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How Cubis is Supporting the UK’s Sustainable Energy Future

The race to net zero is well underway, with the UK government targeting 2035 as the year that all electricity should be generated from “clean” sources. Crossing this finish line however is going to require jumping over a lot of difficult hurdles in a limited amount of time.

To get this right, all aspects of the energy sector will need to think creatively and work collaboratively to cut emissions and make sure that the required green energy infrastructure is in place where and when it is needed. In practice, this will mean aligning a very long list of regulations, suppliers, technologies, researchers, operators, local authorities and more all in one direction.

Accessing Sustainable Energy

The scale of the issue is highlighted by the number of large sustainable energy projects in the pipeline across the country. For example, the £8.27 billion Dogger Bank Offshore Wind Farm, the £10.7 billion Dolphyn Floating Wind Farm, and the £650 million Tees Biomass Station, to name just a few.

While there is a staggering array of unique complexities to each of these developments, they all share a similar challenge – moving the energy generated from renewable sources to the homes, factories, buildings, and sites where it is needed. Crucially, the resulting network of cables will require access chambers, cable protection and access covers that can fast-track the laying of cables, protect sensitive components and allow maintenance teams to reach important parts of the system.

The above three cable network laying solutions are available in a range of sizes and materials to suit different roles and adapt to specific environments. This makes them ideal for the energy sector, where there’s a lot of specialised variation in the setup of each plant.

Thanks to this versatility our network of access and cable protection systems have been utilised for a long list of purposes in the sustainable energy sector. This has included bespoke chambers for power stations, link boxes, high and low-voltage jointing, above-ground electrical cabinets, drawpits, underground cable protection, and overhead line warning systems.

Connecting Kilroot Energy Park

The suitability of our energy sector solutions was illustrated when Kilroot Energy Park went through a comprehensive upgrade project to transition from coal-fired generation to lower-carbon alternatives.

Following a £600m investment, owners EP UK Investments along with contractors GMC and Rayden Engineering, turned one of the most significant energy infrastructure assets in Northern Ireland into a lower carbon and renewable energy hub that would provide power for up to 500,000 homes. When the site becomes operational later this year, it will mark a significant milestone in the decarbonisation of Northern Ireland’s power grid.

To achieve this, 3km of welded steel pipeline had to be installed using an ‘open cut’ method, in which a trench is excavated, and the pipe is laid inside. Once installed, the trenches were backfilled, and the land was put back to its previous condition. This underground method was chosen as it would minimise disruption to nearby traffic and services.

Making sure that this extensive network of pipes, a vital part of the site’s gas-fired energy generation, could be maintained was imperative. One of our lightweight, durable, and quick-to-install modular access chamber systems was chosen for the task. Not only would this protect vital equipment and ensure a reliable utility network access point, but it also meant the energy park could substitute traditional pre-cast concrete chambers for a sustainable, modern option.

A Concrete Alternative

Concrete is well known to be problematic environmentally, with between 4-8% of global CO2 emissions coming from its production. It’s also a slow and labour-intensive material to install, with cast in-situ concrete requiring additional time on site for shuttering, steel fixing, pouring, setting, and striking.

As an access chamber, material precast concrete also poses practical challenges. For example, it is restricted in size to avoid wide loads, requires site access for the supply and necessitates heavy lifting equipment and specialist personnel. All of this means further delays, deliveries, and waste – which increases a project’s carbon footprint.

In contrast, our access chambers and covers, including the Glass Reinforced Polyester Resin (GRP) system that was used at Kilroot Energy Park, offer a modern substitute to traditional concrete chambers. The difference in material properties and its stackable, resilient design reduces carbon emissions while saving a significant amount of time thanks to the simplified installation process, duct entry points, and enhanced safety properties.

Looking at Lifecycles

Moving away from concrete is just one example of how the sector needs to refocus its principles and best practise to meet the government’s green targets. At Cubis, we’ve worked hard to align our operations across the whole lifecycle of our products to ensure that the emissions profile of our systems, and the projects they’re specified in, are as low as possible.

Looking closely at the efficiency, durability, and simplicity of our products is central to this, as it reduces the environmental impact of a power plant’s creation, maintenance and refurbishment while simultaneously addressing a wide range of pain points and net zero headaches experienced by the energy sector.

