Resetting the relationship between local and national government. Read our Local Government White Paper

Northumberland County Council: Accelerating the delivery of renewable energy

Against a challenging backdrop, financially and politically, Northumberland County Council has developed a robust response to their climate emergency declaration of 2019 and created a pipeline of projects to accelerate delivery in line with their targets.

The challenge

The challenge faced by Northumberland County Council has been to deliver a suite of financially viable energy saving measures across the Council’s estate in order to reduce CO2 emissions and futureproof buildings. This work has taken place since 2011 against a backdrop of political change and an increasing acknowledgement of climate change as a priority, culminating in the Council declaring a climate emergency in 2019. With no formal ownership of the climate change agenda, work over the last decade has been driven by the commercial benefits, with emissions savings only becoming a priority later.

The solution

The establishment of a commercial energy team in 2016 created capacity to assess business cases for the installation of renewable technology across the Council’s estate in order to power and heat their buildings in a more sustainable way.

Since 2011 the Council have delivered a suite of solar PV and renewable heat source technologies which have substantially decarbonised operations.

The success of this programme of work led in 2019 to a successful funding award for the UK’s first solar carport on a public sector estate. This innovative piece of infrastructure will be built over the car park at County Hall headquarters in Morpeth, and will provide 800kW electricity to power the building and charge electric vehicles through 120 EV charging sockets, futureproofing them for the shift from ICE to electric vehicles. Once implemented this year, it will create a blueprint for future accelerated development.

In 2019, the Council formally declared a climate emergency and set about creating a climate action plan to reach its goal of reducing its own emissions by 50 per cent by 2025 and reducing the county of Northumberland’s emissions to net zero by 2030. Approval of this plan has led to increased resource for climate change projects and is allowing them to continue to scale up work to install renewables both across their estate and across the county more widely.

The impact

Northumberland County Council has implemented a successful Solar PV project over the course of ten years, as observed in Figure 1.


Northumberland figure 1

Figure 1. Amount of generated kW per financial year with the instalment of the corresponding solar projects in Northumberland

Before the declaration of the climate emergency in 2019, the Council had already taken action to build its portfolio of renewable technology, however, it was not until to the financial year 2018-19 where a strategy was designed to focus on climate change and emissions reductions as an organisational priority.

Therefore, and as observed in Figure 1, a decrease in the total kW production was observed during 2018-19, as the Council was reorganising to be able to deliver a concrete strategy for the coming years. Consequently, during 2019-20 a considerable increase of the total kW installed can be observed, as planification was already done the previous financial year. The COVID-19 pandemic diminished the delivery of projects for the financial year 2020-21, however a drastic increase in the total delivered kW occurred during 2021-22, which is expected to keep increasing as observed for the year 2022 in Figure 1.

The Council has also implemented a ground source heat pump installation project, that commenced during the 2017-18 financial year. The results are presented in Figure 2.

Northumberland figure 2

Figure 2. Total amount of kW generated through the ground source heat pumps.

A clear decrease in the amount of kW installed was observed during the 2019-2020 period as the programme of work was developed for delivery through 2021-22.

Both Figure 1 and Figure 2 show the development of green projects (i.e. Solar PV and Ground Source Heat Pump generation) by the Council. The latter projects as well as some others are expected to keep growing at a faster pace to support the Council's goal of being net zero by 2030.

How is the new approach being sustained?

Climate change is held within the portfolio of the Leader of the Council. This leadership is placing climate at the forefront of the organisational priorities. A centralised climate change team has been developed and is being increased in capacity to manage the complex requirements of a coordinated climate action plan. With this leadership and capacity accelerating plans and developing more and wider reaching projects is enabling sustained growth of this programme.

Lessons learned

  • Strong organisational commitment from highest leadership is required to turn policy into action in a complex organisational structure such as a local authority.
  • Development of a clear plan and realistic goals.
  • Centralise the programme management and expertise but collaborate with all aspects of the organisation to develop the outcomes.