Cutting CO2 by degrees

15th September 2011


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How Lancaster University is implementing innovative energy-efficiency projects to meet tough emissions targets

Lancaster University views energy consumption and carbon emissions as arguably the two most important issues affecting the organisation if it is to address the challenges of climate change and resource depletion.

The University Council, its most senior-level governing body, has not hesitated in agreeing funding for a raft of carbon-efficiency projects for the campus, some of them demanding a sizeable investment. But these projects mark only the start of Lancaster’s journey to massively reduce its carbon footprint.

The wider goal

The wider arena within which Lancaster University is setting and implementing its carbon-efficiency goals is a pressing one. The Climate Change Act 2008, which sets binding reduction targets for greenhouse-gas emissions of at least 34% by 2020 and at least 80% by 2050, also places a requirement on public sector organisations to achieve reductions in line with these national targets.

For higher education institutions the sector-wide target is equivalent to a 43% reduction, against a 2005 baseline, in scope 1 and 2 emissions (direct emissions as well as those from the generation of purchased electricity consumed by the organisation) by 2020 and 83% by 2050. The sting in the tail relates to future funding opportunities: capital funding, in England at least, will soon be linked to institutions’ performance against carbon-reduction sector targets.

It is not surprising that the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has already signalled to institutions “a more demanding approach to carbon reduction and the need for carbon plans”.

The latest performance data on how UK universities are progressing towards the 43% carbon-reduction target do not inspire a great deal of confidence so far in universities’ ability to reach the stretching 2020 sector milestone. Published annually, and this year in partnership with the Guardian, the People & Planet’s Green League finds that carbon emissions have actually gone up in 63% of the 142 participating universities.

There are mitigating circumstances for some universities’ lack of progress, the Guardian report acknowledges: a research-intensive university is bound to use a lot more water and energy, for example. Those universities with old, leaky buildings are also at a disadvantage from an energy-saving perspective.

Jonathan Mills, environment and sustainability manager at Lancaster University, agrees: “The sector target is a tough one and it is undoubtedly going to be harder for some institutions than others to achieve – but there are always opportunities.

“This is a research institution and our science-related faculties consume more energy, but one of our aims is to green our labs.”

For Lancaster, the fact that it is a leading university in terms of environmental research and teaching is a strong reason for the university to be ambitious in its carbon-emission targets and in the projects it implements in order to achieve them. Its carbon management plan (CMP) recognises this, “incorporating a range of projects from the conventional to the cutting-edge”.

Carbon-reduction framework

Lancaster University’s CMP was developed as part of the Carbon Trust’s 2008–09 Higher Education Carbon Management five-step programme, which helps institutions develop the capability to identify and implement practical cost and carbon savings. It was also, sensibly, developed as part of a much wider “infrastructure masterplan” that sets out an implementation framework for infrastructure projects for 2007 to 2017.

The masterplan draws on a sustainable energy infrastructure study (SEIS) that was undertaken by consultants Arup, which came up with solutions to address campus expansion requirements while at the same time reducing the university’s carbon footprint. The SEIS estimated that energy efficiency and the renewable-energy projects it recommended would collectively reduce campus energy consumption by 10%, or by 2,300 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e) a year based on 2007 figures.

The university’s scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions in 2005 were 29,131 tCO2e and its CMP – covering the period 2009 to 2020 but primarily relating to projects that will be implemented by 2012 – sets the following targets for carbon reduction:

  • 2012: -34.9% (19,266 tCO2e);
  • 2017: -35.6% (18,751 tCO2e);
  • 2020: -43% (16,868 tCO2e); and
  • 2050: -83% (5,031 tCO2e).

Director of facilities, Mark Swindlehurst, says it is critical that all types of technology are considered in the choice and design of carbon-emission reduction projects, as the longer-term targets for 2020 and 2050 will only be achieved through the deployment of all available technology.

The university has implemented a detailed programme of carbon-reduction projects, including energy-efficiency measures, and overseen the construction of faculty buildings and student residences built to the highest environmental performance standards in order to reach these long-term goals. The key projects (see below) that provide the basis for the calculated carbon savings are:

  • energy- and utility-efficiency projects;
  • a utility metering project;
  • awareness campaigns;
  • a voltage-reduction project;
  • installation of new gas thermal boilers;
  • installation of a new CHP boiler;
  • installation of a biomass boiler; and
  • a wind turbine project.

The CMP indicates that significant reductions in carbon emissions can be achieved within the next two to three years if all of the above projects are implemented in full; savings after this timescale are therefore projected to be more limited and will depend on new, currently unfunded projects.

Behavioural change by staff and students

Encouraging cultural change among staff and students is critical to achieving the university’s ambitious carbon-reduction targets. Mills says this means the university constantly reinforcing its messages about sustainability. The institution held a carbon-awareness day to launch its CMP, with local radio broadcasts and presentations and, from December 2010 to March 2011, it held around 15 carbon-awareness roadshows targeting different faculties and departments.

