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Renewable universities

University students are often champions of climate change, with 91% of students “fairly or very concerned” about climate breakdown, and a further 80% wanting their institution to be doing more on sustainable development.

With that in mind, energy comparison site Uswitch has examined which universities are are taking the necessary steps to reduce their own footprint on the planet.

This information was obtained with a Freedom of Information request to universities. In total we asked 136, with 105 responding and 31 refusing to provide an answer or not responding in time.

We asked:

  1. Who is the energy supplier and are you on a green/renewable energy tariff with them?

  2. Are there any renewable energy schemes in place, or in the pipeline?

  3. Do you have any renewable installations on campus?

We have subsequently split the universities into three categories: those that have said yes to three of the criteria, those that have said yes to two, and those that have said yes to only one.

Committed to renewable energy

Encouragingly, 53 universities of the 105 that responded came back with three positive notes on the questions we asked.

Among these, Bournemouth has the most on-site installations, featuring solar panels, a biomass boiler, three ground source heat pumps and two rainwater harvesting systems. Similarly, King’s College London has solar panels, heating and a ground source heat pump. Manchester Metropolitan University and University College London are the only two respondents to feature borehole cooling, and a number of other renewable installations.

In terms of percentage of Russell Group universities in this tier, there are twelve universities in total. Cardiff, Durham, KCL, UCL, Bristol, Edinburgh, Exeter, Liverpool, Nottingham, Liverpool, Oxford, Sheffield and Warwick. Not all universities in the group responded by the time of publication, whilst only Queen Mary’s London failed to gain three ticks from responding institutions.

The School of Oriental and African Studies responded with one of the most diverse set of initiatives, with on-site solar panels, as well as community energy schemes and future plans to replace their heating network and work towards carbon zero solutions.

Partial commitment to renewable energy

Only two universities in this tier do not have any on-site renewable installations. Aberystwyth University and Glasgow Caledonian both instead have renewable tariffs and future plans for installations as part of their commitment to renewables.

The biggest name on the partial committed list is Cambridge University, which falls behind its historic competitor Oxford. Cambridge falls behind its rival because it is one of 20 further universities of the 34 without a renewable tariff from its provider, an easily rectifiable problem.

In fact the majority of universities lost a point here for failing to be on a renewable tariff,  but there are also 10 who have no renewable schemes in place currently or in the future, indicating there are no future plans in place for correcting their approach to energy.

Sarah Broomfield, energy expert at Uswitch.com, commented on the positive news of universities:

“It’s great to see that some universities are going above and beyond when it comes to sustainability.”

“Having renewable installations on campus and schemes in place to produce more of their own renewable energy shows that they are leading by example in trying to achieve net-zero carbon emissions.”

“While not every university will have the same financial resources to generate their own power, it’s good to see that they are willing to “go green” by choosing a renewable energy tariff from their supplier.”

Least commitment to renewable energy

Nine of the 14 with only one positive response to the FOI have failed to switch to a renewable energy tariff. Only Barbican, Royal College of Art, Royal College of Music and London South Bank, all based in the capital, have renewable tariffs.

Most universities have made the substantial commitment to onsite installations. Greenwich, St George’s, Huddersfield, Queen Mary’s, Cumbria, and Southampton all have solar panels installed. 

Two universities in this tier have plans for future schemes. The University of West of Scotland plans to have wind turbines generating energy for the campus, and Royal College of Music has a carbon management plan to switch to renewable tariffs within five years.

In total across the study, 91 universities or 86% have renewable installations on campus. A quarter of universities (26%) are not on renewable energy tariffs or do not have any plans to change to one in the future. Whilst over three quarters (76%) have pledged to have future schemes in place that will develop renewable energy for the institution. For those that are on a renewable energy tariff, over 50% of university respondents are with the energy supplier EDF Energy.

There are now a wide array of renewable energy installations that you can look into building in your own home. But the easiest way to get started is to switch to a renewable energy tariff with your supplier. Click here to compare green energy deals in your area.


FOI was undertaken to UK universities between the 18th and 20th August 2020. 

We asked the universities which energy supplier they are with, and whether they are on a renewable energy tariff or not.

Sources: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/sep/19/campus-is-the-perfect-place-to-disrupt-why-university-students-are