We're on track to become net zero by 2025

Kingston Maurward College in Dorset has switched to renewable energy to heats its buildings. Principal Luke Rake explains how

Kingston Maurward is a further education college in Dorset with a focus on land and environmental education, including agriculture, animal sciences and conservation management. We are fully immersed in nature as an organisation and sponsor a highly popular Studio School for 11 to 16-year-olds on our site, where students follow the National Curriculum while also working towards industry-specific technical qualifications through real world work experience.

In 2020, the college committed to attempting to become carbon net zero by 2025, well in advance of national and local government targets. We strongly felt we needed to be proactive in tackling climate change, and that we couldn’t simply wait for things to happen.

Helpfully, the college does have land to develop new ideas, but our infrastructure is mostly off-grid, with the only mains facility being electrical supply. The estate comprises 90 buildings – all of which utilised oil or LPG for heating, including historic buildings and listed parkland. This meant further challenges for both planning and retrofit.

Following a baseline assessment of total carbon usage on the estate (c1000T/yr) the college contracted consultants ReEnergise as specialist brokers and support to facilitate not only a Salix PSDS bid, but also the subsequent implementation of our plans. Together, the estate team and ReEnergise developed a carbon reduction strategy and business case analysis for biomass and heat pump solutions with a range of funding options.

ReEnergise then supported the college’s application to Salix, with a step-by-step risk reduction process (including technical confirmation and project definition, detailed design and tendering for installation contractors). The tendering process reduced costs for the college from £2.4m to £1.6m with a final project delivering an extensive ground source heat pump district heating network, alongside air source heat pump technology for smaller and residential buildings on site.

In total, we received just over £2 million in PSDS funding. This then enabled local action and funding drawdown of some £300,000 from Dorset Council’s Low Carbon Scheme. The synergy between the needs of the authority and the college meant that this single project could realise as much carbon reduction as all other low-carbon projects in Dorset.

The all-round political benefits certainly helped with our funding application success. More importantly for us, it showed how collaborative working, where everyone is after a ‘win’, enables some really outstanding outcomes in a short space of time. Even though we have a highly sensitive estate, we have managed to not only gain a successful planning outcome, but also delivered a highly complex project in a short space of time.

Groundworks started in January 2022 and the project is now complete, with buildings drawing entirely renewable heating rather than burning oil. Our 72 boreholes, with a combined depth of 10km, alongside 25km of piping and new pump house, are all fully functional. The heat brought from below the ground is already being used in glasshouses to facilitate horticultural study too.

At this stage, everything has been working normally and both heating of buildings and water has been effective, with the GSHP system producing 63° Celsius from the ground alone, as designed. More challenging has been the retrofit to existing galvanised plumbing systems. Switching on and off the water pressure has resulted in an ongoing challenge to regularly clean filters from residues that precipitate during these works. This will decline over time so for now, things are looking good.

In terms of ongoing costs, we will save around £100,000 in a calendar year on oil, as well as the obvious carbon reduction benefits, but this comes with a corresponding electricity usage increase. Given what is occurring with electricity prices, this is currently an unknown additional cost. However, we feel that government interventions will be required on this regardless, given that even renewable electrical costs are tied to gas prices.

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