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The eco-friendly university league

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.

Renewable universities 2021 results

Girl studying outside among leaves with laptop and bike

As the UK’s net zero emissions target date comes ever closer, Uswitch sought to see if the UK’s education establishments are doing their part. This annual study seeks to see which universities are leading the way in terms of green initiatives and renewable energy. By revisiting the universities each year we can see which of those have improved their renewable credentials.

This information was obtained with a Freedom of Information request to 132 universities. We asked:

1. Please select how much energy the university uses comes from renewable energy installations on site: Less than 25% / 25%-50% / 50%-75% / More than 75%.

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

3. Are there any eco-friendly initiatives? E.g. green university transport, recycling initiatives. If so, please state them.

4. Do you have any of the following renewable installations on campus? If so, please list which ones you have and any others not listed:

  • Solar PV panels

  • Solar thermal panels (heat water from the sun)

  • Ground source heat pump

  • Air source heat pump

  • Wind turbine

  • Biomass boiler

  • CHP

We have subsequently split the universities into three tiers depending on their answers to questions 2,3, and 4: 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 or none.

Most committed to renewable energy

Encouragingly, 79 universities of the 118 that responded came back with three positive notes on the questions we asked.

Among these, Birkbeck has the most on-site installations featuring solar panels, solar thermal, biomass boiler, ground source heat pump, air source heat pump, wind turbine and CHP. Following closely behind, the University of Nottingham, University of Exeter, and Bournemouth University each have an impressive array of renewable energy sources on site.

In terms of percentage of Russell Group universities in this tier, there are 18 universities in total out of a possible 24. Cardiff, Durham, KCL, Queen Mary, UCL, Belfast, Bristol, Birmingham, School of Economics, Edinburgh, Exeter, Manchester, Nottingham, Liverpool, Oxford, Sheffield, and York. Not all universities in the group responded by the time of publication.

Of the Russell Group universities, Cardiff University has the least variety in terms of installations on site with only solar panels. University of Birmingham, University of Edinburgh, and the University of York came next, each having three separate sources of renewable energy on site (a mix of heat pumps, solar panels, and biomass boilers). The University of Exeter and Nottingham top the Russell Group list for variety of installation on site, with both selecting 6 out of the 7 options in the FOI request. Both stated that they did not have wind turbines on site.

Partial commitment to renewable energy

Only two universities in this tier do not have any renewable installations on site; the Royal Academy of Music and the University of East London. Surprisingly 18 universities stated that they were not on a renewable energy tariff with their supplier, with 7 not providing an answer. An easily rectifiable problem to boost their renewable energy credentials.

However, it's positive to see that the majority of these universities have renewable schemes and plans in place or in the the pipeline.

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

One tick or less: Royal College of Music, Barbican University, London South Bank University, Royal College of Art, St George's, University of London, University of Greenwich, University of Southampton .

For three universities that responded (Barbican University, London South Bank University and the Royal College of Art) they have no renewable energy tariff, no renewable schemes, nor any renewable installations on site.

In total across the study, 112 universities or 95% have renewable installations on campus. Over a quarter of universities (27%) are not on renewable energy tariffs with their supplier. Only 9% of universities stated that they do not have any eco-friendly schemes.

85 universities stated that they are on a renewable energy tariff, with 55% of them being with the 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 see how you can reduce your carbon footprint with this handy carbon footprint calculator.

Methodology:

  1. FOI was undertaken to UK universities between the 8th Sep and 6th October 2021.

  2. For universities that have not responded, data was taken from the previous year’s FOI (FOI was undertaken to UK universities between the 18th and 20th August 2020).

  3. If respondents didn't provide an answer, they were given a negative mark.

Renewable universities 2020 results

Click here for results

Renewable universities 2020 results

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.

Methodology

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