How we’re cutting our carbon footprint

Date published

Tuesday 09 November 2021

Find out how we're helping to support action against climate change around our campuses.

This month, the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 is taking place is Glasgow. The aim of the conference is to bring nations from across the globe together to accelerate action on climate change. More than 190 world leaders are expected to be present, alongside tens of thousands of negotiators, government representatives, businesses, and citizens.

Now, we all know how important climate change is, so what is Coventry University doing to support? Here are a few ways we’re cutting our carbon footprint.

We’re using solar panels across our campuses

On several university buildings, we’ve been using solar panels to covert energy from the sun directly into electricity to help reduce carbon emissions and costs.

Solar panels, called solar photovoltaics or solar PV for short, work by using a silicon compound to convert light into a small electrical charge. If many panels are installed on a rooftop then a large amount of electricity can be generated. Panels are usually installed so they face south or south-west to maximise the amount of light hitting the surface. They should not be shaded by trees or other buildings and must be kept clean of dirt.

Solar PV has been steadily improving in efficiency and reducing in cost. For example, 10 years ago a panel could only convert about 12% of the light hitting it into electricity – nowadays the best panels can manage 22%. Over the same period the cost of solar PV has fallen by around 50%.

Currently we have solar PV arrays on four buildings: The Cycle Works student accommodation, Richard Crossman, CU Scarborough, and Westwood Heath conference building.

Interested? Here’s more on our sustainable building features.

Solar panels on a Coventry University building roof

We’re using biomass

Since 2012, Coventry University has operated a modern biomass boiler, burning wood pellets to provide low carbon heating for the Engineering and Computing Building (ECB). 

Biomass produced from well-managed, sustainable sources is part of the solution to achieving net zero carbon emissions in the UK – in 2018 the Committee for Climate Change reported that “biomass is a flexible resource that has the potential to contribute towards decarbonisation activities across multiple sectors of the economy.  Within the energy sector biomass can be converted into a number of different energy carriers…[which] include wood pellets/chips”

The 300kW boiler in the ECB is about ten times the size of a typical home boiler and efficiently burns wood pellets instead of a fossil fuel such as gas or oil.  The installation benefits from the Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive scheme which encourages the uptake of biofuels by offering a payment for every unit of heat produced. 

Biomass is defined as organic carbon-based materials and includes plants and trees - the ECB unit uses pellets produced from waste wood such as sawdust and shavings, as well as wood from sustainably managed forests in Scotland. Pellets are Forest Stewardship Certified and guaranteed to comply with the ENplus A1 quality standard to ensure they burn cleanly, leaving minimal ash, and deliver a reliably high level of heat for every tonne burnt.

Lanchester Library at Coventry University

Pellets are bulk delivered to two large hoppers within the ECB then automatically fed into the boiler which constantly adjusts the conditions within the unit to ensure they’re burnt as cleanly and efficiently as possible.  The hot water produced is then pumped to radiators and heating units throughout the ECB.

Maintenance is minimal and limited to ensuring that ash is cleared from the boiler regularly and that the feed mechanism remains free of blockages.

Biomass pellets have a much smaller carbon footprint than fossil fuels such as gas. In fact, the carbon emissions arising from burning one kilowatt hour (kWh) of biomass are 12 times lower than the emissions from 1 kWh of natural gas. This means that since its installation the biomass boiler has saved over 250 tonnes of carbon emissions, as well as bringing financial savings.

Find out more about how we plan to help support efforts to reverse climate change

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