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An Education In Low Carbon Energy Centre Design


Two schools in Nottingham have become landmark institutions by delivering the highest level of carbon reduction through renewable integration seen to date, as part of the Building Schools for the Future programme in the UK.

Building Schools for the Future (BSF) is the biggest-ever school buildings investment programme. The aim is to rebuild or renew nearly every secondary school in England. It has a very high carbon and sustainability agenda driven by central government and the local authorities concerned.

The group LowC Communities Ltd, has been responsible for taking the conceptual design of the renewable Energy Centre all the way through the process of technology selection, supply, site installation and project integration, commissioning and fuel supply to achieve the ground breaking low-carbon delivery at both the Big Wood and Oakfield schools.

The LowC design reduces the schools actual carbon footprint so much so that it greatly exceeds the standards currently set by Government for low carbon schools. (Put into planning regulation terms, this equates to well over a 90% reduction when set against 2002 Part L building regulations.) Not only this, but in operation the schools will comply with the new targets that require the school to operate at a carbon intensity of no more than 27kg CO2/m2/year. Thereby positively contributing to the Local Authorities Carbon Reduction commitment targets.

Research undertaken by LowC suggested that around 65-70% of the actual carbon footprint of schools is typically derived from electricity consumption; This is driven by an increased demand for ICT and other building systems. Under the traditional methodology employed by many consultants and M and E designers specifying renewable technologies, this operational energy consumption is simply not taken into consideration.

This makes dealing with the carbon footprint through sector standard renewable energy/carbon reduction approaches difficult, says Dr Andy Horsley, Business Development Director of LowC. The standard approach would typically be based on a biomass boiler or ground source heating system. Neither of these technologies addresses the electrical carbon footprint.

The approach taken by LowC was to develop a method of renewable combined heat and power (CHP) which would deliver a substantial portion of the heating and electrical requirements of the school; at the same time, allowing the carbon targets to be exceeded.

Through the selection of a technology suitable for use with renewable fuel (CHPQA accredited) this ensures that not only the Heat but also the Electricity generated on site, carries the all important green credentials. The LowC Energy Centre also incorporates an innovative design and control strategy in which heat can be stored until it is needed by the school. (Thereby maximising the very valuable renewable electricity generation potential and minimising maintenance costs of the energy centre.)

The LowC pure plant oil CHP units installed in Nottingham will be fueled by rape seed oil contracted through LowC Energy Services ensuring full compliance to all the regulatory requirements but produced from Notts based business Phoenix Fuels Ltd. Phoenix fuels is made up of a group of farmers with significant land holdings in the county and beyond. They grow oil seed rape as a break crop in rotation between their other crops, which include irrigated vegetable production for the UK supermarkets. The business has its own crushing plant in the county which is currently capable of handling just under 9,000 tonnes of rape at full capacity, producing some 3m litres of pure plant oil and 6,500 tonnes of pelleted/briquetted biomass feedstock the plant capacity is due to expand next year taking these amounts up to 27,000 tonnes, 9m litres and 17,550 tonnes respectively. As demand grows through their collaboration with LowC , Phoenix proposes to build further plants focusing on the rape growing areas of the UK combined with the geographic requirements of its customers. The Phoenix model is based on absolute traceability from the first stages of the crop being grown through to the subsequent oil extraction and beyond; this process enables the business to offer a robust, accurate and independently auditable carbon life cycle for all of its green energy products. By working with LowC, the businesses are delivering the Nottingham schools low carbon fuel, grown, pressed and delivered all within the county, and most importantly have the capability to extend this model throughout the UK and Ireland where LowC Communities are fully operational.

In addition to meeting the carbon reduction requirements on the schools, the project also had to be commercially viable to deliver carbon savings into the future. The operation of this unit delivers between 6070% of the electrical requirements of the schools over a typical year and around 80-90% of the heat requirements. The cost of operation is in the region of 30-40% lower than traditional grid supplies (gas and electricity), owing to the attractive revenue streams from electricity surplus sale and the sale of green certificates (Renewables Obligation Certificates or ROCS).

The European Bioenergy Expo and Conference (EBEC) will be holding a study tour to view the installation at the Phoenix Fuel production facility and Big Wood school in Nottingham as part of its event. The study tour will take place on Thursday afternoon, 08 October. The Expo, at which LowC will be exhibiting and giving clinics on Renewable Energy Supply Companies (RESCos), runs from 08 to 10 October. To attend, visit or phone 0208 846 3792.

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