Myths, misconceptions and misunderstandings in carbon management

Posted in: Comment, Talks and Presentations

Myths, misconceptions and misunderstandings in carbon management – a pragmatist’s insight into the world of saving carbon in a University was the title of a recent I-SEE seminar at Bath.  It was presented by Peter Phelps, the university's Energy and Environment Manager.

As someone who inevitably turns off lights in empty rooms whenever I am there (and sits in an over-heated office), I went along with interest.  Here's something of what I heard:

The UK University sector is highly significant in terms of energy use and carbon, with 380,000 employees and a £600m energy spend.  The turnover of the sector would put it in fourth place in the FTSE 350 on revenues.  With a total floor area for its buildings of 26 million square metres, it is seven times bigger than Tesco and only slightly smaller than the NHS.

The University of Bath has a £6m energy / water bill and has achieved highly significant carbon savings whilst also growing.  It was the first UK University to develop a carbon strategy.  It has one of the best metered set of buildings in country with half a million data points a week coming into our automated information systems (2000 smart meters).

It is employing best practice in the procurement, design and handover of new buildings and has spent £0.5 billion on new build and refurbishments in the last 10 years.  It is also the highest altitude University campus in the UK.  It generates a significant proportion of its own energy on-site and has saved £1.5m from annual use.

The campus is like a small town with a population of 17,000 people.  It emits 24,000 tonnes of CO2 – 35,000 if you include transport.  This is the equivalent consumption of 9,000 household's electricity, 4000 household's water, and 3,000 household's gas.

It spends £2.9m on electricity, £1.4m on gas, and £374,000 on carbon permits.  Unlike most houses, its base-load electricity use is around 2/3 of consumption with wide variation between departments.

Energy efficiency is more more important to the university than a use of renewables as "the greenest energy is the energy you don’t use", and the priority is to save money and carbon, not just money.  In that context, the refurbishment of a 1960s building (where my single-glazed, no cavity wall, asbestos lined office used to be) was over £22m.


I asked about HEFCE's carbon reduction targets which were (in that green flush of enthusiasm in the 2000s) keenly pushed by the funding council (and government).  Bath's carbon emissions for 2014/15 are down 10.4% since 2005 – and 5% since the 2008/09 baseline in the Carbon Management Plan (CMP).  Although this is progress, Bath's carbon targets are increasingly challenging given the scale of recent and planned campus growth.

Here are some finer data about relative carbon emissions:

  • CO2 per square metre of building floor area – 21% down since 2008/9  &  28% down in last 9 years
  • CO2 per student – 21% down since 2008/9  &  30% down in last  9 years
  • CO2 per £ of financial turnover – 29% down during CMP  &  47% down in last 9 years

Bath cannot be atypical of the sector here in that there has been so much growth over the last 10 years that this has tended to dwarf the (sometimes substantial) carbon savings.  As such, the original targets now lack much meaning.  This is the trouble with numerical targets: events can overtake them.  I wonder if anyone has data on how carbon emissions per student has changed over time across the country?  HEFCE might, but the CEO won't be much interested in them.


Updated with more accurate data on January 18th.

Posted in: Comment, Talks and Presentations


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