In this article, we’ll be looking at how the Government Property Function (GPF) and Modern Energy Partners (MEP) have been working together to achieve net-zero.

The Public Sector Estate

The GPF is responsible for a broad portfolio. Their aim is to drive the best value and provide better services from this portfolio.

The direct carbon emissions from the public sector in 2020 were estimated to be at 7.7 MtCO2e (metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent). This represents a fall of 51% from 1990 levels. [2]

The GPF operates across all government departments, delivery functions, some travel companies such as Network Rail, and other agencies as well.

Their work aligns with the functional models across government, which can be categorised into 4 key areas:

  • Levelling up
  • Achieving zero carbon
  • Implementing functional reform
  • Prioritising infrastructure

Levelling Up

The GPF is aiming to help the government achieve its levelling up agenda through targeting ‘Places for Growth’.

This entails relocating civil service roles into more regions, making the civil service less London-centric and better connecting it to the communities it serves.

Achieving Zero Carbon

The GPF is upgrading the government estate to make it zero carbon by 2050.

There is also an emphasis on adapting the estate to climate change by improving the resilience and biodiversity across all areas of the portfolio.

Implementing Functional Reform

This directive involves a robust mandate, effective and enhanced spending controls, as well as a focus on data.

The aim is to get more comprehensive data and make more data-driven decisions regarding the estate.

Also, they will be rolling out more up-skilling opportunities to staff to foster a more skilled and accredited property workforce.

Prioritising Infrastructure

Improving the quality and durability of new builds across the estate is a priority for the GPF.

They will also be carrying out work to upgrade a lot of the buildings, as well as improving the condition of the operational estate.

The GPF will also be prioritising property that is in poor condition and less sustainable.

Net Zero Requires Better Buildings

Stuart Burrows, Programme Director for Sustainability & Asset Performance at the Office of Government Property highlighted the need for strategic asset management.

This is because 80% of 2050’s buildings have already been built, so introducing higher specs on new builds is not enough to achieve the target of net zero by 2050.

The built environment is responsible for 40% of carbon emissions, and according to Stuart, there needs to be a paradigm shift in order to deliver on the 2050 target.

That’s looking ahead, but the problem started decades ago, Stuart explained. There has been a historic lack of funding towards the government estate, meaning many buildings are not fit for purpose.

The government spend £7 billion a year less than what is needed to carry out maintenance on the buildings, delaying maintenance costs more in the long run. [1]

Tackling zero carbon and the maintenance issues together will yield financial benefits as well as helping achieve net-zero by 2050.

Tying together future planning, as well as what needs to be done right now is crucial in ensuring the government doesn’t invest in properties that won’t be needed, useful, or affordable in the future.

The GPF is developing a net-zero trajectory tool, which has investment predictions for reduction interventions until 2050, as well as a comprehensive Estates Sustainability Strategy, outlining the plans for a green future over the next 25 years.[3][4]

Modern Energy Partners

MEP is an innovation programme that is funded by the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), specifically by the Science and Innovation for Climate Energy (SICE) team.

They work in partnership with the Cabinet Office and Energy Systems Catapult, collaborating across a multitude of government departments including the NHS, Infrastructure and Projects Authority, and the Ministry of Defence.

Their budget for ‘Phase 1’ was roughly £2 million between June 2018 and March 2019.

‘Phase 2’ took place between April 2019 and March 2021, with a budget of £20 million.

Their aim has been to establish a systematic and consistent approach to decarbonising the government estate. The decarbonisation plan can be broken down into three key aims:

  • Target ambition
  • Delivering consistently
  • Capturing innovation and learning

Target Ambition

The ambition is to hit 50% non-traded carbon (CO2e) by 2032 against 2017 levels, falling in line with the 5th Carbon Budget.[5]

A second ambition is for whole system benefits to be considered.

Delivering Consistently

The MEP are introducing a standardised technical approach with common sense principles, alongside a standardised economic evaluation in line with Green Book recommendations.[1]

They are also seeking to bring in a consistent financial evaluation of installation and operational costs across the entire government estate.

Capturing Innovation and Learning

At both a site and organisational level, the MEP wants to better understand technical opportunities, barriers, themes, and patterns. Then be able to implement these learnings.

On a broader level, they want to provide portfolio-level insights for strategic decision making and delivery, with a specific focus on how to deliver in volume at scale.

Challenges for a ‘Whole Campus System’

Testing out this new approach provided challenges, summarised by Christine St John Cox, Head of MEP, who used building fabrics as an example of estate management that causes issues.

Firstly, it is hard to establish thermal properties of building fabrics at scale, with a high cost to implement and low rewards in terms of energy savings.

However, it is still an important part of targeting the heat regulation of a building. Alongside this is looking at the heat network, with consideration on what kind of heat solution the building has.

A heat network is made up of all pumps and pipes that run throughout a building, and when attempting to replace or renew these it is possible to run into planning restraints.

Another consideration now is the demand for electric vehicles. Powering these is going to require a lot of energy and therefore create a lot of heat. It is essential to factor in the additional capacity requirements this increase in demand will dictate.

To generate this extra power and maintain the additional heat pumps means looking at renewable energy sources. Some solutions would be to look at wind power which might offer a better financial package for a site but could struggle to meet capacity.

However, having the option of wind alongside other power generators to cope with the daily, weekly, and seasonal variations in demand can help support the systems in place.

What this example highlights is the vast, and growing, an array of considerations that need to be taken into account when looking at decarbonising just one site.

Learnings and Recommendations

Taking the learnings from one site and applying them across the portfolio will be vital in creating a comprehensive and cohesive strategy across the public sector estate.

Across a test sample of 42 sites the MEP found that decarbonising is a difficult, time consuming, and expensive project.

With 2032 fast approaching, they recommend implementing a strategy that covers:

  • Technical solutions
  • Capability and capacity
  • Procurement and delivery
  • Commitment and decision making

These points need to be constantly tied to a realistic understanding of how long it will take to deliver a project, as well as how much it is going to cost.

To help develop and execute a plan, the MEP said it is vital everyone on the project has Carbon Fluency, meaning a fully comprehensive knowledge about the business of carbon and decarbonisation.

In terms of funding, the MEP proposes that maintenance upgrades are synchronized with decarbonisation efforts. They also recommend sustainability budgets need to be larger or used more efficiently.

Other funding streams need to be unlocked, and the metrics that influence funding decisions need to be changed.

As part of their continued effort to help the colossal decarbonisation project, the MEP has produced three key areas of outputs they will focus on:

  • Guidance tool templates
  • Data and benchmark repositories
  • Intelligent insights

These areas will help implement processes, provide tools and resources, as well as establish cost and energy benchmarks.

With their ‘intelligent insights’ the MEP hope to offer a ‘how-to’ approach, give an over-arching strategy, and continue to improve on this approach over time.

[1] Burrows, Stuart & St John Cox, Christine. 2021. Office of Government Property & Modern Energy Partners. How is the public sector going to meet net zero?

[2] 2021. The UK is halfway to meeting its net zero emissions target.

[3] Office for National Statistics. 2021. Net zero and the different official measures of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions

[4] 2018. 25 Year Environment Plan

[5] 2021. Carbon Budgets

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Tackling zero carbon and the maintenance issues together will yield financial benefits as well as helping achieve net-zero by 2050. In this article we’ll be looking at how the Government Property Function (GPF) and Modern Energy Partners (MEP) have been working together to achieve net zero.

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