Energy efficiency plan: "Moving towards the best possible balance

Energy-saving investments and renovation projects, adaptation of the establishment's operations, and individual and collective responsibility: these are the three pillars of the UM's energy-saving plan, which was presented to the Board of Directors on January 30. Bernard Maurin, vice-president in charge of real estate, explains.

On October 6, the French government published its energy sobriety plan which commits all government departments. Why, and what are the implications for universities?

Since 2021, energy prices have been rising steadily. There are many reasons for this: the post-Covid recovery, the war in Ukraine, supply difficulties, particularly with gas, and so on. This increase is also correlated with the climate and environmental crisis, which requires a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The French government and our supervisory ministry have therefore asked universities to reduce their energy consumption by 10% by the end of 2024.

Had the University anticipated this energy issue? 

Yes, of course. The current situation only intensifies structural problems. This plan is a continuation of the fundamental actions taken by the UM over the last few years to control its energy consumption. For example, half of our buildings have been connected to district heating networks, which has already helped to partially "cushion" this crisis.

To better understand what's at stake, how much will this increase in energy rates cost the university?

The UM's energy bill has risen by around €2 million in 2022 compared with 2021 (€5.3 million), and projections for 2023 suggest a further increase of over €7 million! This sobriety plan is therefore the mechanism that will enable us to achieve the 10% reduction target set by the French government.

So this sobriety plan, what does it contain? For example, are you planning to close some of your establishments like other universities?

No, we're not. Our first priority is to maintain the quality of our public service, as well as our quality of life at work and at school, in other words, to strike the best possible balance between the continuity of our activities and the need for sobriety. Thus, unlike other universities that have opted for this approach, there will be no additional periods of closure, and no increase in distance learning or telecommuting, which would do nothing to reduce the country's consumption except to transfer some of it to the homes of staff and students!

The plan focuses on three areas, the first of which is individual action. But how? 

The first step is to make recommendations to staff and students to raise their awareness, mobilize them and make them more responsible. The aim is to encourage compliance with "best practices", most of which are already well known: limit heating to 19°C and cooling to 26°C for those with individual equipment. Remember to switch off such equipment at the end of the day, and to switch off lighting whenever you leave a room, and electrical appliances (computers and screens, chargers, etc.) at the end of the day or when not in use for long periods. Do the same for "energy-guzzling" equipment in research laboratories or teaching rooms (fume cupboards, hoods, etc.).

The second area concerns the operation of the plant itself. Can you give us some concrete examples?

Here, we're aiming for a more "global" action by adapting the way our university operates. For premises whose heating is managed by the property management department or by a training component, heating setpoints will be directly adapted (19°C on weekdays, 16°C at weekends and 8°C during the vacations), with a reduction in the heating period. Hot water will also be cut off in premises and sanitary facilities, unless necessary.

You mentioned heating, but electricity is also an issue...

The case of electricity is more complex, as the actions concern very specific issues (research, training, digital technology, etc.). This calls for consultation with managers and players in the field to carry out analyses and identify ways of reducing emissions on a case-by-case basis. The case of research infrastructures is a major challenge. For example, clean rooms, super-freezers, computing servers, etc., are all examples of this.

Are longer-term investments planned?

Yes, this plan is not only focused on usage, it also reinforces the investments made by the UM to accelerate energy improvement operations. This is our third priority, which is to invest in energy efficiency in line with our strategy of continuous improvement and consumption control. To this end, the UM has been able to mobilize substantial funding and has been taking action for several years: Opération campus, successive CPERs, recovery and resilience plans, work using its own funds, etc.

What will change on campus?

In concrete terms, we will be stepping up operations to improve the energy efficiency of HVAC equipment and installations; installing LED lighting, reducing both indoor and outdoor lighting; remotely switching off computers in teaching and administration rooms; installing thermostatic valves and insulating attics and networks; and installing more energy management devices and meters to track consumption. We also aim to connect other campuses to heating networks. This will notably be the case for the Pharmacie and Arnaud de Villeneuve campuses in 2025. Feasibility studies for self-consumption photovoltaic systems will also be launched on several buildings.

And what about major energy renovation projects? 

Major real-estate operations to renovate buildings and replace equipment will be continued and stepped up, notably as part of the 2021-2027 CPER.