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Modern Energy Partners: Testing the practicalities of public sector decarbonisation

Testing the practicalities of public sector decarbonisation is a report on the findings and recommendations from Phase 2 of the Modern Energy Partners (MEP) innovation programme – tasked with exploring how to decarbonise the public sector estate.

MEP is a collaborative cross-departmental programme, coordinated and delivered by Energy Systems Catapult. Phase 2 is funded by BEIS’s Energy Innovation Portfolio, overseen by BEIS and the Cabinet office, with additional match funding from pathfinder sites, and implementation from participating departments (primarily MOD, MOJ and NHS).

The public sector, through the fifth Carbon Budget, has the challenge of achieving a 50% direct emissions reduction by 2032 against the 2017 baseline.  Further commitments such as the Clean Growth Strategy, the Ten Point Plan, and the Energy White paper, are driving the UK’s commitment to net zero by 2050.

The path to net zero is further defined through the sixth Carbon Budget which sets a national target of a 78% emissions reduction by  2035 against the 1990 baseline.

The public sector estate accounts for 2% of all UK emissions, and overall, emissions from the built environment direct account for 34%2 of UK emissions. This demands tough and urgent action by the public sector to reduce emissions, especially those for which it is directly responsible, like  missions from heating buildings.

MEP focused on learning-by-doing, carrying out specific activities and generating consistent repeatable approaches for scalable delivery of  decarbonisation, and taking into account whole system thinking on campus-style sites. Public sector campus-style sites, like those found on the NHS,  MoD  nd MoJ estate are challenging to decarbonise as they use a lot of energy, have varying and unusual usage patterns, and must consider how the site use will evolve over time. Activities included:

  • Supporting retrofit improvements to energy systems at three, large campus-style, public sector “pathfinder” sites.
  • Creating strategic long-term concept design decarbonisation plans at 24 sites and,
  • Improved monitoring through better data collection, collation and some test installations of telemetry items such as submeters and sensors at 23 sites.

Key points

Modern Energy Partner’s overall conclusion is that for the public sector to meet commitments it must rapidly scale up its decarbonisation activities.

MEP observed that although expensive, difficult and time consuming, it was possible to put individual sites on track to hit the 50% direct emissions target through a  sustained effort by people with a mix of skill sets. However, the team concluded that whilst some action is already being taken, it is not at the scale necessary, nor at a sufficiently rapid pace, to be confident that organisation-wide targets will be met.

Only by cutting timelines through the simplification of processes and decision-making, by being able to access finance, and by immediately increasing  scale and pace can changes happen in time to meet the national net zero commitments.

MEP Recommendations:

  • Strategic plans to help speed up and scale up action are important: An increase in the pace and scale of decarbonisation across the public sector estate is urgently needed to reach targets. Agreed-upon, organisation-wide and long-term decarbonisation strategies can help simplify processes and cut timelines. More broadly, a public sector-wide reporting framework alongside appropriate carbon valuation will incentivise action.
  • Tailored plans at site level are vital: A tailored and detailed approach is needed for each site. The design stage should consider all aspects of Departmental and site-level governance as well as the appetite for investment in low carbon technology. Working with multiple consultancies in the development of individual design plans can increase idea sharing and avoid technology bias.
  • Delivery capability must be considered: Appropriate resourcing, capacity-building and prioritisation is urgently needed. This includes the capacity building of roles focussed on coordinating the planning and delivery of decarbonisation strategies into existing asset life replacement programmes on site. Important responsibilities of this role will be to select the technology appropriate delivery route and ensure sign-off and access are obtained in a timely manner.

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Modern Energy Partners: Executive Summary - Testing the practicalities of public sector decarbonisation

Modern Energy Partners

A ground-breaking £20million innovation programme within Government to develop a systematic, repeatable and scalable method of enabling the decarbonisation of large, campus-style public sector sites.

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Decarbonising the Public Sector Estate

Applying systems thinking to deliver the evidence and action plans needed by Government to achieve near-term carbon reduction and longer-term targets of Net Zero by 2050.

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