Q & A with Sam Boot from The University of Newcastle

Submitted by Salix on Tue, 16/07/2019 - 11:56

Sam Boot is the ESS Energy and Carbon Manager and has been managing the Newcastle University Recycling Fund for the last year after running Salix projects for the University in a previous role. Below he tells us more about his role at the University and his work on the recycling fund, energy efficiency and carbon reduction.

Newcastle University opened their Recycling Fund in 2008. Since the start of their fund, the University has financed an inspiring £3,692,468 of projects across 70 energy efficiency projects. The fund is set to create annual savings of more than £900,000 and an impressive £15,637,801 of lifetime savings for the University. In addition to this, the projects are estimated to save savings over 4,000 tonnes of carbon per year.

The University has installed a range of technologies including LED lighting, lab upgrades, building management systems and insulation.

1. What is your background in relation to energy efficiency and how did you get into the sector?

I entered the sector initially through my degree programme at Newcastle University. I undertook a master’s placement with the University Sustainability Team based within the University’s Estate Support Service (ESS) working on the new Energy Management System (EnMS) we were setting up at the time, and five years later I’m still here!

2. Could you tell us a bit about your role within your organisation?

My role at the University is as the ESS Energy & Carbon Manager which sees me working across all energy-related aspects of the University’s functions, including; maintaining the ISO 50001 certified EnMS, identifying and commissioning energy / carbon saving projects, managing the University’s utilities budget and spend, ensuring compliance against environmental and energy-related legislation, and reporting on all of the above.

3. Could you give a quick overview of the number of sites at the University and current energy spend? How has this energy spend changed/reduced over the time you’ve been with the University and how much of a driver were the HEFCE targets in this change?

The University’s building portfolio consists of >40 buildings across the North East and our central campus in the heart of Newcastle City Centre, as well as other satellite sites including; two farms, three coastal marine laboratories, two sports grounds and campuses in London, Singapore and Malaysia. Our total annual utility spend (electricity, gas, steam, water and other fuels for heating) is approx. £10 million, this is discounting our London and international campuses.

Casting my eye back on spend from the 14/15 financial year when I joined the team, total utilities spend has remained largely at the same level, despite the price of electricity being much higher in today’s market. The HEFCE 43% target by 2020 was a key driver in the establishment of our EnMS and remains a target we’re aspiring to meet. Now, following our acknowledgement of and commitment to tackling the Climate Emergency, carbon targets are our primary driver for reducing our organisational energy consumption and consequently reducing CO2 emissions.

4. How do you identify new projects? 

 Our strategy for identifying projects is multi-faceted but is channelled predominantly through our EnMS and our monitoring and targeting practices. Each year we conduct our ‘Energy Review’ process, this involves collating building energy data and investigating / providing justifications for any significant deviations we might see between years. Any buildings with significant increases in usage, we will prioritise.

We are also highly dependent on the help of colleagues and students across the University - given the scale and diversity of the organisation, this communication is vital. This can be via procedural means through information we systematically gather from other colleagues to aid in identifying possible wastage areas (e.g. building condition surveys), to ad-hoc queries sent to the ESS or the Sustainability Team.

5. How do you procure for consultants and suppliers?

 We have been a TEC (The Energy Consortium) Member for a number of years and continue to utilise this framework for the brokering of our electricity and gas suppliers.

As for consultants for energy-related projects, this depends on the value of the works in question as we have our own internal procurement regulations that we must adhere to. The use of consultants is mostly limited to new builds and large-scale refurbishment works as we possess engineering expertise in house. But if we do require some external help we will seek quotes or go to tender, again dependant on the value of the works.

6. What project have you taken the most pride in?

 The £2.4 million LED retrofit project we’re still currently on site with is definitely up there, mainly because of the work involved to get the project of the ground. Although the job is still yet to fully complete, it was the first fruit of our labour in developing the EnMS back in 2014 as it was the first large-scale project identified out of this system. Again, we’re privileged to have some great people in-house that allowed the project to happen and being able to demonstrate the value of the ESS to the wider-University in this way is brilliant as feedback has been excellent (so far!)

7. What is your biggest challenge to delivering and identifying projects?

 As is the case across many other HE and other organisations, lack of time and resources. There is the expertise, skills and technology out there to achieve net-zero carbon, but in my opinion this is still yet to be matched by business leaders / senior management through increased people-power and necessary funding to carry out the actions within the time-scales that climate scientists, and now governments, are talking about. Although at Newcastle University we are beginning to recognise the urgency of the issue and have made significant commitments to address the Climate Emergency.   

8. What technologies do you have the most expertise?

Within our team specifically, I would say Building Management Systems. We operate three BMS systems across the University that have visibility over >80% of our North East sites that we use on a daily basis. We’re also beginning to become very familiar with CHP, having maintained three units over the last five years, and possibly another two to come.

9. You have consistently used the funding available in your RF, what key advice would you give to other fund managers wanting to follow in your success? 

I’m extremely fortunate to be surrounded by an effective department in the ESS, as well as a massively knowledgeable and supportive manager in Matt, not to mention the work put in by my predecessors. From my experience so far my main pieces of advice would be two-fold:

Firstly, to speak to as many people as possible. If you are having issues in identifying projects or building a business case often somebody else will be able to help and see benefit in the project within their own remit.

Secondly, data is key – so make sure you do as much pre and post-monitoring as you can. Sub-metering in particular is a great tool to help build business cases as it allows you to better pinpoint energy savings that could easily be offset by something else if you only have building-level metering available. Being able to confidently evidence the success of a project in this way then in turn aids to acquiring funding for future schemes.

10. What technologies do you see as the big players for hitting the future carbon reduction targets of the University of Newcastle?

For me it is the decarbonisation of both heat and cooling, so technologies to replace conventional gas boilers; such as heat pumps and alternatively fuelled CHP units e.g. biofuel. Very soon we are going to have to look at how we heat and cool our buildings in the future when traditional, natural gas boilers are no longer viable, and as particular f-gas blends are gradually being phased out.

Given the significant drop in the electricity grid carbon factor we have seen over the last few years, thanks to the increase in renewables input into the grid mix, we may soon see a time where natural gas is more carbon intensive than imported electricity. At least until the government enables the injection of bio-methane or hydrogen into the gas network.

Further increasing our self-generation through renewables is also within our new action plan we’re developing.