In March 2023, the government introduced its Action Plan for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) to ensure these projects are delivered effectively – and meet sustainability goals.
NSIPs can be related to energy, transport, water or waste, including projects like HS2, new wind farms, or large-scale road-building.
One of the challenges for the government is that delivery of large-scale infrastructure has been slowing down, with a 65% increase in delivery times between 2012 and 2021.
The Action Plan aims to speed things up and to ensure that this type of work reflects the UK’s national goals on sustainability. While the details of the Plan are yet to be confirmed (there will be a consultation later in 2023), the government has made its ambitions clear.
The Plan proposal points out that the current system for planning NSIPs focuses on “process rather than helping deliver better environmental outcomes.”
The reforms of the system aim to meet the UK’s carbon-reduction goals and “actively address the environmental impacts of development.”
It’s possible to meet the carbon challenge with the right products while providing quality outcomes for clients
One of the best-known infrastructure projects currently underway is HS2.
Although the project began some years ago, it already set out with environmental goals in mind and is designed to be the “most sustainable high-speed rail network in the world.”
The new nuclear power station, Hinkley Point C, is also setting its pathway to low whole-life carbon. Nuclear power is ‘zero-carbon’ at the point of generation, but, as with all electricity generation, CO2 is released during construction, operation, and decommissioning. Hinkley Point C claims that its overall carbon dioxide emissions are likely to be 5.5g CO2e/kWh.
By comparison, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s estimate for offshore wind is 12g CO2e/kWh and 48g CO2e/ kWh for large-scale solar energy.
All are a fraction of gas at 490g CO2e/ kWh, and coal at 820g CO2e/kWh.
Delivering at scale
The delivery of net zero projects at scale requires detailed consideration of carbon emissions reduction at every stage and in every aspect of the project.
This includes the heating and cooling systems for buildings in infrastructure projects such as railway stations and offices.
Mitsubishi Electric has been leading the way on embodied and operational carbon for some time. We have been developing the use of low-GWP (global warming potential) refrigerants in our systems for many years, allowing us to provide solutions for projects at scale.
It’s essential to bear in mind that as refrigerants change, the systems that use them also must be manufactured to suit the characteristics of these new chemicals and to enable them to be used safely by installers.
For example, we already use non-HFC refrigerants such as hydrofluoro-olefins (HFOs). These include R1234Ze (with a GWP of 7) and R1234yf (GWP 4). Our Climaveneta-brand chillers use R1234ze refrigerant and have been designed to operate optimally based on the characteristics of this refrigerant.
Another low-GWP solution is the e-series chiller which uses R32 refrigerant (with a GWP of 675). The e-series allows up to six units to be connected to provide a total system capacity of up to 1080kW, giving the system an increased power range.
Our Hyrbid VRF air conditioning also uses R32 while reducing the overall amount of refrigerant in the system, using water as the medium for delivering cooling or heating around an occupied space.
Meeting the challenge
The issue of carbon in large-scale projects is one that the government is keen to pursue. And we are seeing even more focus on this topic in the private sector for large-scale construction projects.
With every aspect of a project under scrutiny, heating and cooling must play a part in reducing the carbon footprint of the UK infrastructure.
However, it’s possible to meet this challenge with the right products while providing quality outcomes for clients and end-users.
Dan Bull is Business Development Manager for M&E Contractors