This drive to limit carbon emissions starts from the moment our products are designed, as we maximise their structural strength using the optimum amount of material to eliminate unnecessary weight or waste. This resource-efficient approach diverts material from going to landfill while reducing the product’s environmental impact.

Our STAKKAbox™ system is a great example of this clever design ethos, as it has an innovative method of connecting chambers which allows customers to choose very precise sizes. This not only gives a high degree of versatility onsite, but it also cuts down on waste by avoiding the installation of chambers that are larger than necessary.

We’ve also analysed the processes that take place after manufacturing. Transport is an especially tricky part of the supply chain to decarbonise, with the UK government finding that it accounted for 34% of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions in 2022.

At Cubis, we’ve worked on reducing these emissions by manufacturing domestically, which means not incurring excessive overseas transport demands. We’ve also pioneered flat packed solutions, allowing for increased shipping density that reduces weight, storage demands and associated vehicle emissions. Thanks to this innovation, the number of pallets required to carry material for a project’s access chambers to the construction site can be drastically reduced when compared to alternative, non-flat packed systems.

Once onsite, the versatility of our products makes them quick, safe, and easy to install. While the specific installation time can vary depending on conditions and the size of chamber in question, a standard 1,200mm x 1,200mm system can typically be created within just one hour – much faster than alternative concrete solutions.

This time-saving benefit stems from the scalable nature of the systems, which means they can be easily tailored to site conditions and depths. Being lightweight, the chambers and covers can be installed by two people and lifted by just one person and the sidewalls can be easily drilled for duct entries. These properties avoid time delays as well as the need for heavy lifting equipment, extra personnel, energy, and resources, which further cuts emissions.

These innovative designs also futureproof the system, as it allows them to be expanded without the need to replace the existing chamber. This adaptability combined with its resilience means our access chambers have a much longer operational lifetime, therefore the work, effort, and emissions to maintain and replace them is avoided.

Reuse, Recycle, Reduce

Across our range of solutions, we utilise plastic as well as GRP systems to ensure that the there’s an access chamber and cover for any situation.

Utilising a selection of high-quality plastics in our manufacturing process means that, unlike concrete, once our plastic systems have reached the end of their life many can be recycled, reducing wastage and the environmentally damaging demand for new raw materials. While not recyclable in the same way, the GRP systems in our range can be reused once they’ve reached the end of their life which minimises raw material extraction and use.

Building this circularity into our products is an important step in making the construction industry more sustainable and minimising the environmental impact of new developments such as large-scale sustainable energy projects.

Informing Decisions With Data

Having the above product information at your fingertips is vital for specifiers to make the right decisions when designing sustainable energy facilities. However, with the rapidly changing nature of today’s technologies and best manufacturing practice, it can be difficult for many to know where to turn when making these choices.

To help architects, specifiers, and developers make better informed carbon decisions, we’ve compiled a comprehensive library of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs).

These documents provide a detailed breakdown of our product’s sustainability credentials, including crucial information such as an in-depth lifecycle assessment, environmental impact performance, and resource use. It also details carbon produced per kilogram, which gives a score for emissions that can be compared against alternative materials. This provides a quick and objective method to identify the best and most suitable solutions.

Green Energy by Green Businesses

It’s vital for every business within the sustainable energy sector to be honest and transparent about their environmental commitments as well as how they’re going to improve moving forward and help meet the critical net zero targets.

To ensure that we’re doing our part, we’ve aligned our business with the UN Sustainable Development goals, which outline 17 missions designed to protect the planet. This has seen us review every aspect of our business through a green lens – and not just how our products are made, moved, installed and maintained, but also how our back-end operations support this work. For example, our offices are streamlining and becoming more efficient by moving to paperless systems that use QR codes to share information.

We’re also constantly scanning the horizon to ensure we’re at the cutting edge of environmental performance. This has seen us collaborate with our sister companies and leading universities to research how we can further limit the emissions profile of our products. In addition, we’re members of Composites UK and participate in the Composites UK Sustainability Sub-Group, which conducts research to expand the recycling knowledge and capabilities of composites.

Undertaking this broad range of initiatives helps give our clients and partners in the renewable energy sector peace of mind that they are working with a manufacturer that has holistically embedded sustainable best practice into the fabric of the organisation.

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