Zero Carbon Schools Logo

If you want to lead your school responsibly and affordably towards being zero-carbon but you’re not sure what that entails; or you’ve already started and want to find out the latest key nuggets, read on….

Welcome to Zero-Carbon Schools. The whole country needs to decarbonise but schools face some particular challenges and for that reason we thought it would be helpful to have a part of ReEnergise that is focused exclusively on schools. The remainder of the ReEnergise website is still relevant, but if you are working in a school it’s best to start here.

The focus here is on how to reduce your carbon footprint – ultimately down to zero. There are many other things a school could do in the name of sustainability and we would not want to downplay any of them, but our specialisation is carbon reduction.

Our Services for Schools Setting Out to Become Zero-Carbon

Strategy & Planning:

  • Site-specific energy strategy to cover all aspects of energy usage on the school estate, including how to become zero-carbon in due course.

Measuring & surveying:

  • Energy usage monitoring and management (to reduce usage).
  • Determining carbon footprint, both direct and indirect (on site; off site: Scope 1, 2, 3).
  • Energy usage and carbon generation benchmarking against similar schools.
  • Energy efficiency survey.

Implementation Projects:

  • Energy efficiency projects to reduce energy usage, e.g. LEDs.
  • Conversion of fossil fuel systems to low-carbon alternatives, e.g. heat pumps.
  • Introduction of electric vehicles (EV) & EV support infrastructure.
  • Improved systems integration to achieve best value for money (power, heat, transport).
  • Project definition & risk reduction, tender management, scrutiny of 3rd party offers & comparative value analysis, installer selection, contract drafting, project management, witness commissioning of new systems.

Project Finance:

  • Advice on and provision of project financing.
  • Subsidy application and justification.

Management & Housekeeping:

  • Energy tax reduction.
  • Advice on procurement of energy supplies (we aren’t brokers but can advise on value for money).

Why low-carbon heating merits your urgent attention…

STOP PRESS. The next 3 months are a key period for any school serious about becoming sustainable. If you’re on fossil fuels and you ever want to be truly sustainable you’ll have to convert to low-carbon heating. It’s very expensive – akin to doing a new-build in terms of finance. The highly valuable government subsidy called the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) will help cover the cost but there are two imminent deadlines:

  • By 31st March 2021 schools need to have completed system designs, secured planning permission, and secured RHI approval from Ofgem for any low-carbon heat projects and reserved your chunk of subsidy. (This is called RHI Tariff Guarantee 3 within the sector). After that date the RHI will be closed for new entrants and there is not going to be any support package from the government that is anything like as generous. You should allow 6 months for this work, which means starting this autumn at the latest.
  • By 31st March 2022 the projects need to be complete.
  • If you already have an RHI tariff guarantee in place you should continue to comply with the terms of that tariff guarantee. If you’re not sure, ask us.

The government is also now going to legislate to phase out the installation of fossil fuels on estates off the gas grid. In other words, if a school off the gas grid misses the RHI deadline it’s going to have to convert sooner or later anyway to an alternative system and it’s probably going to be a lot more expensive (accepting that none of us can accurately predict the future). For example, if you wanted to go down the heat pump route, which is the cleanest form of energy as it’s zero-carbon, it’s going to be much more expensive in net terms once the RHI has closed. Ditto biomass. If you have pinned your hopes on biofuels then that’s still going to be expensive, because this will still entail some level of conversion of your systems. We firmly believe that the RHI represents the best opportunity that schools are going to have for the foreseeable future to convert to zero or low-carbon heating affordably.

To demonstrate the value of the RHI, here are some recent examples from school projects already in progress, the point being that in each case the RHI is critical to the business case:

Technology Site Capital cost (inc. VAT) RHI Net Benefit (over 20 years)
Biomass Prep school estate £1.2M £855k £755k
Ground Source Heat Pump Prep main building £1M £1.3M £840k
Ground Source Heat Pump Two boarding houses £720k £500k £240k

What does becoming a zero-carbon school mean?

It’s probably open to interpretation but in our view it means this:

All school estates use energy for three functions: provision of power, heat and transport. Being zero-carbon means that the provision of power, heat and transport in the running of the school does not cause carbon emissions.

People also talk about being net zero-carbon, meaning that if there is some function for which the emissions cannot be reduced to zero then something else is done to offset that. But why admit defeat even before starting? Why not embrace the intent of getting all of the power, heat and transport under the control of the school to become zero-carbon?

Why Decarbonise?

Corporate Social Responsibility

It’s the excessive carbon in the atmosphere that is causing Climate Change; and it’s Climate Change that is going to make large swathes of the planet uninhabitable, unless we can get back on track with the global targets for reduction in carbon emissions that have been proposed by the UN Intergovernmental Committee on Climate Change (IPCC). Arguably this should be of particular concern in schools, because it will be the children in each school who grow up to face the brunt of the issue.

According to the published science, a child entering primary school now will face a very different world by the time they leave school at the age of 17 or 18. If you would like to read a snapshot of what that world might look like – based on the published science, try reading The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace Wells. He’s a journalist, not a scientist, and he’s good at putting into tangible nuggets what the science is predicting. He brings the issue to life very well. If we believe the science, we should be very concerned. If we’re not sure about the science, but think it might be right, that’s also reason enough to be very concerned.


