Vale 21stC Schools Logo with Strap (Transparent)

21st Century Schools Decarbonisation   

As part of the programme to build new schools, the 21st Century Schools team and construction contractors will work towards decarbonising our new schools.


Why is reducing the carbon impact of our new schools important?

On 29 July 2019, the Vale of Glamorgan Council declared a ‘climate emergency’ and committed to reducing its carbon emissions to net-zero before by 2030, supporting the implementation of the Welsh Government’s new Low Carbon Delivery Plan. This also supports Welsh Government’s commitment to the target of achieving a net-zero carbon public sector in Wales by 2030.

Our schools use a large amount of energy in their day-to-day operation. Schools are large buildings with many energy demands; including heating, teaching equipment and lighting. Much of this energy comes from fossil fuels which contributes towards climate change. So, we need to do our part to reduce the overall energy required in our new schools, for instance by considering heat loss/gain in building orientation, and ensure the energy comes from renewable sources. This is known as low or net-zero carbon “in-use” or operational carbon.
Moving forward it will also be important to reduce the embodied carbon which is impacted by our choices of materials, transport and construction techniques. As buildings become more energy efficient, the embodied carbon will make up a more significant part of the building’s carbon usage over its lifespan. Therefore, it is important to consider switching to lower carbon materials; e.g. timber frame instead of steel frame.

To be fully net-zero carbon over the school buildings’ whole lifespan, we will need to consider everything including material production, transportation to site and construction, maintenance and end of life deconstruction. It is currently difficult to achieve whole life net-zero carbon due to gaps in monitoring and industry processes, but it is hoped this can be the aim of future school projects as the sector begins to develop better carbon accounting and innovative construction techniques.

By tackling the embodied, operational and end-of-life carbon in future projects, we will help to meet the public sector net-zero carbon target whilst delivering inspiring and sustainable school buildings.

How are we approaching zero carbon in our school buildings?

In response to the climate emergency, the Vale’s 21st Century Schools Team launched a project to explore how construction practices could be adapted to support the net-zero target as part of Band B of the 21st Century Schools Programme. ISG Ltd had been appointed to deliver new buildings for St David’s CIW Primary School and Llancarfan Primary School on the principles developed in the Vale’s standard model.

Read our net-zero carbon school project case study

St David’s CIW Primary School was designed to be low (in-use / operational) carbon through improved building fabric, maximising solar gain and installing photovoltaic (PV) panels and its only energy source is electric. Careful consideration has been taken to select materials that maximise the fabric first approach and be easy to construct and maintain. The internal environment is being developed to maximise natural day lighting and fresh air provision. These measures will optimise the building’s energy performance whilst providing a comfortable learning environment.

This model was further developed to deliver net-zero (in-use / operational) carbon school buildings for Llancarfan Primary School. To achieve this, the all-electric model was revised with additional renewables, battery storage and the installation of air-source heat pumps. Llancarfan Primary School will be one of the first operational net-zero carbon primary school buildings in Wales. (See figure 1 - steps to achieving net-zero carbon in-use for Llancarfan.)

NZC journey figure (English)Figure 1 – Steps to achieving a net-zero carbon building (operational) for Llancarfan:
The approach to achieving a net-zero carbon operational building was based on the framework outlined in the UK Green Building Council document – Net-zero Carbon Buildings: A Framework Definition. The steps of the framework and how we approached these on Llancarfan Primary are detailed above.

Although careful consideration has been taken to select materials that maximise the fabric first approach (whereby thermally efficient walls, roof, windows and doors reduce energy loss and minimise the energy needed to heat the building) and be easy to construct and maintain, the Council wanted to take the project further to address embodied carbon. 

The Council is currently working with representatives from the construction industry to develop an adaptable and scalable school design that is net-zero carbon (operation) and low embodied carbon. Hereby looking at the materials and the embodied carbon these contain and elements such as transport to site.

This project highlights the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of school design to support the target of net-zero carbon by 2030, ensuring that our new school buildings are fit for the future.

Find out more about our 21st Century Schools projects on our webpages