For the past few years, Keele University has been pursuing a plan that would allow a sizeable portion of its energy to come from its own renewable resources, in order to achieve its target of becoming carbon net-zero by 2030. Now, it seems that this goal is on the verge of becoming reality.

In December 2020, while we were all putting up Christmas decorations and having too many mince pies, Keele signed a renewable energy partnership with ENGIE. ENGIE is a French electricity utility company trying to bring about a worldwide carbon-neutral economy through environmentally friendly solutions. The partnership deal means ENGIE will fund, design, build, and operate the renewable energy park for 25 years. This energy park consists of two wind turbines and 15,000 solar panels capable of producing energy for 50% of the Keele campus.

The deal also includes an industrial sized battery installation to store energy, which it will provide at peak times. This will stop the energy going to waste or going somewhere else in the National Grid, meaning that Keele will be the only consumers of the energy produced by the Renewable Energy Park.

Before Covid-19 struck it was hoped that this would all be set up by early 2021. Obviously, the virus has caused much of the excavation and work on the site to be delayed. Owing to this, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Mark Ormerod confirmed to me in December 2020 that we can expect the first solar power generation in July/August 2021 and the first wind power generation in late 2021. It is unclear whether the third national lockdown in England will have an impact on this timescale.

The Low Carbon Project allows for both wind power and solar power to be utilised for the university’s benefit while also using batteries for storage. This strategy is a good one going forward because relying on one form of renewable energy will not succeed in making us completely self-sufficient. Furthermore, this project – coupled with the Hydrogen HyDeploy Project, where hydrogen gas is pumped into the gas pipes – has already lowered Keele’s carbon emissions.

Keele’s investment in the Low Carbon Project is economical and ambitious but it does fall short on many issues, the most notable of which is building design.

Many old buildings, such as William Smith, the Oaks and the campus library, have what can only be described as less than ideal insulation. It must be the priority of the university to not only upgrade buildings on campus like William Smith and the library but to insulate them to reduce Keele’s electricity costs and Keele’s carbon footprint. Many universities, including Birmingham and Temple in the United States, are leading the way. Refurbishing the Oaks, Holly Cross, William Smith, and other neglected buildings will attract more students, reduce emissions, upgrade older buildings so there is no need to replace them, reduce energy needs, ensure the university saves money on energy, and (most importantly) will provide a better student experience.

The Low-Carbon Project is a great opportunity for Keele to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030, but much more is needed to reduce wasted energy and maximise the student experience as a result of this new renewably produced energy. Hopefully the university will soon set out plans to upgrade buildings that have been neglected for too long.