of CO2 every year, which roughly equates to taking 2,800 cars off the road.
These projects are all important, beneficial and serve a purpose, but they are almost worthless without a key component: community engagement.
Local authorities can invest, and zero carbon specialists can deliver, but without fundamentally engaging with communities, getting them on board with the region-wide plans to decarbonise or encouraging people to change their behaviour and habits – the new measures are redundant.
It is something we recognised early on and actively worked with local schools, colleges, and young people in particular, to not only bring them along for the journey – but empower them to lead the way.
EQUANS sponsored a global campaign by Common Purpose, which sought to challenge the next generation of young leaders to consider the legacy of their city and support to make it a cleaner, greener place to live.
In Newcastle, 89% of attendees said because of the programme, they felt a responsibility to shape the future of the city, and a further 88% felt more confident that their generation can successfully create a legacy, with an overwhelmingly positive attitude towards climate and behavioural change.
EQUANS also pledged apprenticeships in green jobs to support the next generation make a tangible difference in achieving in net zero.
Decarbonisation is only possible with a skilled workforce. Only by investing in green jobs, encouraging careers within the field, through community engagement, graduate schemes and apprenticeships; as well as developing local supply chains to reinforce the new technologies, will we successfully deliver on these targets.
Local authorities, social housing landlords, universities, businesses and communities across the North East are invested in the net zero agenda. They are thirsty for change, fighting for better and grabbing any opportunity or fund available to make this goal a reality.
This regional journey to decarbonisation, can, and should, act as a model to be replicated for other areas of the UK. If we continue to witness this regional revolution across the board, we will not only hit the net zero targets, but create safer, vibrant, efficient, and more sustainable communities.
EQUANS in the North East:
- Partnerships with 7 local authorities
- A 40-year strategic partnership with Newcastle City Council
- Working with 11 housing associations
- Supporting 3 universities in the region to decarbonise
- Working with Local colleges and schools
- Providing services to NHS Trusts
- Supplying low carbon heating to businesses and homes connected to our district heating network
- Working with young people in the region to inspire a greener future and offer apprenticeships
This article originally featured in "Energy Manager Magazine".