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At first glance it looks like any other new build primary, but South Point Primary in Rhoose is radically different to all other schools in Wales.

It is the country's first ever net carbon zero school and its design will be used to help inform future builds.

The revolutionary design means greenhouse gas emissions will be slashed, neutralising the building’s environmental impact.

Read more: A longer school day is being trialled in schools in Wales

Pupils enjoying their new surroundings. The school uses air source heat pumps on site to create electricity for heating and lighting and has no gas boiler (Image: Vale of Glamorgan Council)

The £5m Vale of Glamorgan Council primary was completed recently and 210 pupils and 48 nursery children moved in after the half term break.

While they get down to lessons the building around them will also be working hard.

Electricity created by on-site air pumps and solar panels will power the two-storey school and any extra will be battery stored or pumped back into the grid.

Extra insulation in the walls, floor and roof will keep warmth in while top-rated double glazing keeps cold out.

Even school dinners will be greener. All the kitchen equipment does the same work but uses less energy. Ovens and fridges have been sourced to have the top energy efficiency rating and operate on lower wattage levels.

Building materials and the way the school was constructed were also greener.

Where possible electric fork lift trucks were used, to reduce carbon in the construction.

Local supply chains and staff were also used, where possible, and use of plastics was curbed.

The school, which took ISG construction just over a year to build, also has electric vehicle charging points and areas for bike and scooter parks.

Extra insulation in the walls, floor and roof keep warmth inside South Point Primary while top rated double glazing keeps cold out. (Image: Vale of Glamorgan Council)

Jane O’Leary, chartered engineer and builder, helped plan the building and is strategic adviser for education at ISG.

Before joining the firm Jane worked for the Vale of Glamorgan Council on their new 21st century schools programme and has been involved in the net zero project from when it began to be planned in 2019.

Back then the ideas used were ground-breaking, although some may be familiar now, she said.

“I think about the school as someone putting on a coat for insulation to start. There are building regulation standards for this but we have taken the thickness of insulation way beyond that.

“Then there is no gas boiler, normally in schools you would have a gas boiler. Here we have air source heat pumps.

“They sit outside the building and run on a degree of electricity, but for every one watt they use they create four watts.

“The pumps take air in and move it around and through the pump it creates energy from air.

“This is what the government is planning for all houses to have eventually instead of gas boilers. Some new build houses have these now,

“It is a lot cheaper than gas, especially now, with rising prices, as well as greener.

“Electricity is four times the price of gas but the price of gas is going up.”

Jane O’Leary, chartered engineer and builder, helped plan Wales' first carbon net zero school, South Point Primary. She is strategic adviser for education at ISG which constructed the school in Rhoose.

Energy will also be drawn from the sun. A total 70% of the roof space is solar panels which will also create electricity for the school.

A battery the size of two double wardrobes stores any extra electricity created which can then be used at other times. Extra energy can also be pumped back into the grid, off setting any the school needs to draw out later.

“All of this is about using less in the building and performing better. We have made sure there are green sources of energy and that insulation means it is not lost,” explained Jane.

“Energy created but not used for heating and lighting can be stored for use at other times. That means anything we have to take at peak times from the grid will be given back.”

Not everything will be right first time, she admitted.

“As with lots of designs the proof will be once we have been in it some time. We are monitoring the building for five years. Because this is a first for Wales we won’t have got everything right.

“We are sharing data with the Welsh Government and local authorities so everyone can learn from it.”

While the building will save on energy costs and environmental impact it did cost more to construct.

“It does cost about 9.5% more to build a net zero carbon school but the pay back is worth it,” said Jane.

“We have got to get to net zero by 2030 anyway, that’s the target and the technology to build net zero buildings will get cheaper.”

It is also a great education for pupils who will grow up in a world where tackling the climate crisis will be key.

They can click on QR codes around the school and grounds to explain how it works and how it makes and conserves energy.

“It is a fantastic project to work on,” said Jane.

“The Vale of Glamorgan Council declared a climate emergency in 2019 and we know we have to do things differently now.

“When we started this project in 2019 it was cutting edge. It’s going to be a great source of learning. There is a big shift in what carbon impact it takes to build schools.”

Cllr Lis Burnett, Vale of Glamorgan council cabinet member for regeneration and education, said the council has made a climate commitment through its Project Zero initiative, which aims to make the organisation carbon neutral by 2030.

“Delivering schools like this which are extremely environmentally friendly is a key part of that pledge.”

While South Point is the first net carbon zero school in Wales there are already a handful in England.

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