Pathways to Zero Carbon Sheffield

The report “Pathways to Zero Carbon Sheffield” is a detailed document showing how Sheffield can dramatically reduce its carbon footprint. Following protests and petitions by Extinction Rebellion, the Council declared a Climate Emergency in 2019. At last there is now a plan to achieve big cuts in our carbon emissions. This report is going to have a dramatic effect on your life in the next few years.

The report stresses the importance of immediate action.  “We must always remember that failure to reduce our emissions down to zero will result in consequences that are unimaginable. The runaway effects of climate change are already starting to be seen in real manifestations from global biodiversity loss and devastating wildfires to local extreme weather events such as flooding and heatwaves. Further failure to act will bring in ever-more large-scale impacts from climate refugees to national protectionism over scarce resources.”

The Council’s role in reducing emissions is one of leader and facilitator. Many of the actions  are directed at the Council, but can’t be carried out by the Council in isolation.”Ultimately, large-scale emissions reductions will be achieved as a result of many thousands of small actions that, in isolation, may seem insignificant. Momentum is essential to these small actions.”

The report examines 5 sectors and shows how they can reduce emissions by 85%. These are 

• Domestic 

• Commercial and industrial 

• Transport 

• Energy

 • Land use

The remaining 15% depends on the National Grid converting to renewables.

Within our homes, gas consumption constitutes approximately 71% of emissions and electricity consumption 25%. Our housing stock urgently needs retrofitting to maximise its energy efficiency. This will  be disruptive to house owners and tenants, but will have the massive benefits of lower bills and warmer homes. We need to move away quickly from heating and cooking with gas, to cooking with electricity produced by renewables and heating with heat pumps or connecting to district heat networks. More efficient household appliances can also reduce energy consumption. Many houses and flats need wall insulation, floor insulation, loft insulation, draught-proofing, re-glazing, smart heating controls and LED lighting.

The commercial and industrial sector needs similar improvement to its buildings and heating. 

Transport is the area that relies most greatly on behaviour change. The report seeks to increase active travel such as walking and cycling, increase public transport, consolidate freight and decarbonise all vehicles. 

To reduce emissions from energy production the report envisages expanding Sheffield’s district heating system. “Expanding the City Centre Zone heat network would mean that 19,000 domestic properties would fall within the catchment area.”

 200,000 homes will need to be converted from gas boilers to air source heat pumps.

Katie Taylor from PDP Services Ltd installing an Air Source Heat Pump. Photo by Paul Padgham

For heat pumps to work efficiently, homes will need to be well insulated and draught-proofed to minimise heat losses. Heat pumps produce heat at lower temperatures than traditional boilers and so radiators may need to be replaced by those better suited to operate at lower temperatures, such as underfloor heating or larger radiators. As it will take time to ramp up the supply chain, it is anticipated that this intervention would start to be implemented from 2025 and an average of around 40,000 properties per year would need to have heat pumps installed between 2025 and 2030. As with switching to electric cooking, it is recommended that gas boilers are phased out when they reach their normal replacement cycle, typically 10-15 years, being replaced with heat pumps. However, there is likely to be a significant number of boilers that are still in operation that would need to be replaced ahead of their replacement cycle to meet the net zero carbon target. House owners and landlords should be preparing for this now so that when their boiler needs replacing they are in a good position to install a heat pump. The report also envisages installing solar panels on 53000 buildings.

In Land Use the report advocates extending tree cover and restoring peat bogs which are significant carbon sinks.

The report strongly asserts the need for immediate action. “This programme should be prepared and agreed without delay. An imperfect plan agreed now will achieve much more than a perfect plan agreed in six months’ time – not only in practical terms but in terms of momentum and a sense of urgency. A two-stage approach may be appropriate – an initial programme of works that can be implemented almost immediately in parallel to an Action Plan being developed and agreed.” 

You can download the report here. https://www.arup.com/perspectives/publications/research/section/pathways-to-zero-carbon-in-sheffield  With the Council now in No Overall Control it is vital that the political parties start implementing this report as the first stage in its response to the climate emergency. 

In my next column I will be looking at the reaction to this report from businesses, campaigners and politicians.  

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