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In the Environment & Energy team, we are often asked by staff and students ‘why can’t we have solar panels on our roof?’. What many may not know is that a number of renewable energy installations already exist across the University estate.

A study[1] carried out in 2014 by an engineering student, supported by the Living Lab, catalogued these, including both Solar Photovoltaics (PV) and ‘Ground Source Heat Pumps’ (GSHP, a type of geothermal energy). This found that 12 buildings on the University estate use some form of renewable energy generated on site. These include the Alison Richard Building, the Architecture Studio Extension, Astrophysics (Battcock Centre), the BP Institute BPI, the Department of Engineering, Greenwich House, The Hauser Forum, The Kavli Institute of Cosmology, Materials Science & Metallurgy, The Sainsbury Laboratory, The Sports Centre, and The University Library. As well as these, the University also has a number of buildings fitted with air source heat pumps, biomass boilers, combined heat and power units, and solar thermal technologies.

Clearly, the use of renewable energy is still in its infancy across the University estate, so how many more installations would we need to meet the University's aspiration to be carbon neutral by 2050, if we were to meet the goal using renewables only? Well, the University consumes around 200 million kWh of electricity every year, enough to power about a third of the households in Cambridge. If all of Cambridge University’s energy was sourced from the sun, we would need the equivalent of approximately 1 million square metres of PV panels – that’s around half the area of the city! Therefore, although we will continue to look at opportunities to install renewable energy, it is unlikely to be the sole option for cutting the University’s energy use and carbon emissions. Instead, it is important to combine generating on-site energy with other efforts. These can include behaviour change (such as getting staff to switch off equipment not in use), cutting energy losses (for instance insulating boiler pipework), energy efficiency (such as making sure that buildings are operating correctly and that heating faults are resolved quickly) and retrofitting (such as replacing older lighting with newer more efficient types).

You can read all about some of the ways that we are working on cutting energy use here, and there are lots of ways for staff and students can get involved in saving energy too! Why not have a look at our ‘Spotlight on energy’ page to find out what we are doing in February, or see how you can help out!


[1] Pickering, 2014