The University at large has set its sights on achieving net-zero carbon emissions and biodiversity net gain by 2035. Delivering on this ambitious target demands a cross-collegiate response. But not every college is the same, and different colleges have to vault different hurdles to keep pace.
Oriel College has commissioned a bespoke heat decarbonisation plan to identify the most pragmatic and cost-effective ways to decarbonise its estate.
The plan’s recommendations include installing secondary glazing and modern thermal insulation to reduce heat loss from buildings and replacing gas-fired heating systems with low-carbon heating solutions, such as air source heat pumps.
At one level there is of course a balancing act going on here, between improving energy efficiency and decarbonising energy production, on the one hand, and protecting the historic fabric of College’s buildings for generations to come, on the other.
But at another level the two priority areas — decarbonisation and conservation — go together, suggests Colin Bailey, Master of Works at Oriel College. “We are working projects up now that focus on energy efficiency but with a view to extending the longevity of College’s buildings,” he said.
“College is looking to make good on a threefold commitment to decarbonisation, sustaining heritage significance and maintaining functional and healthy indoor environments.”
A new committee, called the Oriel Environmental Group (OEG), is drawing on the expertise of leading academics and graduate students to support College as it explores how best to meet its sustainability targets.
Professor Yadvinder Malhi, Chair of the OEG and Frank Jackson Senior Research Fellow in Biodiversity and Conservation at Oriel, stressed the need for a decarbonisation and environmental strategy that is uniquely tailored to College and its estate.
“We need to drill down into the college level and work out what is possible in terms of, what do you do with energy, when our buildings are listed, old and leaky; and what can we do with biodiversity, when we have limited green space?” he said.
As Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Nature Recovery, Malhi oversees reseach on how to “halt and reverse” ongoing biodiversity loss. His hope is that working on smaller-scale projects through the OEG will have wider impacts, “with students going on to use what they have learned and enacted on a national and international level.”
Other members of the OEG include Professor Charlie Wilson and Dr Constance L McDermott, both Frank Jackson Senior Research Fellows, and also Dr Phil Grünewald, Research Director at the new Energy Demand Observatory and Laboratory.
They are joined by Professor Nick Eyre, one of the first researchers in the UK cognisant to the need for decarbonising energy systems and mitigating carbon dioxide emissions.
A Supernumerary Research Fellow of Oriel College, Eyre is Director of the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS) and Co-Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Integrating Renewable Energy. He is also the scientific advisor on climate change to Oxford City Council, and from 2007 to 2017 was Co-Director of the UK Energy Research Centre. Before that he was Director of Strategy at the Energy Saving Trust.