Covid-safe teaching helps to add £1 million to campus gas bill

Estates directors complain about academics wanting offices to be ‘toasty warm’ around the clock despite visiting for only a couple of hours a week

November 25, 2021
Source: istock

Higher gas prices and opening windows to mitigate the risk of Covid transmission will cost a Russell Group university an extra £1 million this year, a senior estates manager said.

Andy Nolan, director of development and sustainability at the University of Nottingham, told Times Higher Education’s THE Campus Live event that his institution was expecting a significant hike in its £13 million-a-year utilities bill despite major efforts to reduce emissions on campus by making estates more energy-efficient.

“That is an extra £1 million that could be spent on laboratories or student sport resources,” said Mr Nolan, who explained that new guidelines to improve ventilation during undergraduate teaching were also set to add an additional 2,000 tonnes of carbon to Nottingham’s annual emissions.

Those extra costs and emissions were, however, unavoidable given the new complexities posed by in-person teaching in winter while Covid continued to circulate, said Mr Nolan.

“It’s not an excuse – it is just reality,” he explained, adding that the university had also spent about £6 million on Covid-proofing Nottingham’s campus.

The extra costs imposed by the pandemic and rising gas prices – which have climbed more than eightfold over the past 12 months, according to Bloomberg – underlined the importance of students and staff doing their bit to reduce emissions where they could, said Mr Nolan.

“I go through our buildings on Friday evenings to see if the lights have been turned off, and they often haven’t been,” he said.

The conference also heard complaints from other estate managers who said academics insisted on having their offices “toasty warm” from 7am, Monday to Friday, despite “only coming in two to three hours a week”.

Keeping university libraries open around the clock or late into the night – a practice introduced in many institutions following student pressure – was also very inefficient given the heating costs, said Gillian Brown, energy manager at the University of Glasgow.

Her institution was now keeping the heating low on certain levels of its 17-floor library, which was open from 6am to 2am.

“When we looked at occupancy, we found that between midnight and 2am, there were only 40 people there on average,” said Ms Brown.

She also explained that the absence of staff and students during the pandemic had actually increased heating bills in many of Glasgow’s buildings, rather than reduced them, because people and the electrical devices they used threw off heat that helped to warm buildings, which could not be left unheated to “moulder”.

If universities were serious about cutting emissions, they needed to consider getting rid of some buildings, rather than simply trying to retrofit existing ones with insulation, heat pumps or other energy-saving methods or devices, added Ms Brown, who criticised the “bigger is better” mentality of university estates.

“We have 330 buildings at Glasgow, and it’s almost like we advertise that fact, saying the bigger the better,” she said, adding that her university had managed to reduce its estate footprint by 500,000 square metres over the past year, which had led to buildings being used more intensively.

For energy savings at universities, “space is really the final frontier”, added Ms Brown.

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Reader's comments (1)

No problem, we'll keep the windows closed and catch covid.


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