Energy and buildings
The University of Edinburgh uses a mixture of on-site energy generation on campus which includes gas combined heat and power (CHP) and solar photovoltaics (PV).
Why are energy and buildings important?
Heating and energy are a significant proportion of overall carbon emissions, globally and in the University. It's a huge opportunity to make change as the technology to decarbonise exists now.
- the size and distribution of the University estate
- types of buildings (old and listed)
- changing estate needs now and into the future.
Reducing carbon from buildings isn't all about installing new technology. The way they are used by occupants is important too, which is why we sometimes run educational and behaviour change campaigns.
Over £30m has been invested in low carbon technology on campus. The University is now looking to the future and is seeking solutions to further decarbonise our heat and power networks.
For more information on Energy and Utilities at the University, visit the Estates website.
To avoid 1.5°C of warming, as outlined by the committee on climate change (CCC), we recognise that heat networks and their source can no longer be fossil-fuel based, no matter how efficient. They must be as close to zero carbon as possible. As a result, we are actively investigating how renewable technologies such as heat pumps, can be integrated with our existing heat networks.
Read more information on our current heating systems below.
The University was one of the first adopters of district heating. Also known as heat networks, district heating is a means of transporting heat, in the form of hot water or steam, from a centralised location through a system of insulated pipes. Today a series of pipes underlie the University of Edinburgh’s campuses, distributing heat from one of five energy centres. District heating proves itself to be an efficient and economical means of heating our buildings by:
Capturing and recirculating heat that would otherwise be wasted. Excess heat from our buildings is funnelled back into the heat network, reducing waste, fuel consumption and carbon emissions.
Creating economies of scale, as the generation of heat in one large plant is generally more efficient than production in multiple smaller ones.
Allowing for better control of heat generation and supply across locations and over time. When energy demand from one location reduces, the flow of heat can be managed and shifted elsewhere, maximising the utilisation of the heat source.
Combined heat and power (CHP)
The main source of heat for our heat networks are gas-fired combined heat and power (CHP) plants. CHP combines the production of usable heat and electricity into one single efficient process.
This contrasts with traditional ways of generating electricity where the heat released as a byproduct is simply wasted. The first of these plants was proposed in 2000.
Our most recent development is at our Easter Bush energy centre, where CHP is used to provide heat, cooling and electricity for the Roslin Institute and the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies – along with a growing number of veterinary research facilities.
Prior to the rapid decarbonisation of the national grid, CHPs helped lower our reported carbon footprint significantly. We are continuing to investigate how best to heat our buildings now that gas is becoming a higher carbon option in the evolving energy mix.
The University procures its grid electricity through renewable sources which are REGO certified. In addition to this, we are exploring further opportunities to learn from and develop renewable power, both on and off campus.
In 2020 the University built a solar farm at its Easter Bush campus. Almost 5,000 ground-mounted panels are expected to generate more than 1,400,000 kWh of electricity a year, which is roughly the same as that needed to supply 500 typical homes. This will provide 15 per cent of the Easter Bush site’s electricity consumption and will save an estimated £200,000 per year in electricity costs.
The University has a 26 kWe solar energy installation on the walls and roof of the William Rankine Building at the King's Buildings campus, as well as a 26 kWe system on the walls of Appleton Tower, located in the city centre. We have also investigated the potential to install rooftop solar throughout our estate as part of our Renewable energy and Low Carbon Options Group.