Gloucestershire College puts its money where its mouth is as it invests £5 million in carbon zero

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Gloucestershire College (GC) is investing almost £5 million in a ground-breaking project at its Cheltenham and Gloucester campuses to combat climate change.

GC Zero supports GC’s pledge to become carbon zero by 2030 – 20 years ahead of the UK Government’s commitment to 2050.

The £4.8 million energy retrofit at the college’s Cheltenham and Gloucester campuses is possible thanks to a £2.8 million grant secured through the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme, via Salix, and a strong partnership with Hillside Environmental Services, a specialist group of sustainability and environmental management experts.

The investment is the first of its kind for a UK college, according to GC Principal, Matthew Burgess.

Once the heat pumps are installed, solar panels will enable the College to generate its own renewable energy, followed by battery storage and smart energy controls – for energy optimisation – as well as improvements to GC’s transport links, resources and curriculum.

At the college’s Cheltenham campus, MP Alex Chalk and Matthew Burgess, started the drill rig to break ground at campus. At the Gloucester campus, it was Will Abbott, Partner at Randall & Payne and Director White Horse Training Ltd who performed the honours. The College’s new group of T Level construction students joined both ceremonies to learn more about GC Zero and how sustainability can improve business facilities.

Alex Chalk said: “Decisive action to drive down carbon emissions is essential if we are to curb global warming and meet our legal targets. I congratulate Gloucestershire College on the focus they have given to this priority, and I am delighted that the Government has contributed £2.8m to support this important ground source heat pump project.”

The launch of drilling at the college’s Gloucester campus got underway the following week.

Jenny Watkins, Chief of Staff to Richard Graham MP, who spoke on his behalf at the Gloucester launch, said: “Local actions like these and the work here at Gloucestershire College are intrinsic to our national goals too. Projects just like this feed into the Prime Minister’s 10 Point Plan to accelerate the UK’s ambitions to achieve net zero by 2050.

“There are masses of green projects occurring across the county. In Gloucester, we are building the UK’s first Green Energy and Eco Park at the former landfill site, which will have solar, wind and we hope, hydrogen. GC’s move toward a carbon neutral college is more than just about buildings and as we look forward, and we hope that we can move toward greener public transport, perhaps fuelled by hydrogen produced in Gloucester, which could well be bringing pupils to college in just a few years.”

Laura Bishop, Chartered Mechanical Engineer at Infinitas Design who has been working with Hillside on the project said: “Hillside have been working with the College to look at all the different aspects of decarbonisation including catering and transport. But the big one, to reduce as much carbon as you can, is the way you generate power and the way you generate and consume heat. So that has been the main focus of the project.”

By December 2021, this complex piece of machinery will deliver the first milestone for the College: drilling 40 boreholes – each 200m deep – to install heat pumps that will harness natural heat from the earth and provide a source of renewable energy for the Cheltenham campus thus minimising its dependency on combustion-based fossil fuels.

Matthew Burgess, GC Principal and CEO, said: “We are the first college to take on a scheme of this size and ambition and we are very grateful to our governors for backing us, as well as our partners from Hillside Environmental Services, all the contractors involved and, of course, our staff for fully embracing the initiative.” (editor: apparently it’s going get a bit noisy for the poor staff with the huge boring drill outside the college …. added to the fact that there will be fewer parking spaces… but as they say, no pain, no gain).

Russel Burton, Founder of Hillside Environmental Services added: “Colleges hold a unique and powerful platform in their communities. Our experience suggests that students, staff, employers and business partners are all looking for help and support to understand what can be done to combat climate change. The project that Gloucestershire College has embarked upon today is a deep and meaningful move away from fossil fuels and a beacon for its communities to follow in addressing the climate emergency.”

Once the ground source heat pumps are installed, the next steps are to install solar panels at both campuses to enable the College to generate its own renewable energy, followed by battery storage and smart energy controls, as well as improvements to GC’s transport links, resources and curriculum.

The GC Zero project will be running simultaneously at Cheltenham and Gloucester campuses and building works are due to complete by spring 2022.