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Reducing CO2 emissions from The Bartlett's buildings

18 July 2022

Our buildings produce emissions directly on campus and indirectly through the energy sources that power them. To reach net zero we must address both areas.

group of students talking in front of 3D image on computer

As part of The Bartlett’s journey to net-zero by 2030, we’re examining each of the sources of our emissions in turn. We’ve recently been thinking about the emissions which are caused by the energy we use in our buildings. These are of two kinds. Emissions which we produce directly on campus – for example from the combustion of natural gas in boilers to generate heating and hot water. And emissions which are generated elsewhere as a result of our energy demands – especially those created by the power stations that generate the electricity we use for lighting, heating, cooling and to power appliances.

There are two strategies we can take to cut the emissions from the energy we use in our buildings. The first is to reduce our demand for energy itself, by being more efficient in the ways we heat and power our buildings. This strategy also has the accompanying benefit of reducing our energy bills, likely to be of considerable value given current high energy prices. The second is to substitute the sources of energy we use, replacing fossil fuels with zero-carbon energy. 

We will need to use both of these strategies to reach net zero.

Where we are now

In the academic year 2018/19, emissions from energy used in buildings made up 17% of UCL’s overall carbon footprint. The effects of the pandemic saw this fall to 11% in the following academic year (HESA data). 

Improving energy efficiency in our buildings requires close collaboration with UCL Estates, who are responsible for building maintenance and for longer-term building strategy, and Sustainable UCL. Our efforts are also highly affected by the material realities of the buildings we occupy.

The Bartlett’s schools and institutes occupy a mixture of buildings, including 19th century townhouses in Tavistock Square and Montague Street, the 1930s Central House, post-war office blocks on Tottenham Court Road and Torrington Place, the recently refurbished 22 Gordon Street, as well as newer buildings within the former Olympic Park in east London.

All public buildings are legally required to have Display Energy Certificates (DECs) with an associated rating. These are based on energy consumption over the previous 12 months from meter readings. The rating scale refers to CO2 emissions, A referring to the lowest and G the highest. The boundary between D and E is considered ‘typical’ for a building of a given type. The Bartlett’s buildings currently have DEC ratings ranging from E to C. We are in the process of ensuring that all our buildings clearly display their DECs in their reception areas. Keep an eye out for these, to get an idea of what kind of an emissions footprint each building currently has.

22 Gordon Street: Further savings can still be made

22 Gordon Street, The Bartlett, early evening

22 Gordon Street, formerly known as Wates House, is one of the Bartlett’s most recognisable buildings. Its current DEC rating is C. This is a substantial improvement from a previously estimated G-rating, before a major retrofit in 2017 brought the building up to its current standard. The retrofit project was given a rating of BREEAM Excellent, and the building also won CIBSE’s retrofit building of the year 2020.

However, there are still further energy savings that can be made. A recent energy review (PROActiv Energy Case Study, Kendra Energy) found that more savings could be made through operational measures. These include fine tuning of heating and cooling units to operate more efficiently, and reprogramming of timed energy demands. This avoids unnecessary provision of heating, cooling or lighting when not required.

The energy review estimates that the total potential annual energy saving available from implementing these measures is 517,812 kWh. This is equivalent to about 40-50% of current annual electricity consumption in the building. Sustainable UCL are currently working with the review authors, and with contractors and building management system engineers, to implement the recommendations.

Supply and demand

Part of making our buildings more energy efficient could include making them more responsive to building occupancy. The graph below compares electricity and fuel & heat demands at 22 Gordon Street during February 2020, with daily footfall during the same month.

Graph showing fuel & heat and electricity usage against footfall in 22 Gordon St. Fuel and heat stays constant all week, footfall decreases sharply at weekends (from 1000 to 200), with smaller dips in electricity usage.
The figure shows a substantial drop off in use of the building during the weekends, as we would expect. Electricity also drops off at weekends, but to a far lesser extent. Fuel & heat demand remains relatively constant. The clear implication is that energy-use-per-person is much greater at times of low occupancy.

Of course, there may be good reasons why energy demands cannot always track occupancy with absolute fidelity. For example, one person sitting in an office will likely require the same amount of lighting and temperature control as a full room. And some heating or cooling systems may be less amenable to being ramped up and down, and work better on a constant basis. Nonetheless, we are likely to see continuing variability in building occupancy due to blended working patterns following the pandemic. It seems important, therefore, to continue reviewing how we can continue to make our buildings’ energy use more responsive to occupation.

We have created a survey for Bartlett staff and students. You can share your thoughts about how efficiently your buildings operate and offer suggestions for improvement. This should help create an overview of where challenges lie. We will continue to work with UCL Estates and Sustainable UCL to find ways of addressing these. 

Decarbonising our energy supply

Even with highly-efficient and efficiently-operated buildings, energy will still be required. The decarbonisation of energy supply is also key to reaching net-zero emissions from our buildings. 

Sustainable UCL’s “Zero Carbon Plan for UCL” (2021) sets out various options for decarbonising the energy supply used by UCL. A cornerstone of their approach is the purchasing of electricity from a zero-carbon supplier, who backs their claims with a Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin (REGO) certificate. Longer term, UCL aims to purchase electricity directly from specific renewable assets. The university also seeks to expand onsite renewable energy production from solar panels. 

The decarbonisation of heat supply is a significant challenge. Options include shifting from natural gas heating to electric heat pumps, or upgrading district energy networks to be low carbon. UCL currently is supplied by two combined heat and power/district heating networks that are fuelled by natural gas. One option for decarbonising these is to use waste heat sources, such as waste heat from the London Underground. This idea has been explored in a student project carried out for The Bartlett (Bipash Paul, “Prospects for net-zero district heating in large estates”, 2021). 

There is plenty more to come back to following this initial scoping of the Bartlett’s energy usage in buildings, and we will keep you updated on our ongoing progress in reducing emissions from our buildings.

The Bartlett honoured at UCL Sustainability Awards 

The achievements of Bartlett staff and students were recognised across a number of categories at the UCL 2022 Sustainability Awards, including a Special Award for Outstanding Sustainability Plan. Richard Jackson, Director of Sustainable UCL, praised the faculty for its clear decision to establish a net-zero target; its development of appropriate governance arrangements including the net-zero advisory group; and for its efforts in engaging the research, teaching and wider experience of the Bartlett community as part of its net-zero journey.

A number of Bartlett departmental green teams were also honoured with Green Impact awards. The Faculty Office achieved a Silver award, and the BSSC Green Onions team and the BSEER Green Team both took home Gold Green Impact certificates.

Jing Meng of the BSSC was highly commended in the category of sustainability research, for her work on the impacts of economic changes on emerging economies’ CO2 emissions. Lorenzo Lotti was highly commended in the category of sustainability education, for his work organising behavioural marathons, involving students, other universities and the non-profit organisation Hubbub, on tackling sustainability-related issues.

Congratulations to everyone!