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Lancaster University leaps closer to Net Zero with two major renewable projects

Thousands of solar panels and an array of heat pumps – which between them will virtually eliminate the use of gas to heat Lancaster’s Bailrigg campus – have both taken a major step closer to reality.

Lancaster University is investing a further £57million to decarbonize its campus.

The University announced the appointment of a local contractor Vital Energi at a ‘groundbreaking’ event held today at the site of the new solar farm, marking the start of the first of two innovative projects that will strengthen Lancaster’s position as a global leader in sustainability. 

Lancaster University’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Andy Schofield, led the event which brought together members of the University community including the project team, researchers, the contractor and suppliers. Between them, the two projects take the University significantly closer towards achieving ‘net zero’ carbon emissions from electricity and heating by 2030. 

Vital Energi, located in Blackburn, Lancashire, are industry leaders in low carbon energy solutions, and will deliver both of these significant capital projects.

A new £17m ‘solar PV farm’, funded by the University, will consist of more than 17,000 photovoltaic (PV) cell panels, constructed on the University’s land to the east of the M6. The 11.5MW, 52-acre solar farm will generate enough energy to supply the annual demand of approximately 2,800 houses each year.

The project also includes a comprehensive landscaping scheme which will enhance the hedgerows and woodland in the area, protecting views for local walkers and creating an environment that will support wildlife and increase biodiversity. Construction of the solar farm will begin in late spring/early summer 2024. 

The new solar farm will also house a bespoke research facility enabling research and teaching across disciplines from plant science, to control system engineering. The solar farm will encompass a 50kW agrivoltaics demonstrator enabling the production of crops and electricity from the same land area. It is believed to be the first field demonstrator in the UK and will comprise an area of tracking photovoltaic arrays and an area of vertical panels.

Following the award of more than £21m of funding from the Government’s Green Heat Network Fund (GHNF), Lancaster University will begin construction of a new ‘Low Carbon Energy Centre’ in Autumn 2024. The GHNF funding will be matched by the University to develop a new £40 million facility on Bailrigg campus, which will virtually eliminate the use of gas to heat it.

The energy centre will use state-of-the-art heat pump technology to generate a projected 39-Gigawatt hours (GWh) of low carbon heat, enough to heat 95 per cent of the buildings on campus.

Lancaster University has also been awarded £560,387 for the Lancaster Campus District Heat Network from the Heat Network Efficiency Scheme (HNES). Funding will go towards upgrading infrastructure across the network and allow it to be “Heat Pump Ready”. The project therefore includes the installation of more efficient pumps and meters, improving the central building management system, enhancing insulation throughout the network.

HNES funding will be crucial in achieving the University’s pledge to reach net-zero carbon emissions from electricity and heating by 2030. 

Professor Simon Guy, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Global (Digital, International, Sustainability), said: “Lancaster University has a proud track record of delivering carbon-saving changes for the benefit of our community and planet. Our wind turbine already provides approximately 14 per cent of our campus electricity and to date has donated £200,000 to sustainable projects in the local community.

‘’This year marks the start of a significant new investment which will bring us even closer to our Net Zero target.”

Director of Estates, Facilities and Commercial Services at Lancaster University, David Hounslea, said: “These significant investments underpin Lancaster University’s commitment to reducing energy related carbon emissions from electricity and heating to net zero by 2030 and aim to be net zero from all other emissions by 2035. 

‘’The University is currently ranked 24th for sustainability in the 2023 QS World University Ranking and 5th in the UK, and these £57m projects will help to further decarbonize its campus and help towards achieving a Net Zero future.  

“Lancaster University is proud to be working with local renewable energy company, Vital Energi, and moving forward with firm actions and investment to deliver these ground-breaking low carbon projects.” 

Mike Cooke, Managing Director of Vital Energi, added: “We’re delighted to mark the beginning of our partnership with Lancaster University for the delivery of these projects, that will contribute towards the University’s journey to achieving net zero.

‘’The solar farm, energy centre and district heating projects will show how collaborative partnerships can deliver innovative and sustainable solutions. We look forward to working with Lancaster University who are demonstrably committed to protecting our planet.”

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