Friday 15 April 2011

Applying universities' research to reduce energy consumption in schools

In one of the schools I have worked in I asked my students to go around the building and count the number of rooms which were unoccupied yet still had all the lights left on. Before they went on their tour of the building, pen and paper in hand, we all made our estimates: we guessed that between 5 and 10% of the unoccupied rooms might have lights on. See end of story for the results.
I had been especially struck about our profligacy in our use of resources in general here in Madrid by two encounters with attitudes in the USA.
Firstly, some friends from Connecticut came to visit, and told me they were amazed at the high pressure of the water in their central Madrid hotel. Knowing the climate here, and the ever-present threat of water shortages from year to year, they compared the water pressure to what they are used to in their very comfortable district in CT and were disappointed by what they saw here as unnecessary, careless and wasteful.
Soon afterward, I had the great fortune to spend 2 weeks near San Diego in California as a guest of the excellent La Jolla Country Day School Country Day is renowned as the leading school in the region, gifted with highly qualified and motivated teaching staff, inspired leadership, caring and involved parents, and facilities that are just a dream for many school students around the world. Day after day I noticed there was something missing the moment anyone entered a room, yet it took me quite some time to work it out. I realised eventually that my instant reaction was to flick on the light switch, yet my hosts did not do this. One after another, classes took place using natural light, even thought the well designed building leaves most rooms sheltered from direct sun. I was very impressed by this sensible use of electricity, an excellent model for the California students, and one I thought I should bring back with me to Spain.

Thanks to a message from the Daily Good, at, I came across this really interesting project in Brighton, England. Local residents in a single street have been issued with metres to monitor their energy consumption, and facilities to compare it with other users in their neighbourhood and around the world. A street artist has painted a graphic on the ground and on it he plots the daily use of energy by the residents. Guess what: consumption has reduced by 15% since this project started.

In times of severe cuts in government support of universities in the UK, it is important to point out that this project is part of a research collaboration between several higher education institutions. According to the web page notes:
“ The Tidy Street Project is part of CHANGE, an EPSRC funded research collaboration between The Open University, Goldsmiths, Sussex University and Nottingham University.”
The results of our impromptu survey around the building found no less than 27% of unoccupied rooms had all the lights on. Our estimates were wildly inaccurate and my students were scandalised. I suspect there would be a similar result in many buildings of all kinds in Spain: we really need a greater awareness of the consequences of our profligacy.
Why not try it in your place of work or leisure and plot some results?

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