Social Responsibility and Sustainability

Low carbon and renewable energy

The University of Edinburgh uses a mixture of low carbon and renewable technology on campus which includes gas combined heat and power (CHP) and solar photovoltaics (PV).

Over £30m has been invested in low carbon technology on campus, and since 2010 it has attracted more than £50m of funding for climate-related research.

The University is now looking to the future and is seeking solutions to further decarbonise our heat and power networks.

Renewable energy generation

William Rankine Building

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.

Solar energy

In 2020 the University built a solar farm at its Easter Bush campus. Almost 5000 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 26kWe system on the walls of Appleton Tower, located in the city centre. We have also investigated potential to install rooftop solar throughout our estate as part of our Renewable energy and Low Carbon Options Group. 

District heating  

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)

Combined Heat and Power station

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, highly efficient process. This contrasts with traditional ways of generating electricity where vast quantities of heat is simply wasted. The first of these plants was proposed in 2000. Since then, the University has expanded its CHP network, saving 8,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide and more than £1.5 million every year.  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. 


Decarbonising heat 

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.   

For more information on Energy and Utilities at the University, visit the Estates website.

Estates energy pages

Suggest renewable projects with the Sustainable Campus Fund

Zero by 2040 Climate Strategy