University of Surrey and SSE to create new onsite solar facility

The University of Surrey has chosen SSE Energy Solutions to oversee the development of a new solar facility that will boost energy procured from green sources to 20%, assisting toward the University's net-zero target.

University of Surrey and SSE to create new onsite solar facility

The onsite facility will build toward the University’s target to reach net-zero emissions by 2030

SSE will design, build, operate, and maintain the new solar facility for the University. While details as to the size of the project are yet to be unveiled, the University believes it will boost onsite renewable generation from 0.1% currently to 20% of total annual demand.

The partnership will also see both parties work on solutions for decarbonising heat and a research initiative to create new PhD studentship opportunities for onsite demonstration projects.

The University has made an application to the UK Government’s Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme for funding to support the plan.

The onsite facility will build toward the University’s target to reach net-zero emissions by 2030, which was announced in January 2020.

The University of Surrey’s president and vice-chancellor Professor Max Lu said: “This partnership is a landmark moment for the University of Surrey as it underpins our ambition to achieve our net-zero carbon target by 2030 and affirms our commitment to being one of the most sustainable universities in the sector.

“This exciting partnership with SSE Energy Solutions, together with our other initiatives in sustainability, enables us to make ever greater contributions to our already strong performance against the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.  This performance contributes to our proud 61st position in the Times Higher Education’s global Impact Ranking 2021.”

Higher targets

Analysis of the sustainability at 154 of the UK’s universities has found that 54% are not on track to meet the near-term climate target set for the higher education sector, but that several are leading on climate action.

The People and Planet University League, published its assessment in December on the steps universities are taking to reduce their environmental impact, promote sustainable development and protect workers’ rights.

According to People and Planet, 46% of UK universities are on track to meet the sector-wide emissions reduction target set by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), up from around one-third in 2019. The target was originally deadlined at 2020 but the deadline was pushed to 2022 due to Covid-19. It entails reducing operational emissions by 30% against a 2018 baseline.

This leaves more than half (54%) of universities off-track. People and Planet believes the proportion may actually be greater, as some locations will have seen significant reductions in emissions due to a lack of activity on campus during Covid-19. Moreover, HESA’s next carbon targets are likely to be more ambitious. The organisation has stated that universities should strive to halve emissions by 2030, in contribution to the national net-zero transition.

The league also raises concerns about whether Universities are going beyond fossil fuel divestment pledges to deliver truly sustainable investment policies and action. The average score for the ‘Ethical Investment and Banking’ category was just 31%. More than half of the universities are yet to set policy exclusions for fossil fuel firms and 90% are not prioritising investment in renewable energy at this stage.

Matt Mace

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