The NHS has braved the burden of the ongoing pandemic since the COVID-19 outbreak but remains committed to improving its carbon footprint. This month, it pledged to be the world’s first ‘net zero’ health service in recognition of the long-term health impacts imposed by climate change. A new report: Delivering a ‘Net Zero’ National Health Service , sets out a multiyear plan for the NHS to achieve its targets. The report highlights that many health conditions caused or exacerbated by climate change and air pollution, including cardiac problems, asthma and cancer.
The service has set a target to be carbon neutral by 2040 – ten strong years before the UK Government’s net zero goal. More immediately, it has promised to reduce emissions by 80% between 2028 and 2032. These targets will require action across all areas of the NHS, with one of the greatest areas of opportunity being the decarbonisation of hospitals and buildings, which currently comprise 15% of its total carbon emissions. Changing the way in which these estates and facilities are heated is essential. A new Net Zero Carbon Hospital standard is also being developed. This will apply to all new-build hospitals from spring 2021, including the 40 new hospitals due to be built as part of the Governments Health Infrastructure Plan.
Providing heating and hot water to our buildings, which of course includes NHS buildings and hospitals, is responsible for a fifth of the UK’s total carbon footprint. With around 4-5% of England’s carbon footprint attributed to the health and care system and the provision of a warm comfortable environment being paramount, this is a sector that needs to address its reliance of fossil fuels. As the NHS moved forward with its multi-year strategy to decarbonise its facilities, it will therefore need to take advantage of low carbon, reliable solutions for its heating and cooling purposes.
Heat networks have a recognised role to play in the decarbonisation of heat across the UK and already thrive across Northern Europe. However, it is important to note that they are used to heat just a 2% of UK buildings. The Association for District Energy reported in 2016 that there were, at that time, around 500,000 customers connected to heat networks in the UK. Of that figure, just 7,438 were found in universities light industries, public buildings, and hospitals – despite their carbon saving potential in such buildings. In the Government’s Clean Growth Strategy, heat networks are projected to meet 24% of heat demand in industrial and public sector buildings by 2050.
The Heat Networks Investment Project (HNIP) was established to deliver £320 million of Government funding to heat network schemes across England and Wales and has formally announced the funding of 18 schemes to date. Many of these are led by local authorities who have, like the NHS, committed to climate targets. Able to distribute heat from a central source and deliver it to a variety of different buildings through a system of insulated pipes, heat networks offer a viable solution for delivering low carbon heat to multiple NHS facilities whilst removing the need for individual heating systems.
It is worth noting that NHS trusts and foundation trusts are considered ‘central government’ by the Office for National Statists (ONS). This means that there are certain rules governing how they incur and account for capital expenditure limiting the ability for NHS Trusts to apply directly for HNIP support. NHS foundations and trusts can still connect to a heat network and benefit from HNIP support by joining with an eligible organisation such as a local authority or private company who may be interested in developing a scheme to heat their campus. We have seen applications of this nature and hope to see more in the future.
In support of the National Health Service’s ambitions to reach net zero, and the wider decarbonisation agenda, the HNIP team encourages NHS trusts to reach out to Business Development Managers to discuss the best way forward.
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