Summary of the launch event, and where to go from here
On Thursday 21st May we launched the Carbon Neutral University Network - our idea for a community that promotes stronger carbon emissions targets for the University of Sheffield. We spent an hour hearing from 4 passionate speakers from within the University, talking about climate change, the impacts, challenges, and potential solutions, as we look for a more hopeful future.
Dr Julie Jones (Geography) told us about the latest climate science, and showed us how to interpret it.
Professor Colin Osborne (Animal and Plant Sciences) showed us the impacts that climate change is already having, and that the worst is very much still to come. Colin tied in Sheffield's industrial past with the need for developed nations to lead the way in carbon cuts.
Dr Matt Watson (Geography) explained some of the challenges to going carbon neutral, the first and foremost being how to define carbon neutrality.
Professor Martin Mayfield (Civil and Structural Engineering) gave us a brief encounter with many of the existing solutions, some inspiration and some ideas.
We also discussed the feasibility of a University wind farm, as an initial proposal to improve on the current strategy, and the beginning of something bigger. A project of 35MW capacity could offset 70% of the University’s campus emissions, and earn £35 million over 25 years. However, many questions remain, regarding where to site such a project, and whether this quick and easy solution is really as productive as developing a wider, stronger strategy.
Finally, we split into several smaller groups to discuss different aspects of the challenge ahead. In the end, 6 groups were formed and discussed topics including the University management structure, solar power, biomass and heating, wind power, buildings and energy efficiency, and engaging people. These groups then gave some short feedback, and the remaining attendees moved over to Interval for continued informal discussion (and food!).
We estimate that at least 50 people came to the event, with the most high-profile participants being Pro-Vice Chancellor Tony Ryan, the University Energy Manager Phil Riley, and the Green Impact coordinator Jess Naylor. We also had Rob Howell, of windnet, Camilla and Chris from Sheffield People & Planet, and Nick Nuttgens from Nutgreen, all helping to facilitate the discussion groups. We saw representation from University staff, students, the Students' Union, and other stakeholders outside the University, including Sheffield Green Party.
We're very thankful to everyone who participated and helped make the event successful. We have already had around 70 people sign up to keep informed.
Our group discussions proved to be informative for everyone taking part, and we shared a great deal of knowledge. Here are a few snippets:
- Energy storage is becoming an important hurdle
- Anti-colonialism means we don’t just want to use a wind farm in Scotland - solar PV allows us to own and manage generation closer to home
- Larger turbines produce more power overall
- Small turbines on buildings aren't very useful
- Large turbines have a larger visual impact
- NIMBYism still a major problem
- Approximately 50:50 split in heating supply (Gas vs Veolia district heating)
- Gas powered heating brings the largest carbon emissions, so should be first target
- But most gas-heating is located at the student residences, which are technically owned by a private company so could be tricky to replace
- A gas+biomass powered CHP (combined heat and power) plant is to be built below the Arts Tower (£17m, awaiting planning permission)
- Primary reasoning is for security of supply, replacing the Veolia supply
- Pollution, visual impacts & increased traffic are all concerns for biomass boilers
- With gas prices falling, this sector will be a real challenge to justify economically
- Thinking about who we’re targeting, and what behaviours must change
- Are small, widespread changes more useful and achievable than larger, impactful changes?
- Some people are motivated by competition, others by teamwork, some by positive messages, others by fear
- Avoid isolating anyone who doesn’t immediately engage - they need to feel part of the crowd
- An individual carbon-monitoring app would be appealing
- Departmental organisation works well, and can form the basis of competitions
- Frustration about changes that can’t be made or asserted from lower positions
- Great need for leadership at the very top, giving a clear message and exciting the whole community
- The University Council is the highest level board which should prioritise carbon neutral targets
- The VC would be an appropriate figurehead to show leadership
- Proposals for capital expenditure (e.g. for a wind farm) would go through the “Estates and Capital Subgroup” of the UEB.
- Estates and Facilities Management are directed by the UEB, which takes orders from the Council.
After a successful launch event, we’re keen to maintain momentum and keep people engaged. We’ll be organising a follow-up meeting around 15th June (just after undergraduate exam season), and hope that many interested parties will attend to discuss our options.
We hope the network can work passionately on a number of tasks, including researching ideas and proposals (e.g. wind power, solar power etc), building and expanding the community, and lobbying the University. At the follow-up meeting we hope to co-opt group leaders for each of these tasks.
In the mean time we’ll be contacting those who have specifically shown an interest in coordinating the network, as we also intend to elect volunteers to an executive board. Such a board might have the leaders from each working group, along with positions such as chair, secretary, communications officer, etc, which we hope will be elected at the follow-up meeting.
In the long term, we intend to secure funding for one or more employees to help progress the project and ensure all volunteer effort is pro-actively documented, collated and supported.
We hope you’ll support the project. Please sign up using the link on the left.