Culford case study
chopped tree trunks in a pile

GG Eco Solutions are supplying low carbon energy to Culford School in Suffolk, under a long term contract.

The energy
 is supplied to buildings throughout the campus from a newly installed biomass energy system and district heating
 network, designed, installed and funded by GG Eco Solutions.

Fuel supply:
The biomass fuel for the project is sourced from local sustainably 
managed woodlands.

Carbon emissions savings:

Over 1000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent saved per year of operation
 [Calculation using SAP 2009 emissions factors]

Energy supply start date:
March 2012

Energy supply contract term:
15 years.

Operations Director Crispin Muir writes about our work, from the school’s point of view, one year on:

Biomass – sustainability in action, without capital investment.
Crispin Muir, Operations Manager at Culford School, Suffolk, writes that schools should be placing sustainability firmly on the agenda – and switching to biomass energy is the perfect way to begin.

At Culford School, we are extremely lucky to be situated in almost 500 acres of beautiful parkland just north of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. Our 700 pupils, aged between 3 and 18, are educated in line with our belief that learning should be challenging, enriching and fun; guiding pupils towards academic success, clear moral values, and the development of leadership and a readiness for the world of adulthood.

The issue of sustainability is one that we and our children need not only to learn about, but also take responsibility for. The world that children are growing up in now is very different to the one that I grew up in, and we have an obligation to help find the right ways to continue making technological advances that benefit daily lives - with environmental impact in mind.

When we were approached about installing a biomass boiler on the Culford School site, my mind flooded with questions: what would the effects be on our parkland? What would the benefits be for our school? What exactly is biomass? I can now confidently say I’ve learned enough to want to share the details with you.

What is biomass?

Biomass is defined as “biological material derived from living, or recently living organisms”. In the context of using biomass for energy, this is often used to mean plant based material, such as the wood chippings that are used as fuel for our biomass boiler. It is a renewable energy source, already widely available throughout the UK, which can deliver a significant reduction in carbon emissions when compared with using fossil fuels.

Going ahead with a biomass energy system at Culford was no small undertaking. The installation comprised a biomass boiler housed within a purpose-built plant room, an automated, underground biomass fuel store and heating pipework, all of which connects with our existing heating system within each building. Energy is supplied in the form of hot water which passes through an accredited heat meter, the readings from which form the basis for charging through a Heat Supply Agreement. This long-term agreement between Culford and the supplier means that we know at the beginning of each year what our heat costs for that year will be, and it removes us from the volatility of fossil fuel prices. 

Reaping the benefits

The benefits of a biomass system for any organisation are multi-faceted and far-reaching. The full environmental benefits are far too many to mention here but in brief, increasing our use of biomass fuel provides: a reduction in overall dependence on non-sustainable fossil fuels such as oil; a significant reduction in carbon emissions compared to fossil fuels; an economic incentive to encourage the efficient management of woodlands therefore improving biodiversity; and reduced production of acid rain due to the fuel’s naturally low generation of sulphur dioxide and other atmospheric pollutants.

Obtaining the fuel for biomass energy from local sources, in Culford’s case from Thetford Forest (less than 10 miles away), also enables us to support local businesses and the rural economy. Increasingly using biomass throughout the UK will allow local networks of production to be established, therefore minimising the cost of transportation – both to our pockets and the environment. In short, there is no region of the UK that cannot produce biomass, meaning secure, sustainable and local energy supplies.

Naturally, a major consideration for us as a school was the financial aspect of the installation. Working with GG Eco Solutions, who funded the installation and will maintain the boiler and procure the biomass fuel, has meant that we haven’t had to worry about finding a large capital sum to put the infrastructure in place. Culford is now running almost entirely on energy generated by the system and we are already making significant cost savings as a result. A bonus that we hadn’t anticipated has been the reduction in our Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme (CRC) costs, which has reduced by 40 to 50% annually.

Greg Hilton, Managing Director of GG Eco Solutions, adds: ‘Energy is of course a high cost in a typical boarding school. At the start it’s important to know how to work out how many units (kWh) you’re using now and the real price – and remember to allow for inefficiency. A typical oil-fired boiler system is usually no more than 75% efficient – so if oil is 60p a litre the usable heat delivered to the buildings is around 7.8p per kilowatt-hour (kWh), and the LPG equivalent is about the same. At the moment a typical biomass-based heat supply agreement should drop that price per kWh down and reduce energy costs overall by 10-25% in year one, and more each year after that.’

Greg adds ‘Some of the savings made can immediately boost the valuation of a school - up to nine times the annual saving on fuel. So for a school contemplating refinancing or building work, it can create extra equity without any capital outlay’.   

Enhancing learning

As a school, we are also able to harness the educational benefits of the biomass system and are taking full advantage of having such a fantastic learning facility on-site. Julian Johnson-Munday, the Headmaster, is delighted with the system: “Pupils of all ages are able to visit the plant room for science and geography purposes, as well as social responsibility and general awareness. The response we have had from pupils and parents alike has been entirely positive and we are all delighted by the ecological as well as the economic benefits. 

Getting started – and how it works

Using a heat supply agreement secures (usually renewable) energy under a long-term contract. In a similar way to an electricity or gas supply, the supplier provides energy in the form of hot water, steam or electricity and charges a unit price, adjusted annually. In this case this is done via an on-site biomass energy installation designed, funded, built and operated by the supplier.

This is an innovative approach to supplying renewable energy in that all upfront costs are met by the supplier, thereby negating the need for schools to find large sums of capital to invest in costly renewable energy infrastructure. Thereafter, the supplier sources and manages the supply of biomass fuel for the installation and deals with all servicing and maintenance requirements. Customers simply pay for the energy they use at a discount to their current fossil fuel costs, and benefit from a competitive long-term price for their energy.

In this way, schools can reduce their outgoings at the same time as contributing to the protection of the environment by reducing their carbon emissions and using sustainable, local fuel supplies. The recently introduced government incentives mean that there is a window of opportunity for even greater financial savings.

For Culford School, installing the biomass boiler has been absolutely the right thing to do and I would heartily encourage other schools to consider it as a viable option. We, as a school, take the issue of sustainability very seriously and as actions speak louder than words, I think everyone now knows we mean business!’’

Contact us now to arrange a free, no-obligation site assessment.