Be energy friendly: reducing usage and accelerating energy saving initiatives

dr david prout

If you are like me, you will have found yourself looking much more closely at your smart meter over recent months – and in particular since 1 October. It is scary how easily you can use several pounds’ worth of energy by turning up the heating, roasting a chicken or boosting the hot water. The days of cheap energy may well have gone for ever. The Energy Saving Trust has published ten top tips for energy saving and when our boiler was serviced at home last week the engineer made several adjustments to help reduce our energy use. 

Just like your household, the University also has to think about how to save energy. This year we are to some extent protected thanks to the price ‘hedging’ we do as a matter of routine. This means that this year we expect our energy bills to increase from about £20m a year to about £45m. But next academic year our ‘hedging’ will not help so much and we expect our bills to increase to a mind-boggling £57.5m. That will take our energy costs from about 4% to about 10% of our non-pay costs in three years. So reducing energy use is critical to the long-term future of the institution. 

From the point of view of climate change, this encourages us to accelerate our existing energy-saving initiatives. The new Environmental Sustainability Fund will be used to bring forward investments, but there is also a lot that we can do as individuals and departments.  

The University will implement the EU and World Health Organization guidance to heat buildings to 19 degrees in winter and cool them to 26 degrees in summer. We will also review boiler settings across the estate to make sure they are working efficiently. Departments can also take individual initiatives such as shutting off heating in buildings that are not used on Fridays and at the weekend, and removing plug-in heaters that make it very difficult for building management systems to work effectively. 

 As individuals we can also help. We should turn off computer screens and lights, set our computers to ‘hibernate’ when we are not using them and close windows and doors. In laboratories, very substantial amounts of energy can be saved by closing the sashes on our 1,000 fume cupboards and turning them off when they are not needed and it is safe to do so (we think taking care with fume cupboards could save up to £250,000 a year!). We also have to accept that it is not unreasonable to wear an extra jumper or a jacket at work.  

It’s a bit ‘back to the 70s’, but you may have seen our new Be energy friendly campaign, and I hope that will encourage you to take time to talk about how we can save energy with your departments and colleagues.