The programme was established in 2014 to reduce carbon emissions across Cambridgeshire and drive energy savings for schools and local authorities. Since its inception, the programme has supported more than 63 schools across the county, delivering over £820,000 in cost savings each year and reducing carbon emissions by around 3700 tonnes annually.
Schools are one of the largest contributors to Cambridgeshire’s carbon footprint with much of the responsibility for these emissions falling to local authorities. This made them a clear focus area for energy-efficiency works with the potential to contribute meaningfully to local carbon reduction targets. Supporting financial savings in schools also has a positive impact on staff and pupils.
To fund this ambitious energy-efficiency programme, Cambridgeshire County Council secured £20M in borrowing capacity and developed innovative financial models to ensure the initiative not only benefitted local-authority-ran schools but academy schools as well. This approach means the programme can reach and support as many primary and secondary schools as possible.
The initiative is designed flexibly, meaning there are several ways that schools can get involved. Schools can reach out directly via referrals from the council’s Education Capital Team (who look after school maintenance), or be targeted by marketing campaigns when a particular opportunity for a school or local area is identified.
The energy-efficiency works carried out vary but often include solar PV, LED lighting, heating controls, and pipework lagging. In some cases, the council installs zero-carbon heating solutions, such as air source heat pumps. One of the most significant installations to date is a large ground source heat pump and heat network at Comberton Village College, made possible through a grant from the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme.
The process for each school project begins with a free business case and project proposal, if a school wants to move ahead, it proceeds to a detailed investment-grade proposal and – if the school still wishes to continue – onto works contracting and implementation. When the works are complete, the project enters the measurement and verification stage which sees performance levels closely monitored for up to 15 years. The council initially appointed contractors using Local Partnerships’ Re:fit framework and is now working with contractors appointed via the council’s own energy performance services framework. Projects take the form of energy performance contracts that guarantee a specified level of energy savings for each school and compensation if these performance levels are not met.
The programme continues to support schools across Cambridgeshire with approximately 15 projects in the pipeline right now. The carbon savings generated by this programme are having a positive impact across the county and will help the council to meet its goal of net zero by 2045.
Ensure access to quality contractors – The strength of your contractors and supply chain can have a huge impact on the success of your programme. We recommend looking out for accreditations like the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS).
Don’t overlook staff training – It’s critical that there are people inside a school who understand how to maintain, operate, and monitor energy-saving equipment. Schools often have high turnover rates, so it’s vital to build out the depth of knowledge to get the most from an installation. We support school staff through workshops and share a quarterly newsletter to prompt data uploads and key seasonal changes to settings.
Understand electrical capacity – As we move to electric-powered, low-carbon heating, the electrical capacity of sites becomes very important, and installation may be dependent on electrical connection upgrades. These can take several months to put in place, so make sure to investigate this as soon as possible with your Distribution Network Operator.
Measure ongoing performance – Performance monitoring includes providing schools with access to an innovative energy monitoring platform. This means that schools can easily visualise consumption and performance, while identifying areas for efficiency savings. The platform also generates automatic alerts if equipment isn’t performing as expected or consumption appears abnormal.