Skip main navigation

What is Bristol Uni doing about sustainability?

The University of Bristol’s pledge is to create a carbon neutral campus by 2030, which is supported by a robust carbon management plan.
The Carbon Management Plan is a plan to reduce our carbon emissions. We’re just about to refresh it but we had a first iteration of it put in place in 2010 and that’s helped us save £1.7 million a year over business as usual. And although the University has grown by a third by almost whatever measure you care to use; number of students, turnover, floor area, we managed to keep a lid on carbon emissions, they were down 7% on 10 years ago this year for instance. And going into the future we want to reduce carbon emissions still further.
We do a lot of climate science in the University and we’re convinced that climate change is a very real threat to humankind so we want to do our bit to make sure that we’re practising what we preach locally at the University. Chris and I work closely together to identify the areas where we can make most difference. Lots of people’ve got their own ideas about how we can best save energy but we’ve got some real, data-driven, evidence-based work on exactly where our electricity and gas consumption goes. The University of Bristol, we look at where our energy’s going and by far the biggest user of energy is moving air, so air handling uses more than anything else.
Lots of people don’t understand that, people say, ‘oh the lights are on,’ or ‘something else is happening,’ but it’s moving air, by far the biggest, and that’s all to do with laboratories and server rooms and places like that. There’s lots of small local solutions that we have, so if someone comes to us and says ‘well we’ve seen this and we think this is overheating,’ or ‘this is under heating,’ or ‘this just looks wrong,’ we’ll go and investigate. Chris will go and investigate and we’ll think of a solution for that and we have an increasing interest in renewables.
We’ve got half a megawatt of solar panels but we’re most interested in changing some of our immersion heated hot water to air source heat pumps and we’re doing that at some of our halls of residence and that’s been very successful, it’s saving quite a lot of electricity. We’re also at the cutting edge really of Demand-Side Response. When the National Grid is most congested, people like ourselves, big users, get charged more. So we’ve embraced that and things that we don’t have to do right now we put off to when it’s cheaper. So we don’t heat hot water when it’s really expensive, because hot water will stay hot.
The other thing that’s quite nice is that some some manufacturers come to us with products and we say to them, ‘at the moment it looks good, we could do some control with this, but wouldn’t it be good if we could do this or this?’ So electrical heated halls is one that was a good example. The product came to us as a way of improving the conditions for students, so the student experience would increase.
Very obvious to me that we could use that to save energy and I said to them, ‘if you were to change your control in certain ways you could save energy,’ and they said ‘well we can do that but noone’s ever asked us,’ so I said ‘well we’re asking you,’ and it didn’t cost them anything to do. It didn’t cost us any more but we were managing to save another 15% on our consumption fairly easily and all that was was enabling some piece of software in the background and now that company’s going round the Universities, it’s going round nurses accommodation, all those sorts of things, offering that up as a benefit of their product.
So these are the sorts of things that we’re interested in. One of the things that’s really interesting about working at the University is the variety of buildings that we have and I think our oldest building is 1735 and we have the Life Sciences building which was opened in 2014 so we’ve got the whole spectrum of buildings that do everything and that means that we can emulate lots of buildings out there in the community.
We did some experiments with Engineering on control in a very lightly insulated building at our Langford campus which is a good example of a building you can find on lots of industrial estates where you might have this landlord-tenant relationship with the landlord who doesn’t want to invest and neither does the tenant because neither of them will see the benefit. So we were able to put in some controllers for electric heating down there to save £2,000 worth a year of electricity, just in that situation. So using the University as a living lab is becoming increasingly important and increasingly exciting, we can do lots. It’s worth saying that Bristol is a very interesting place to be doing smart energy work.
There’s a lot of work that the council’s putting into this, there’s a lot of people who are interested in the points of smart energy and renewable energy in the city. And actually we get quite a lot of scrutiny from people outside the University and that’s great in a way because we’re able to raise our game and it always does us good to demonstrate that we’re doing the right thing.
We’ve been working with the Centre for Sustainable Energy and the City Council on different ways of using electricity to help the grid to balance and we’re also interested in the possibility of the District Heat Network in Bristol, we can imagine ourselves buying heat from that, maybe selling heat to it within the next five years really so we’re at the table with that and we’re looking forward to seeing how that develops. You know we’ve been, what, seven years into Carbon Management Plan now and we can really look back at a series of projects and say, ‘look at what we’ve done, look at how much carbon we’ve saved, it’s amazing’.
At Stoke Bishop halls of residence when I first arrived here, we were using about 7.3 million kilowatt hours a year of electricity, so just for the maths that’s probably about £730,000 worth a year. And now we’re down to 5.7 million and there’s an additional hall there as well so we’ve squeezed that in as well and that’s tremendous. We look at a lot of the buildings now and we can say ‘yeah we did that there, it’s saved this much, and we’ve done that there and it’s saved this much’ and that’s very very satisfying.
It’s great to see that we’re having an effect in terms of the cash saving for the University which we can spend on teaching and research and it’s great to see the carbon. I mean one of the reasons that I’m doing this rather than anything else is because I do feel that we have to de-carbonise very very quickly. And it’s great to be part of that and say at the end of the year, you know, we’re a thousand tonnes down on where we would have been if we hadn’t have done this project, so that’s very exciting for me.
Because the university is interested in us innovating at the same time that makes it doubly exciting, so it’s a great place to be isn’t it. It is.

The University of Bristol’s Sustainability Team pledge is to create a carbon neutral campus by 2030. This ambitious target is supported by the team’s policy and strategy, and a robust carbon management plan. The team continuously monitor carbon emissions and work to reduce the rates of energy use and the carbon impact of the physical estate.

A bit of history

In 2019, the University used 67.4 million kWh (67.4 GWh) of electricity, about the same as 15,000 households. 63.5 GWh of this came from grid electricity, supplied via electricity from renewable sources, costing £7.6m. In addition, 0.5 GWh was generated by solar panels on the roof of buildings, and 3.4 GWh (together with 4.6 GWh of heat) came from Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants which provide heat and power for key scientific buildings and for the swimming pool. The CHPs are fed by natural gas, and used 10.6 GWh of gas in 2019.

The University’s biggest use for energy is for treating and moving laboratory air in the Science and Engineering buildings. Lighting, IT servers and residences are also big users of energy in the University. Some of its heritage and listed buildings are difficult to make more energy efficient and they use more than equivalent modern buildings would. In 2019, the University paid £7.6m in electricity, £2.25m in gas and £1.0m for water. A further £700k was spent to reduce, reuse and recycle waste and to dispose of the remainder responsibly.

All of the University’s electricity is currently bought under a green tariff from wind farms in the UK, with 20% of it coming from long-term power purchase agreements in 2019. The Sustainability Team have installed air source heat pumps to provide domestic hot water in halls of residence, saving 0.6GWh of electricity a year.

A team effort

All users of the campus have a role to play in support of these goals. By educating staff and students, and making good practice standard practice, targets are on track. Regular student-led campaigns, supported by the Sustainability Team, also help to remind everyone to be conscious of their energy consumption.

This article is from the free online

Unleash Your Potential: Sustainable Futures

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now