Lancaster has sustainability champions across its workforce and has expanded its carbon-saving competitions for students – the winning idea in the most recent round features special software for taxis to collect a full complement of passengers, rather than the energy-wasteful practice of single occupancy.

The most visible, living demonstration of energy efficiency for Lancaster students is the university’s eco-residences, which have attracted a number of environmental awards, including the Green Gown award that recognises exceptional initiatives by higher education institutions to become more sustainable.

They have also gained a BREEAM “excellent and outstanding” rating – the first education building to do so, says Mills – and helped the university to win the UK BREEAM multi-residential category in 2008.

The new eco-residences – complete with roof-mounted solar thermal panels, lighting controlled by passive infra red units and enhanced air tightness and insulation levels – opened in 2008 to provide 752 rooms where students can monitor their utility consumption online. The facility enables the university to run an energy-saving competition among residents, by offering £600 per term to the flat achieving the lowest energy consumption. The competition is very successful and creates a healthy level of peer pressure to turn off lights and appliances in “standby” mode. The residences comprise around 10% of overall campus student accommodation and are the most popular on-site.

Progress so far and future plans

So far, carbon emissions (for scope 1 and 2 emissions) have fallen from 29,151 tCO2e in the 2005/06 baseline year to 28,252 tCO2e in 2009/10. The major infrastructure projects, such as the utility meters, only started coming on stream from March 2011, and have yet to be included in the data.

“There has also been a significant expansion of the university estate between the baseline year and 2009/10,” Mills adds.

But both Mills and Swindlehurst are quietly confident about the university’s ability to meet its 2020 and 2050 carbon-reduction targets. And even more sure that the commitment and focus needed to realise these goals are in place. These qualities are also evident in the university’s proactive approach externally to the carbon-reduction agenda, such as its membership of the “HEFCE measuring scope 3 carbon emissions advisory group”, a project to help the higher education sector measure indirect carbon emissions.

Lancaster already has one eye on the new projects that will need to be developed in order for the university to meet its longer-term carbon-reduction targets. Although these have not been finally defined at the moment, they could include plans for the energy-efficient refurbishment of plant rooms, the virtualisation of computers and installation of photovoltaics on more university buildings.


Lancaster University's key projects

Given the significant investment required for most of the university’s energy-saving projects, a business case had to be presented to justify each one. The University Council approved the funding for the projects set out in the carbon management plan (CMP) in full.

“The funding needed to see through these carbon-reduction projects was equivalent to the cost of a new office block, which demonstrates the senior-level commitment we have here for sustainability,” comments Mark Swindlehurst, director of facilities.

Utility metering project

Electricity, heat and water metering has now been installed in all the main university buildings, enabling energy and water consumption to be automatically monitored on a building-by-building basis. The metering, requiring a £500,000 investment, enables the university to identify the heaviest energy and water uses across its campus.

It also flags up any anomalies, such as one faculty’s research experiment where it transpired water was being used as a cooling agent and then dumped, effectively leaving a tap running. Sustainability manager Jonathan Mills says the university is now studying the available energy data in detail, starting with the top 10 biggest users.

Installation of new gas thermal boilers and a CHP unit

When Lancaster commissioned a review of its infrastructure in 2007, it was clear that a substantial part of its heating services infrastructure – three dual-fuel hot-water boilers and a combined heat and power (CHP) unit – had reached the end of their economic life. A significant investment was required to bring the heating infrastructure back to an acceptable condition and make it more energy efficient.

The project to replace the 1960s boilers with high-efficiency gas-fired boilers was completed in early 2011. Mills says that the old boilers functioned at between 65% and 70% efficiency, while the new gas-fired ones perform at up to 93%. Work is also almost complete on the new CHP unit; plans for the installation of a biomass boiler will be revisited at a slightly later date, although space has already been allocated in the boiler room for its eventual installation.

Wind turbine application

The university’s 2007 assessment of its infrastructure identified wind power as one of the most suitable low-carbon technologies. It has already had one planning application, for two wind turbines, turned down but is optimistic that its current one, for a single turbine on the Hazelrigg site to the east of the M6 motorway, will be given the go-ahead. The application was submitted in October 2010 and would see one 2MW wind turbine erected on the northern part of the Hazelrigg site, projected to produce 10% of the university’s annual electrical power requirements – equivalent to two-thirds of the residential requirements of all students who live on campus.

“If we are successful the wind turbine will have a far-reaching impact, not only by reducing CO2 emissions but by putting the university firmly on the sustainability map and having a strong symbolic value in the community,” says Swindlehurst. “It will be a landmark here with the same impact locally as Blackpool Tower.”

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