UCL got a quick jump on becoming a low-energy university and thinking of ways to reduce its energy consumption. So quick that today it’s ahead of its Horizon 2020 Programme schedule: the Louvain-la-Neuve campus and its heating station have reduced CO2 emissions 20% compared to 1990. Other campuses, each with its particular challenges, are the subject of ongoing reflection.
This first successful step was made possible mainly by the implementation of an incremental strategic energy plan based on, among other things, the NégaWatt scenario. This comprehensive approach aims to achieve an optimal energy-environment balance by taking three steps: consume less, consume more wisely, produce more efficiently. ‘This plan helps us organise our construction sites and our priorities’, explains Didier Smits, coordinator of the Estates and Facilities Energy and Environment Unit.
In addition to its strong commitment to embodying energy transition, UCL has an obligation to respect measures imposed by legislators. In Wallonia, after this first level of energy reduction by 2020, the obligation is to reach -40% of emissions by 2030 and -80% to -95% by 2050. These are colossal targets unattainable without a long-term vision. UCL has therefore chosen to attack the issue on all sides. To do so, it emphasises:
Prior to taking action, a detailed inventory of every university building’s energy losses was established. This led to a list of priority actions, including: saving energy, tracking unnecessarily wasted energy, and increasing energy efficiency. Concrete action followed, such as optimising the use of cogeneration and refining the heating network’s lowering of temperatures in accordance with seasonal needs.
a) Building construction and renovation
UCL has almost 400,000 m2 of buildings. Its enormous size is a leading contributor to UCL’s carbon footprint. While new buildings are designed to use much less energy, existing ones require varying degrees of renovation. Replacing window frames, improving ventilation systems, insulation – every building is reviewed to detect the least weakness. Offices and lecture halls are gradually renovated in order of priority, and without impairing architectural value. The objective: get as close as possible to the ‘low energy’ standard, in a way that’s realistically envisaged and closely monitored.
b) Renovation of technical facilities
In Louvain-la-Neuve, the heating network has tapped a cogeneration power plant since 1999. This facility, renovated in 2010, allows the university to increase its energy efficiency. But UCL already anticipates another renovation in 2022 in order to transition to renewable biomass. Every university site is studied with tailor-made solutions mind. In Brussels and Mons, to minimise fossil fuel energy intake, photovoltaic installations are anticipated as pilot projects.
Every technical change must be coupled with behavioural change. Prior to this comprehensive energy makeover, inappropriately heated office spaces were tracked. Awareness-building campaigns continue, including guiding all staff on how to efficiently use renovated buildings. Such actions cost little but weigh heavily in the energy balance.