The heat is on: College sustainability investigated

Ben Redwood 7 November 2013

An investigation conducted by The Cambridge Student has revealed large differences in the energy saving strategies adopted by different colleges.

The inquiry, following the latest publication of the Green League Table on 14 March by the Cambridge University Environmental Consulting Society, qualifies the data on the energy efficiency of each of the colleges that took part in terms of energy expended upon the heating of rooms and water. Looking into the heating methods adopted by different colleges, adopted insulation strategies and the timings for when heating is turned on and off has revealed several notable correlations.

Magdalene, for example, one of the least energy efficient colleges in this year’s table, has an energy consumption rate of 53.4 kWh/p/d (kilowatt hours per person per day). This is an increase from 2010, where the rate recorded by CUECS was 44 kWh/p/d. The College states that their heating is turned on annually between 1 October and 1 June, switching off one to two months later than the average college. They are also the only college to charge students with a fixed heating bill.

Many of the oldest colleges performed the worst, such as Clare, Gonville and Caius, and King’s, the latter with a gas consumption of 136.1 kWh/p/d, dwarfing the figures of all other colleges taking part in the survey. This may in part be explained by the age of the buildings. As listed buildings, extra protection is granted to the buildings in order to help maintain their futures under special consideration.

Jesus College, also a listed building, stated in the inquiry that they were not originally constructed with insulation, yet where permitted and appropriate have been able to install roof insulation and secondary glazing.

However, Jesus are also the second most energy efficient college, in spite of their age, with a CO2 emissions rating of 9.1kg/p/d; King’s College, established only 55 years earlier, releases 46.2kg of carbon dioxide daily per person. Jesus are also the only college that has claimed to use renewable energy sources for heating, deploying ground source heat pumps and solar water heaters.

Stephanie Richards, Project Lead of the Green League Table, told TCS that “dealing with retrofit and renovation of existing properties… is a long and slow process.

“The greatest immediate change that can be made is behavioural, teaching people about how and why they should conserve resources.”

Selwyn College on the other hand, established in 1882, has successfully renovated all of their buildings within the last 15 years to be in compliance with applicable building regulations of the time. Nick Downer, Bursar, states that the survey “is too onerous and time consuming for me to do”.

Tim Cottage, the estates manager for Clare Hall, told TCS that he felt students were the biggest causes of energy waste, by often leaving windows open. “Students are shown how to turn the radiator down in their rooms. This never seems to work as they would rather leave the heating on and open a window. Students often complain of being cold. When I go over there to carry out a room check they sit there in Shorts and T shirt [sic].

“The other problem I get is when students buy their own portable fan heater. If the building is controlled by a BMS this can upset the sensors depending where they are as heating will shut down.”

Aside from improving heating efficiency, CUECS states that energy can be saved by turning off electrical appliances, such as shutting down office equipment overnight and ideally over lunch breaks. Turning off a printer and a photocopier overnight and at weekends can save up to £63 a year on the Colleges’ electricity bills.