Net-zero cities: Nottingham’s mission to be carbon-neutral by 2028

edie's new mini-series exploring how local authorities are collaborating with businesses to actuate community-centred sustainability schemes on the road to net-zero emissions continues, this time with a look at how Nottingham plans to become the UK's first carbon-neutral city by 2028.

Net-zero cities: Nottingham’s mission to be carbon-neutral by 2028

The council’s declaration noted that “taking immediate action will help to protect Nottingham people from the consequences of irreversible climate change"

Councils have been at the forefront of the UK’s fight against climate change; often the first bodies to announce ambitious environmental targets in an effort to encourage businesses and central government to follow suit. Indeed, local authorities were the first to declare individual ‘climate emergencies’ before the Conservative Government and devolved assemblies made the move.

Much like Bristol City Council – the first council interviewed in this mini-series – Nottingham City Council has made a public declaration on the climate emergency and responded in January 2019 with a new carbon-neutral target.

The Council’s target came in response to the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2018 Special Report and “heeds the call for urgent action within the next 12 years to avoid a climate crisis”.  The council’s declaration noted that “taking immediate action will help to protect Nottingham people from the consequences of irreversible climate change that would result in flooding, drought, heatwaves and other extreme weather events”, according to Cllr. Sally Longford, energy & environment portfolio holder.

What followed was the creation of a strategy that aims to transform Nottingham into a carbon-neutral city by 2028, the earliest date set by a city to date. While extremely ambitious, the city has recorded emissions reductions of 41% since 2005, easing past its 2020 target of 26%. Nottingham is also on track to surpass a 2020 target of procuring 20% of its energy generation from low-carbon sources and will be refreshing this strategy next year.

Sphere of influence

Speaking to edie, the City Council’s head of energy services Wayne Bexton knows that the council must use its expertise to transition its own operations to net-zero emissions by 2028, in order to encourage the wider business community within the city that the ambitious decarbonisation targets can be met.

“We see our position as leading the charge towards carbon neutrality by 2028 and achieving that status as a council gives us more opportunities to create new partnerships across the city,” Bexton tells edie. “We’ve had sign up already from both universities to help meet the wider target, and a number of key businesses are really gathering around this movement.

“As this is a city-wide target and not just for the council, it is really important to get the net-zero mindset across the entire city.”

In a bid to structure and communicate the ambition to the rest of the city, the council has launched a “carbon-neutral charter”, which Bexton describes as a “strategic overview” of the goal. On 13 January 2020, the Council will launch a draft action plan of how the city can meet its target, with progress set to be reviewed quarterly. The Council is also using the SCATTER cities tool, which was specifically created to enable local authorities to report on greenhouse gas emissions and align to international frameworks, including the Paris Agreement.

Bexton and the council are also working directly with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Energy Systems Catapult to align its projects with areas of decarbonisation that the Government is focusing on.

‘Legacy in transport’

One area the Government is keen to decarbonise across the entire country is transport, which is now the UK’s highest emitting sector.

Nottingham, however, has seen emissions from transport flatline despite population growth. While Nottingham does have the lowest ownership of cars for a city outside of London, shifts towards clean public transport and innovative commercial and domestic vehicle trials are seemingly paying off.

To decarbonise transport, Nottingham City Council has invested in a fleet of hydrogen and biogas buses, a £15m investment into one of the UK’s largest electric bus fleets and a cycle hire scheme and bike storage hubs. It has additionally switched its entire tram network to 100% renewable power and introduced a Workplace Parking Levy for residents driving their cars to work, with all funds raised through the charge being ring-fenced for public transport projects.

Nottingham City Council has also been an early adopter of electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure, including battery storage and bi-directional chargers, as part of an EU-funded vehicle-to-grid (V2G) project. The city was one of four European cities selected to pilot the €4.29m CleanMobilEnergy project. Additionally, the Council has purchased 40 new EVs to trial a V2G concept at its Eastcroft Depot site – a waste transfer facility – through an innovative energy management system. The project combines three main elements: solar panels at the Eastcroft Depot to generate electricity, a large battery to store energy until required, and a fleet of EVs for additional storage and operational purposes.

