Energy efficiency in the laboratory

It is well known that many people have a blind spot that time and again prevents them from saving energy to counteract climate change and the shortage of resources. Time pressure, convenience or the feeling of not being able to get anything done all by yourself all too often stand in the way of the best intentions where climate protection is concerned.

Can an institutional energy management system shed light on this blind spot? How important are energy-efficient laboratory equipment in terms of energy saving? Memmert takes a look at the energy projects of the Free University of Berlin to search for answers there.

Energy management makes climate protection more likely

“The smallest movement is significant for the whole of nature; the whole sea changes when a stone is thrown into it“, wrote the famous mathematician, physicist and philosopher Blaise Pascal in his Thoughts. Environmental organisations today still like to use this quote to emphasise the significance of every individual person where climate protection is concerned. The father of probability calculation, however, who throughout his life was aware of both the infinite complexity of the universe and the unpredictability of human action, would probably have had misgivings about whether programmes on energy conservation and action plans would be sufficient to cope with this great challenge to humanity. Andreas Wanke is in charge of the department for energy and the environment at the Free University of Berlin, and monitors a non-representative random sample of more than 31,000 students distributed among some 200 institutional buildings.

“If you want to save, you have to invest.” This is Andreas Wanke‘s most important finding from seven years of environmental management. Because not only energy-saving behaviour is crucial, but also optimising the energy aspects of the technical infrastructure. This includes energy-efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning, conversion to natural gas-based condensing boiler technology, the elimination of energy-related weak points in the shell of the building, as well as the optimisation of the operational organisation, for example by modifying operating times to requirements, and performing regular maintenance. Almost 90% of heating systems have been modernised since the introduction of energy management and, along with other energy efficiency measures such as improved insulation, these investments were of great success in terms of climate protection (as of February 2009): The use of heat was reduced by 28%, power consumption by 10%. This corresponds to a reduction in energy costs of € 2,4 million annually (taking the 2008 rates) and a reduction in CO2 emissions by more than 8,700 tons per year.

Energy efficiency in the laboratory helps to protect the climate

Using the example of laboratory operation, Andreas Wanke explains the challenge. “There is no philosopher’s stone for energy saving, but ultimately many small stones make up a mosaic. From our perspective, operating the laboratories as closely as possible to requirements with a specially adapted control technology is the crucial factor.“ In plain text: Switch off ventilation and air conditioning if no one is in the room or if the air quality is good, dim the lights if there is sufficient external light, turn down heating as external temperatures rise and turn heating right down outside working hours. Choosing energy-efficient IT and laboratory equipment can contribute significantly to lowering energy consumption.

Incentives for good behaviour as a part of energy management

“Jimmy, switch the light off!“ If personal appeals within the family for energy conservation and climate protection do not work unreservedly, then it is almost impossible to enforce this in an institution with thousands of employees and students. According to Andreas Wanke, wide open or tilted windows, computers left running outside working hours, energy-consuming appliances or just rooms with heating, ventilation and lights left on unnecessarily all too often mean that, despite all the modernisation steps, an additional savings potential at the Free University of Berlin of an estimated € 1 million is still going begging. So how can people be motivated into becoming more aware of the environment and of costs? In 2007, the executive board of the Free University of Berlin decided to introduce an incentives system to conserve energy, whereby financial rewards were initially offered if the energy consumption in a faculty dropped below a baseline established beforehand. 50% of the annual cost reductions were refunded, but if the baseline was exceeded, the increase in consumption had to be paid in full by the institutes and faculties.

Perseverance is the key to energy conservation

Andreas Wanke takes stock of the situation: “Some considerable achievements have been made. In 2007 three faculties still showed an increase in consumption, which means they were liable to extra-payment, but last year the outcome was almost perfect. All faculties reveived bonuses for reducing their energy consumption below the baseline. But there still is a lack of integration and consistency, and the work involved in coordination and communication is quite considerable.“ Blaise Pascal might have commented on this by saying that all the fine principles in the world are worth nothing if they are not applied.