The UK Government has already said it wants to rid the national infrastructure of fossil fuels. The Clean Growth Strategy issued by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in April 2018 noted the Government’s intent to ‘Phase out the installation of high carbon forms of fossil fuel heating in new and existing businesses off the gas grid during the 2020s, starting with new builds.’ The worst offending fossil fuels used for heating estates are coal and oil, but in subsequent statements the Government has also made it clear that it wants to wean us off all the fossil fuels, including mains gas. Increasingly we can expect to see legislation driving schools in that direction: but it’s challenging and not something to be left to the last minute, so we suggest schools should make a start now, if not already en route.

Saving Money

Competition between schools is intense. Logically, as public awareness of the climate crisis deepens, parents and children will start wanting to know what each school is doing to decarbonise. If it is not already, a school’s carbon status and intent will soon become a marketing issue.


Some of the work required to become a zero-carbon school is expensive. Mindful of that the UK Government does offer significant financial incentives for certain types of project, which makes them affordable. However, schools can do a lot to reduce energy usage without spending much money. For example, it costs time and effort, but not necessarily much money, to run a campaign to get staff and students to become more energy-aware and stop being wasteful. In the end that will save money.

What needs to be done in practice to
achieve zero-carbon status?

You are more likely to achieve zero-carbon status affordably and without undue hassle in your school if you are aware of what needs to be done, aware of what support is available outside the school – practical and financial; and you have a plan which is known and understood throughout the school. If you would like a hand with drafting that plan, we can help.

It need not be a minefield. Put simply, a school’s encounter with energy falls into three processes: you buy it; you use it; you generate it. You will need to focus on doing each of those to optimum effect.

We see it as a Venn diagram, because they overlap and need to be properly coordinated within the school.

Venn Diagram to achieve Zero Carbon Status
  • Buy grid energy which is 100% renewably sourced whenever possible. A good broker can arrange this for the school at no extra cost compared to buying energy derived from fossil fuels. Some brokers will tell you it cannot be done at no extra cost. If you encounter this, call us and we’ll steer you towards brokers who can get it at no extra cost.
  • Check for all the available tax breaks, e.g. correct VAT rates on supply and installations. We can advise on this. It has been our experience in the past few years that school accounts departments often do not know all the nuances of VAT relating to energy.
  • Make the energy infrastructure on the estate as efficient as possible. An energy efficiency survey will identify solutions, including quick wins, and be helpful for budget planning.
  • Concurrently run a campaign to encourage energy efficient behaviour on the estate: the cheapest, cleanest energy is energy not used.

The options below – properly implemented – will save money, reduce your carbon footprint, and increase the resilience of your estate. 


  • Install solar PV on any sites with high power consumption.
  • Any significant source of flowing water on your estate could be used to generate power.
  • Schools on mains gas. Ideally you should be converting your plantrooms to a zero-carbon alternative. However, if you choose not to do that then you could install Combined Heat & Power (CHP) units in buildings with a high continuous heat load. These systems burn gas to generate power, but also harvest the heat generated. Each £2 of gas in = roughly £1 of heat and £3 of power out.


  • Convert as much of the estate as you reasonably can from fossil fuel to a zero-carbon alternative before 31st March 2021 (when the Government subsidy regime closes for new entrants). For any schools still on oil this is the biggest money-saver available: you will save an awful lot of money if you can get it done before that deadline. If you’re on mains gas and you want to be zero-carbon then the subsidy will enable you to get your heating converted affordably.
  • Install heat pumps in all new builds and refurbishments. Consider this at the design stage. Please do not install fossil fuel systems in new builds: it’s a wasted opportunity. Even if it means the building project costs more, it will be worth it in the longer term. What is the point in putting up a smart new build which is on the wrong side of history from the moment it’s opened?
  • Any significant source of water on the estate could be used to generate heat. It does not need to be fast-flowing.
  • If you have spare land which cannot be used for sports or new builds, find out about ‘Grid-balancing’ to generate revenue streams.


  • Put EVs on your radar for attention in 2020, including charging points. Ultimately you will need your school transport to be EVs but achieving this is not as urgent as sorting out the heat. Watch out for our Zero-Carbon Power Package, which will be available during 2020.

How to find the capital for projects

These programmes could all be financed via any one of these options, or a combination:

Method Capital required Risk stays with school? Interest burden?
Self-finance Yes Yes Nil, but there is the opportunity cost.
Bank loans No Yes Possibly relatively low.
Lease-financing No Yes Middle ranking
Grant funding Some Yes Nil
Energy purchase agreements No No – risk stays with provider Higher, because of duration of agreement

N.B. There are still very generous subsidies available from the UK Government to support the transition off fossil fuels for heating. Some local authorities will also offer grants for a wide range of zero-carbon projects: the scale of grant will usually only be enough to part-fund a project, but it’s always worth checking.

Want to know more?

If you think you might like to pursue any of these ideas; or you would like an assessment of your estate in more detail, contact us. We do the initial assessment of school estates for free.

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