Intelligent energy

Use case: generating, storing and using energy in an intelligent way


What’s the Issue?

All universities and colleges have become increasingly aware of their energy use. The increasing cost and reducing their carbon footprint are major driving forces. Most plans and initiatives focus on:

  • Savingenergy
  • Generating energy
  • Managing and storing energy

A common factor in all three cases is the ability to monitor and measure energy use.

What Are the Possible Solutions?

Saving energy

The simplest and most practical, if rather mundane, way of improving energy use is to save it. Simple actions like:

  • Turning off lights
  • Shutting down computers after use
  • Using low energy equipment and appliances
  • Having appropriate heating temperature levels
  • Having self closing doors

To encourage, or “nudge” towards, this behavior a number of universities and colleges have introduced rewards, targets and competitions. Examples include:

  • The University of Stuttgart’s “Initiative 1000” aimed, successfully, to 1,000 megawatt hours of electricity and 1,000 megawatts of heat in just 6 months.
  • Tulane University’s “Tulane Unplugged” is a competition that challenges students to reduce the energy use in their halls of residence. The scheme is promoted by “Energy Advocates”, trained student volunteers and uses the campus “Building Dashboard” to monitor electricity, gas and chilled water use in real time.
  • A competition at the University of California called “Energy Smack Down” encourages its 9 campuses to see who can save the most energy. It was promoted under the slogan “Do it in the dark” and has proved so successful that it is now competed for at 186 campuses, nationwide.

he opportunity to save energy is much greater in new buildings. The Edge building, partly occupied by the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, claims to be the greenest in the world. Not only do its solar panels generate all the building power needs, it uses a range of other energy saving techniques including:

  • The innovative use of natural light
  • Use of wall as thermal mass
  • Louvers for shading
  • Ethernet-poweredLED lighting
  • Use of IoT with 30,000 sensors measure daylight, occupancy levels, movement, humidity, temperature and CO2.
  • Customised occupant app to locally regulate light and climate
  • Rainwaterharvesting for toilets and terrace irrigation


Generating energy

There are a range of technologies available for the provision of locally generated energy.

A number of universities around the world are using these to help with their energy needs. Examples include:

Other universities are investigating the use of ground source heat, fuel cell and wave technologies to generate power.

Managing and storing energy

It’s in the management and storage of energy that we perhaps see the greatest opportunities for the application of intelligence. The ability to use data from a number of sources, combined with the use of the Internet of Things and an array of monitoring devices, provides a range of new possibilities.

Energy systems are generally designed to cope with peak energy needs. These peaks may only take place once (or less) per day but the generation and delivery infrastructures need to be designed to cope with this. It means that that costly and inefficient surplus capacity has to be available.

To overcome this issue some universities aim to store energy during periods of low need for later use. One high profile scheme  at the University of New South Wales has led to the installation of a 500kWh battery to store solar energy for release during peak use periods.

Some universities are replacing their fleets of campus vehicles with EVs (Electric Vehicles). There are a number of projects looking at how that energy stored in their batteries can be made available to the campus grid during periods of high electricity use. Indeed some schemes are looking at whether power companies may provide payments to those making this stored power available. One notable scheme at the University of California San Diego the Triton Rides Programme uses V2G (vehicle-to-grid) technology, with bi-directional EV charging stations, to provide zero emission transport and an energy storage system.

On a wider scale the adoption of Smart Grids, often combined with energy storage, can greatly increase campus energy efficiently. The European Union defines the Smart Grid as a:

” that can cost efficiently integrate the behaviour and actions of all users connected to it – generators and consumers – in order to ensure economically efficient, sustainable power system with low losses and high levels of quality and security of supply and safety…”it” employs innovative products and services together with intelligent monitoring, control, communication, and self-healing technologies…”

Smart Grids allow the two-way flow of power for transmission and distribution. They enable real time collection data monitoring generation, consumption, maintenance and efficiency. This allows controls, computers and other equipment to work together to respond to changing demand.

Many universities are at the forefront of Smart Grid and Micro-grid development. They integrate the local generation of power (solar, wind etc.), local storage, (such as batteries), national grid connectivity, management of building requirements, loading monitoring and prediction, and weather monitoring, The LUT University in Finland  has developed a Green Campus Smart Grid to pilot the monitoring of electricity usage and integrate its wind turbine, solar panels and storage batteries.

In the UK, Newcastle University’s Smart Grid provides a test bed for a range of technologies including large scale battery storage.

As with many of the technologies being used in the Intelligent Campus the issue of energy use is likely to be addressed not through a single solution but through the integration of a range of technologies and data collection. For example, the linking of weather forecasting data, timetabling information and event management with energy control, will allow developments such as intelligent use of energy to heat and light buildings. The forecast of an impending cold snap could allow buildings, that will be used the next day, to be warmed in advance, not only making them more comfortable but also allowing the use of “off peak” energy. Similarly, when the weather is warming, heating can be reduced beforehand. If there is a regular, predicted, energy peak for a short time, such as during a major event, power being used for air conditioning in another building might be diverted to the event location for an hour or two, smoothing out that peak demand.

wind farm

Who needs to be involved?

While many of the issues relating to the Intelligent Campus’ energy use will be seen as an estate department issues, there will be major and long term, policy, investment and planning decisions that will involve senior management. The more prosaic, power saving schemes will involve the buy-in of the student and staff body.

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