The UB is working to reduce its energy consumption
The institution is launching an energy-saving plan to cope with the increase in energy costs, which could amount to 18 million euros.
The University of Barcelona’s new year’s resolution has a clear goal: a zero increase in energy consumption. The rector of the UB, Joan Guàrdia, is sure about it: “Together, we must halt the sustained growth in energy expenses of recent years and prove our community’s commitment to the global challenge of sustainability”. All this happens at a time when the warnings of various international organisations are not at all favourable: energy is the main factor hindering the economy today. The increase in natural gas and oil prices and the consequences of the war in Ukraine have caused energy costs to skyrocket: it is estimated that the increase in the electricity bill in Spain in 2022 will be up to 67%. Although it seems that prices are being contained in recent months, the University of Barcelona’s Management Office calculates that the UB’s energy costs could rise to 18 million euros by 2023.
The Energy Crisis Committee, formed by a group of members of the UB community, discussed what could be effective and rapidly applicable measures to reduce energy consumption at the institution. These proposals, which do not alter the normal functioning of the UB, make up what is known as the Energy Saving Plan, which has come into force with the entry into force of the year 2023. This plan, together with the Measures to encourage responsible ecological behaviour and the Roadmap for implementing sustainability actions at the UB, initiatives of the Commission for Sustainable Development approved by the Governing Council in July 2022, are the institution’s main shield to contribute to sustainability objectives and to fight against price rises.
The vice-rector for Equal Opportunities and Gender, Montse Puig, believes the UB community’s commitment will be key to achieving the goal. Puig, also head of the UB’s SDG Agenda, says that “we must promote a culture of energy saving within the institution. There are small actions that, with everyone’s will, can reduce consumption. Switching off the lights, reducing air conditioning or using the stairs instead of the lift are some examples”. According to Brugués Palmero, centre administrator of the faculties of Physics and Chemistry and member of the Energy Crisis Committee, “we are looking for everyone’s complicity to collaborate in saving energy. The measures have already begun to be implemented and, with the proper dissemination, we will try to contribute to reducing energy expenditure”.
“In this order, the most energy-intensive areas at the UB are the air conditioning of buildings, lighting, equipment associated with research facilities —laboratories, thermostatic rooms, stables—- and computer equipment, which in some cases involves associated cooling”, says Josep Ignasi Piñol, head of the Maintenance Unit of the UB and member of the Energy Crisis Committee.
In the area of lighting, 1.8 million euros have been earmarked for the replacement of fluorescent tubes with LEDs, scheduled to take place between June and December this year. An LED tube consumes fewer watts to produce the same amount of lumens as fluorescent tubes, so this measure will be essential to reduce energy consumption. The adaptation of the exterior lighting of UB buildings when there is no activity and the rationalisation of internal lighting, completely switching off the lights outside the operating hours of the buildings —for example, underground car parks— are two further actions that will be carried out.
Computer equipment is a major energy consumer. A desktop computer consumes 285 watts per hour. Leaving it running until the next day, instead of switching it off at the end of the working day, multiplies its consumption by three, according to the Safety, Health and Environment Office of the UB (OSSMA). For this reason, the plan states a series of actions that consist of raising awareness in the UB community by turning off all computer equipment completely and not leaving it in standby mode, and drawing up a register of equipment that must remain permanently switched on. Therefore, the consumption generated will be only what is strictly necessary for special energy requirements such as, for example, computer servers.
The third area is air conditioning. Once the COVID-19 pandemic has been overcome, the need to constantly air some faculty spaces, such as classrooms, is eliminated. This involves substantial and immediate savings, avoiding unnecessary energy consumption to maintain the temperature. The second major measure in this area is the fulfilment of the Royal Decree 14/2022 of 1 August, which establishes temperatures of no less than 27 degrees in summer and no more than 19 degrees in winter. Turning off heating systems in shared areas, reducing the use of heaters to a minimum and applying time restrictions on air conditioning are the actions that complete the strategy in this area.
At the same time, the UB will launch an intensive communication and awareness-raising campaign —We are responsible— which will run throughout 2023 and will seek the active involvement of the UB community in this common goal. The campaign will be carried out in several phases: information, awareness-raising and action. It will also promote actions such as active mobility. Finally, the institution will organise training courses on responsible consumption and climate emergency for the three groups: students, administrative and service staff, and teaching and research staff.
Brugués points out that there are certain spaces that present challenges when it comes to saving energy: “A building like the Faculty of Physics and the Faculty of Chemistry, with open spaces of considerable sizes, such as staircases, corridors and halls, has large air conditioning costs. In addition, as they are two faculties in the scientific field, they have facilities that need energy supply 365 days a year. Palmero stresses that it is small actions that can make a difference: “We have started to adjust the interior lighting in common areas, we have adjusted the timetable and the temperature of the air conditioning, and we have made all staff aware of the importance of individual decisions such as turning off lights and computers every time they leave the office”.
The dean of the Faculty of Earth Sciences and member of the Energy Crisis Committee, Albert Soler, explains how his centre will act: “The change of desktop light bulbs, more efficient regulation of air conditioning and the existence of fewer remote computers, as a result of overcoming the pandemic, are the most direct actions to reduce energy consumption that we are promoting from the faculty”. Soler points out that in order to “save more, a greater investment is needed to enable us to carry out certain actions, such as concentrating all the servers in the same room”, which would allow us to reduce the cooling consumption. However, he is sure that the centre’s staff “will be very involved in achieving the objectives of the plan”. He adds that “we are a faculty that does teaching and research on climate change. Therefore, we are very familiar with concepts such as the climate crisis, the circular economy and the new energy model”.
Piñol believes that “if the weather is neutral, we can expect savings of between 5 and 10%”. “We should bear in mind that during 2020, at the height of the pandemic, the savings achieved amounted to 22%, so a realistic figure would be 10%”, he says. The rector, Joan Guàrdia, stresses that “firstly, we must ensure that the consumption curve stops having a monotonically increasing and incremental trend and, secondly, renegotiate the cost per unit consumed”.
Adrià Escribano is a Biochemistry student at the University of Barcelona. He believes that student involvement is crucial to achieving energy savings at the UB: “We are key to making this work. The best way to motivate us is to involve us in these measures and make them more than just a document. Organising talks, disseminating advertising videos or reminding people of the measures on the screens in the faculties can be good initiatives to get everyone to commit to this goal”. Escribano, who is also a member of the UB Sustainability Committee, believes that the university should be “a flag-bearer at a time of climate and energy emergency”. Moreover, “If we add up small individual efforts, the result can be surprising”, concludes the student.
This year, the University of Barcelona has a major collective challenge. Will we succeed?