“The 41% decarbonisation rate is momentum we wanted to harness, and we’ve been ambitious on the target we’ve set ourselves but have a strong base to build upon,” Bexton adds. “Transport is one area we’ve built a bit of a legacy on and having in-house capabilities built in over the last four years has helped us as a council with project delivery on the energy front. This has helped emissions from transport remain static, which is a positive when you look at increased populations across the city.”

However, out of the 108,000 vehicles registered in Nottingham, there are only 458 ULEVs, less than 0.5% of the total, according to the charter.

Heating buildings

Despite Nottingham’s strong decarbonisation rates to date, the city emitted 1.17 million tonnes of CO2 in 2017.

Again, the charter notes that Nottingham “will place a greater emphasis on reducing emissions as quickly as possible to increase the chance of staying within our carbon budget and meeting the 2028 carbon-neutral ambition”. To do this, the charter claims the emissions reductions need to be in excess of 22% annually, with CO2 reductions of 12.5% annually from 2020 onwards. This would require a reduction of 135,000 tonnes of CO2 in 2020, equivalent to half of the residential building direct CO2 emissions.

In fact, the built environment, especially the existing building stock, is one of “the key challenges” that the city faces, according to Bexton. There are 135,000 homes in Nottingham, many of which were built pre-1980 and almost 60% fall below the EPC rating of C – the national target for homes to reach, at minimum, by 2030. The council also estimated that around 9,400 new homes will be built by 2028. On the non-domestic front, almost 70% of the 8,480 commercial buildings in the city are below EPC C and 47% are heated by natural gas.

In response, the council has rolled out the one of the largest district heat network in the country at 85km to the benefit of 5,000 domestic properties and around 150 commercial properties, including those operated by Coca-Cola and Jurys Inn.

Expansion of the network is a “top priority” for Bexton, and a pilot has been agreed with the Coal Authority to service and heat 30 homes using water from redundant mine workings.

Elsewhere, the local authority has retrofitted 400 council properties with energy efficiency technologies and subsidised the installation of solar panels at 4,500 domestic properties – both schemes it will scale up as it strives to achieve carbon neutrality.

The city is also home to the UK’s first Energiesprong homes – an innovative approach to housing refurbishment that delivers net-zero energy performance to existing houses. There are 20 Energiesprong homes in the city so far and the council has secured funding for an additional 260 retrofits.

The N2EG (Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Energy Grants), an ERDF funded programme, also provides energy audits and related efficiency grants to local businesses in the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire area. Since its creation in 2018, the programme has audited 93 businesses, 31 of which have applied for energy efficiency grants, and 29 grants awarded. In the past 12 months, 25 grants have been awarded to support the implementation of recommendations and savings of 300 tCO2e.

Looking ahead, Bexton notes the importance of enabling national policy that provides incentives for councils and businesses to act. This is especially important for Nottingham due to its connections to other regions and councils through existing collaborative partnerships.

The city agreed in 2015 to act as a test-bed for smart city technologies for the EU – a move which has spurred it to use innovative technologies like district heating and ‘smart’ trams to tackle sustainability issues concerning transport, energy and ICT.  Once this £5m pilot project comes to an end in 2020, the EU will analyse the city’s progress before determining which of its energy and transport measures could be replicated across the bloc.

More locally, the council has been instructed by BEIS to lead on energy efficiency across a wider “Midlands engine”.

“We’ve got links into the wider Midlands engine as well which has enabled some of our thinking and work to progress, Bexton adds. “We have a devolution deal with BEIS to lead for the wider region. We have responsibility for nine local enterprise areas across the region, initially funded for two years from BEIS and we’re aiming to upscale to benefit the whole region and use the learnings in Nottingham to pass out to the wider region. It’s helping us with a leadership position and the region has developed a symbiotic relationship.”

“As ever it’s the solid foundations from the national government that we need and if we can drive change with financial support and subsidies in the right area, that’s going to be critical.”

Matt Mace

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