Spanish University Cuts its Annual Energy Bill by €1 Million Euros

With the right energy programme in place, large energy consumers, such as universities, can save a fortune on their electricity bills.
Published: Mon 25 Aug 2014

Universities are large energy consumers due to their widespread campuses, multiple buildings, libraries, laboratories, classrooms, data centres, halls and common areas. However, studies show that 15-40% of the energy-related spending can be saved, making the savings potential worldwide enormous.

A well-built energy programme is part of the solution

By deploying a well-built energy programme, it is possible for educational facilities to gain considerable savings on their energy bills.

Polytechnic University of Catalonia (currently also referred to as BarcelonaTECH) currently saves over €1 million (US$1.3 million) in its annual energy spend. This is a significant amount since the university’s energy bill totals on average €5.5 million (US$7.3 million) each year. The savings is thanks partly to its energy management solution, DEXCell Energy Manager 3.2 which was supplied by global energy management software provider, DEXMA. The cloud-based energy management solution is a technology platform which helps to identify and validate energy costs and consumption savings. The university refers to this programme as Sirena.

The university’s goal was to cut energy spending by more than 25% between 2010 and 2014 and already more than 20% has been achieved by 2013.

People - an important factor when it comes to energy savings

Didac Ferrer, head of the sustainability management office at the university, says that most of their work is based on people - not technology. He explains, “This may sound strange coming from a technology university but people have a bigger impact on energy savings than technology. We have found that in public spaces like universities, people tend not to take responsibility for their energy consumption. This attitude had to be changed in order for the energy efficiency programme to work.”

The university’s main focus is on:

  1. Energy savings - Focus was placed on people “the consumers” and unnecessary consumption. To alter consumption habits, tools were chosen to appeal to behaviours, culture, training, intelligent organization and management.

  2. Energy efficiency - Focus was placed on energy losses which could be avoided. The objective here was to focus on equipment, machinery (installation and usage of efficient technology) and operations (automated management with new technologies).

Ferrer says, “The trick is to focus on people first, then technology. It is important to engage people from the beginning of a project and to keep them involved throughout. In addition, contexts must be taken into account otherwise an energy savings project will not work.” He adds that it is important to note that work, money and family is generally what drives behaviour since this is what matters most to people. It is also important to note that learnings from the university will be carried back to the home and communities by students and staff members.

The energy strategy explained

The university’s energy strategy has various components which are all critical to its overall success:

  • Energy optimization projects at building level - The aim here is to involve as many people as possible to save energy and rationalise the usage of the building. A “savings” culture has been created by changing habits and routines. Everyone on the campus works as a team to attain energy savings goals and participants are encouraged to monitor progress on the university’s website.

  • Training participants (of all backgrounds) to understand the fundamentals of energy management.

  • Working group of energy managers at each campus - These groups meet regularly to monitor plan, prepare standards, share information and exchange experiences.

  • Investments on energy efficiency systems - Money that is saved from energy savings is reinvested to enhance the university’s energy efficiency.

  • Monitoring scheme and system (DEXCell Energy Manager 3.2) - This system sends reports to participants and everyone has access to detailed energy consumption data online.

  • The information platform on the university’s website is the reference point of strategy for the university community. Participants enjoy easy access to the data which makes energy saving goals easier to work towards. Useful tips are also recommended here.

Voluntary approach

Ferrer says a voluntary approach was taken to attract programme participants. He explains, “We asked students and staff to take part in the energy saving project. We asked them to work towards optimising energy consumption in their buildings. If goals were reached, they would receive a financial incentive of 25% from savings. The money must be used to further enhance the buildings’ energy efficiency. Voluntary participation grew as other building managers saw how buildings were gaining euros.”

Campus to become a living laboratory

“We tried to create a community of people who take responsibility together to reduce energy consumption,” says Ferrer. Through the university’s energy strategy and DEXCell Energy Manager, participants are making a difference to save energy.

Ferrer says the aim is to eventually turn the campus into a ‘living laboratory’. “Pilots are currently being set up around the campus. This interactive approach is being used to optimise our sustainability.”

Since there is a limit on energy optimisation, the University aims to attract foreign investment to:

  • Create further efficiency on systems

  • Develop renewable energy.

Over the years, it has cost the university €200,000 to install energy consumption monitoring equipment. Currently there are 200 measuring points across the university. With the money made from savings, the number of points will be increased to further optimise energy savings where possible.