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Efficient universities: this is what they look like

In these times, with the growing relevance of efficient energy use, the education system and its infrastructures have to do all they can to contribute to such efficiency.

We are talking about schools, institutes, educational centres and university campuses, and of optimising resources for their own benefit, the benefit of the students, and that of the environment. And we are talking about setting an example from one of the most influential places for young people: university.

On the one hand, it is essential to raise awareness in lecture theatres about the importance of energy efficiency. But, to do this, it is essential that the centres' own facilities implement the proposed measures. In short: knowing the theory is useless if all around you something else is being implemented, right?

In addition to this, educational centres and universities are places of high electricity consumption due to their multiple facilities, used many hours a day, many days a year, by large numbers of people. This is why optimizing this consumption and all the resources is a real need for everyone. But how to do it?

A role model: efficient facilities

Fortunately, in Spain we benefit from large universities that are also pioneers in many sustainability initiatives. There are already a multitude of measures implemented in our universities that make them a benchmark and model to follow in energy efficiency for all.

In Madrid, for example, three types of facilities have been put into operation in some of the region's universities: renewable energy generation plants, efficient lecture theatres and charging stations for electric cars.

The power generation plant, with a smart photovoltaic "sunflower" capable of generating up to 6,200 KWh of energy per year. The smartflower has 18 m2 of solar panels and works by following the sun until the last rays of the day, in order to maintain an angle of incidence of 90 degrees.

For their part, efficient lecture theatres implement energy saving measures and improve environmental comfort. These measures include: change of technology for LED lighting, presence sensors to turn the lighting on and off, temperature regulation with sensors installed in the lecture theatre, switching off the air conditioning system when the windows are open, night-time ventilation, etc.

In total, it is estimated that these three measures will allow an energy saving valued at more than €5,400 during the first year for each university in which they are implemented.

En total se estima que estas tres medidas permitirán, un ahorro energético valorado en más de 5.400 euros durante el primer año, por universidad en la que se implemente.

"With only three measures, we obtain energy savings valued at more than €5,400 during the first year for each university in which they are implemented".

These infrastructures, which were launched at the beginning of December 2019 in the first universities, will serve to make our campuses a space in which to approach the challenges of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The idea is that these measures can be installed in most Spanish universities in the coming years. In other universities, various tools and models for the generation and micro-generation of renewable energies have also been installed during 2020.

The "sustainable campus" concept, another alternative

In addition to the above, there are other concepts such as the "Sustainable Campus" where all decisions regarding infrastructures and maintenance of facilities are aimed at saving and energy efficiency. The aim is to reduce unnecessary energy consumption and promote environmental responsibility among the entire community: universities as healthy and environmentally-friendly environments.

This movement implements several measures: some technical and others aimed at raising awareness. All of them seek to raise awareness and active participation among university communities.

The awareness-raising measures seek to encourage participation and active collaboration, responsible management of energy resources, and reducing consumption and pollution in the most routine daily actions.

Turning off computers in computer rooms, or the lights, and keeping the doors closed to prevent heat loss are some of the recommendations advertised on posters and stickers throughout the campus.

"Lighting and air conditioning, among the most important issues for efficiency".

Among the most technical measures are the replacement of lights with low-consumption options, the elimination of fluorescent lights in common areas that are already well lit, or the reduction of air conditioning operating hours. Also worth highlighting is the correct choice of heating system, or the installation of push-button air conditioning in the lecture theatres (instead of automatic) in order to avoid cooling unused areas.

Another key point on which to focus efforts is promoting good use of water. To this end, improvements have been implemented in water-saving systems and other measures such as: reducing the irrigation schedule, replacing turf with wild species, and minimising the use of seasonal plants, which entail greater maintenance and water use.

The importance of good control and management of smart buildings

The areas for action in a smart or sustainable building will always start with proper insulation, air conditioning, the most efficient, controlled and economical lighting possible, and optimisation of the electrical network. In addition, and in relation to this, the facilities will have to be inspected periodically to check that everything is in order, that everything works properly, and that costs are as they should be.

In short, we have to answer questions such as: How many lifts are there and how many are actually needed in each building? The objective will always be to optimise the facilities for environmental protection and in favour of sustainability.

Work is also being carried out on monitoring of the facilities in the buildings for correct management of all new infrastructures and any efficiency measures implemented. The management and control of machines with large energy consumption, alarms and security systems will be managed by a single software platform. The management of outdoor lighting and the lighting in lecture theatres, laboratories and research rooms comes next.

Energy efficiency projects: always moving forward

Having seen the main energy efficiency measures carried out in Spanish universities, it is equally important that researchers continue working on new projects and advances in this area.

These specialists have developed a methodology for evaluating the energy sustainability of cities by measuring different parameters and indices, with which to create what they have called the Urban Energy Sustainability Index (UESI). The UESI is based on the measurement of 12 indicators and objectives, and makes it possible to evaluate the global energy performance of any city.

The methodology, which has already been used in Barcelona and Malaga, is based on energy flows and other concepts such as air quality and energy efficiency in transport systems and buildings. Furthermore, the UESI can be used as a tool to design actions to improve the energy sustainability of cities

The sum of individual efforts: what should we improve?

In addition to all the above, in universities, as in our homes and workplaces, there are basic and individual measures that each student, teacher, worker or user of university facilities can implement personally.

These small actions that we perform daily add up, and are more important than we actually think they are. Among these is using the stairs and not making unnecessary use of the lift; leaving doors closed when leaving or entering lecture rooms; turning off the taps in the toilets or laboratories so as not to waste water; or turning off the computer at the end of a class, and not leaving it on unless asked to do so by the teacher.

All this leads us to think again about one of the key issues: awareness and individual collaboration. Which of these measures do we put into practice? Do people take the lift to get to the library on the third floor? Is this really necessary?

The sum of individual efforts creates the strength of a community. Changing small habits is easy, it costs nothing (just getting used to the change), and it can make a big difference.

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