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Greenwich House by Saunders Boston

It has been widely considered that one of the positives of the COVID-19 lockdown period will have been a significant reduction in carbon emissions as a result of the closure of our workplaces and reduced travel, both locally and internationally. But what has it really meant for the University’s energy consumption and carbon emissions?

On 20 March, due to the global outbreak of COVID-19, the University of Cambridge closed all ‘non-essential’ buildings and instigated a work-from-home scheme for most employees.

The Environment and Energy Section (E&E) have been analysing energy use in some of the higher consuming buildings to see how consumption changed after these measures were put in place. The results, inevitably, are as complex as the University estate itself, but we can provide some overall trends.

Most buildings which were closed during the lockdown period experienced a significant reduction in energy demand, between 35–50% for electricity and 35–70% for gas, compared to their typical consumption for the April/ May period. It is anticipated that this will ultimately result in a 10–12% reduction in annual carbon emissions for the 2019/20 period.

The chart shows how the University’s total electricity consumption dropped significantly from April. The impact on gas was reduced as lockdown started towards the end of the heating season, however, comparison with previous annual trends show gas used for heating ended earlier than is typical across the estate.

The change in consumption varies greatly from one building to another. We have seen, for example, that the University Sport Centre has been able to rely completely on power generated by its solar PV array during sunny periods in April and May, whilst the Anne Maclaren Building at Addenbrooke’s saw a slight increase in energy demand as it was re-purposed for its crucial role as a COVID-19 testing laboratory.

E&E will continue to analyse the estate’s energy consumption as it emerges from lockdown and begins to progress towards a new normal. We will also be using the data from this period to support exploration of energy efficiency opportunities across the estate and where investment in efficiency projects will provide the most effective, long-term benefits.

In addition, through an internship secured by Cambridge Zero and the Living Lab, we will be looking at the wider environmental impact of a move to more home-based working, and how the University can embed remote working on a sustainable basis for the future.

The above chart is summary of available data at the time of writing this article and may not represent a comprehensive total of electricity and gas consumption for the period.