Students expect a safe pleasant, healthy, modern environment with a low carbon impact in which to learn, along with the latest facilities and excellent resources. They also want to feel confident that their university of choice cares as deeply as they do about our planet and its resources and is actively fighting against any decline caused by climate change.
University life comes with a great many expectations and choices. Although the quality of education and research is paramount, our academic institutions are increasingly aware that the environment and their impact on it, is also important to students. Typically, around 80% of university income is generated through student enrolment. With over 130 universities and higher education institutions available in the UK, competition for student enrolment has never been so tough. In order to attract the best students, universities are increasingly aware of need to minimise their carbon footprints and to address these environmental concerns as well as other student needs.
Furthermore, due to the current pandemic, the need to return to safe learning environments is even more critical than ever before. This adds to the on-going concerns of balancing the energy trilemma.
With several countries, governments, and institutions around the world declaring climate emergencies, universities recognise the need to play their part too. The drive to NetZero carbon by 2050 is a National commitment, now enshrined in UK law. Several universities have also committed to achieving this goal by the end of this current decade! To support these goals, buildings across the campus are becoming smarter than ever before. As more systems and services increasingly become connected within and across buildings, real-time monitoring and control can allow strategic actions to be taken across the university estate.
In parallel, as smart technology continues to evolve, improving the effectiveness of facilities management and optimising energy usage whilst adapting to suit individual and local needs is rapidly becoming the new norm for smart buildings and campuses. Here’s how we can make smart university campuses:
Starting with individual buildings, the intelligent control of heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) equipment via building energy management systems (BeMS) ensures that energy and space are used more efficiently. The local environment is optimised for the comfort, welfare, and safety of the occupants. When wider building services are also considered, this allows even further optimisation and efficiency gains across the campus. For example, a smart university building will continuously improve its operation, not only across vital services such as HVAC but also by the integration of lighting, security, access, CCTV, lifts, window blinds, space utilisation/room booking systems, and even renewable power generation & energy storage systems. All can be optimised and controlled through the BeMS.
A smart campus typically utilises energy optimisation software to help managers understand their energy use by highlighting instances where energy is being wasted and then makes adjustments through the BeMS to correct issues. Furthermore, through the benefit of remote cloud connectivity, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly being deployed to autonomously learn the usage and behaviour patterns and to enable even smarter decision making.
The transparent communication of the occupancy density in buildings/rooms or display of the specific number of people in a room versus the target occupancy for that space is a simple, yet vital tool to provide. peace of mind for occupants. Such technologies provide reassurance that social distance guidelines can, and are, being followed.
The control, monitoring and display of Air Quality metrics such as;
provides security and confidence that a healthy living environment is available to all. Reporting this back in real-time gives the confidence that the space is compliant with all regulations and provides a safe working environment.
Outside the university’s buildings, further smart optimisations can be implemented on the streets of the campus. For example, Zigbee enabled LED street lighting, which only turns on when human or vehicle presence is detected. Through the installation of various IoT sensing technologies across the campus, a variety of elements can be measured and the appropriate control strategies deployed to the benefit of local users.
The complicated process of operating energy & heat networks, as found on many campuses, often detracts from the core university objectives in education & research. A combination of new technology and the urgent need to de-carbonise is transforming Universities from simply being consumers to also becoming suppliers, and drives need to manage their own on-site energy generation efficiently. An Energy as a Service (EaaS) platform can automate and simply these otherwise complex operations.
Through Demand Side Response programs, Universities can also be reimbursed for reducing their energy consumption at times of peak demand.. Working with an EaaS provider and the National Grid, this can prove to be a valuable extra revenue source for the university. It is also possible to specify the purchase of “green” electricity, ie, that which is partly or entirely produced from clean-carbon renewable sources, such as wind, or solar. A large campus allows opportunities to locate wind turbines and photovoltaic (PV) solar cells, to both meet the university’s needs, and to gain extra return by selling excess energy generation to the National Grid. Even small campuses have buildings with rooftops on which PV cells can be installed.
Any excess renewable electricity generated, or if cheaper grid-supply is available, can be stored in batteries, for more efficient use at other times. The growing demand for electric vehicles (EV) can support a major advance towards decarbonisation. An SSE Smart Energy Campus makes provision for an extensive EV infrastructure with charging points in all parking areas. A beneficial consequence of this infrastructure is that parked charging vehicles can also be used as a storage facility for excess renewable energy. They can also be used in support of Demand Side Response programs by using energy in the batteries to reduce grid energy requirements at times of high demand/ cost, and then re-charging them when the grid price lowers.
The use of gas-powered boilers in each building to provide room and water heating is no longer sustainable. Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems, represent a more energy-efficient alternative and further decarbonisation of such heat generation remains the target for most campuses. On a larger scale, a district heating network could provide heating for the entire campus, and potentially can be powered entirely from clean renewable electricity.