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Decarbonisation and retrofitting

Helping towns and cities to address the climate change emergency

By bringing everything under one umbrella, our decarbonisation service helps customers to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, lower their energy costs and meet their zero-carbon ambitions.

Many local authorities have declared a climate change emergency, and organisations across all sectors are developing ambitious action plans to reduce their carbon emissions to net zero. But the clock is ticking, as last year’s COP26 climate change summit demonstrated.

The built environment contributes up to 25 percent of the UK’s carbon footprint, making efficient management and decarbonisation of property portfolios essential in the transition to net zero by 2050. It is estimated that 80 percent of buildings in 2050 have already been built, so decarbonising existing assets needs to happen quickly. When doing so, it's important to review the scale of change - doing fewer large-scale projects is more cost and time effective than doing multiple incremental improvements.

This complex area requires specialist skillsets, and Willmott Dixon is harnessing its experience and track record to help customers to navigate a whole-building approach covering fabric, heating and cooling systems in addition to renewable energy. This, in turn, will lead to higher asset values and lower energy costs at a time when, to take one example, it is estimated that bills across the NHS estate could pass £1 billion in 2022.

We're helping customers across all industries, building types and solution types to decarbonise their existing buildings, through our Decarbonise Today service. Here are some examples of what we're doing, including:

Increasing energy efficiency at Queens Medical Centre (QMC) in Nottingham

Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust successfully received a grant from Phase 3 of the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme (PSDS) totalling nearly £71m. They are using this money across two hospitals in Nottingham.

We're on site at QMC helping to help make the estate more energy efficient in line with the Trust's goal of reducing carbon emissions by 45% by 2030.

QMC, which was built in 1977, currently has its original windows still in place. One of the most important parts of decarbonisation is making sure a building's fabric is improved to make it as efficient and airtight as possible. As you'd expect, windows of this age are near end-of-life and highly inefficient.

We are replacing 18,000m2 of windows with higher thermal performance double-glazed units to help make the buildings significantly more airtight, and therefore more energy efficient. The frames of the windows are also made from 80% recycled aluminium, helping to reduce the embodied carbon.

The most complicated part of this project lies in the fact that the hospital will remain fully operational while we complete the works. This means we are working in a very specific sequence so that areas of the hospital can close down for a short period of time, allowing us to safely install the new windows.

Communication and collaboration with the hospital is playing a critical role in ensuring planned works stay on track and disruption to patients and staff is minimal. After completing work on the South block, we will follow this up with work on the East and West blocks.

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Retrofitting leisure centres to reduce carbon emissions by 56% for Oxford City Council

Our work for Oxford City Council has resulted in a huge 56% reduction in CO2 across four leisure centres.

Oxford is aiming to be a net-zero carbon city by 2040 or earlier, with the council aiming to be net-zero in their own estate and operations by 2030. Leisure facilities made up around 40% of the operational carbon emissions from Oxford City Council's owned buildings. This made decarbonising these centres a priority for the council.

To make these huge carbon reductions, we have replaced the gas boilers at four leisure centres with air and water source heat pumps. At one of the centres, we were able to make use of a nearby lake to help heat the pool, resulting in an annual reduction in gas consumption of approximately 80%.

Overall, this decarbonisation project has cut the council's operational carbon emissions by around a fifth.

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Reducing carbon through a back-to-the-frame transformation at 10 Brindleyplace

10 Brindleyplace sits in the heart of Birmingham city centre. This back-to-the-frame refurbishment has taken two outdated office spaces (8 and 10 Brindleyplace), and combined them into one of Birmingham’s largest office floorplates at around 27,000 sq ft. The 210,000 sq ft of Grade A office space has been transformed, making the space more energy efficient and fit-for-purpose.

The decision to complete a back-to-the-frame refurbishment route rather than demolishing and rebuilding has resulted in a huge saving in embodied carbon - around 60% according to a projected 60-year building life cycle assessment.

The operational carbon has also seen a reduction - in fact, figures suggest the new office space will require 65% less energy than other offices of this size. To achieve this, we used a number of approaches, including:

  • Taking a fabric-first approach to increase energy efficiency and reduce heating and cooling demands - this included things like ensuring high levels of thermal insulation and air tightness
  • Utilising a brick slip system to transform the external façade, not only does this make the building more visually appealing, it also increases insulation
  • Incorporating smart meters that help to provide real-time energy management by feeding data into a digital twin
  • Making use of natural solutions, such as a green roof, which will help to keep the building cooler in Summer and warmer in Winter
  • Replacing the need for gas or fossil fuels with all-electric heating, cooling and hot water systems
  • A solar PV array on the roof also helps to provide green energy

Other accreditations the building has achieved include an 'A' EPC rating, WiredScore Platinum and it's aiming to achieve BREEAM 'Excellent'.

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Saving an estimated 105,000kWh per annum for Somerset County Council

We completed a programme of work for Somerset County Council to decarbonise two of their buildings and deliver measurable carbon and energy savings. Across the two buildings, the initiatives that we delivered are saving an estimated 105,000kWh per annum.

At Somerset County Hall, we delivered an estate-wide programme of initiatives. This included replacing the windows, enhancing the roof insulation, adding new cladding, installing Air Source Heat Pumps, and installing an array of solar PVs.

At Somerset County Library, we installed new LED lighting and used the existing distribution system to upgrade the air handling units. As the buildings remained fully operational during the works, this minimally invasive approach helped to reduce disruption.

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Helping University of Warwick to plan a net-zero estate

We have played an instrumental role in helping University of Warwick in its estate planning. The IBRB development and Sports Hub were flagship projects, aiming to kick off the institution’s net-zero carbon journey.

The outcome of our work on these projects has been the creation of a Carbon Policy and Carbon Handbook - both of which will inform the university's net-zero strategy for both existing and new buildings.

To achieve this, the work we completed around the reduction of greenhouse gases and carbon was significant. Although the university was already proactive and had targets against carbon in place, the build process for IBRB enabled us to share our expertise on reducing carbon - particularly around embodied carbon.

We utilised a two-strand approach to the IBRB project. Initially, we completed an extensive research project to reduce the embodied carbon relating to our work on the building.

During the design stage of IBRB, we worked to retrospectively baseline the embodied carbon of the building. By reviewing all raw materials used in this project, how they would be processed to make them into the final product, transportation emissions, and emissions from our on site operations, we were able to understand the embodied carbon output for the whole life of the building. We even took into account any possible dismantling of this building and the impact of materials that would have to be taken to landfill.

Once the building was operational, we then used our innovative Energy Synergy™ service to review and reduce the operational carbon. We also used this tool at University of Warwick's Sports Hub, which enabled us to identify £40,000 of energy savings per annum. In today's inflated prices, these savings would equate to around £104,000 a year. These learnings around operational carbon have also been incorporated into the university's Carbon Policy and Carbon Handbook.

As a result of this extensive work, the university's new Carbon Policy and Carbon Handbook will act as a baseline across all of its future projects to show the best practice processes for carbon reduction.

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