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Meet the Energy Manager of the Year - London Metropolitan University's Rachel Ward

06 Mar 2017 by: This article first appeared on edie.net

Ahead of her appearance at edie Live, London Metropolitan University's sustainability manager Rachel Ward discusses how she has been able to catalyse an on-campus transformation in energy efficiency performance.

Ward was crowned the Energy Manager of the Year at edie’s flagship Sustainability Leaders Awards event in London earlier this year, fending off tough competition from the likes of npower and Costa Coffee.

The Award is currently nestled in London Metropolitan University’s “big green awards cabinet”, as Ward puts it, which was converted from an electrical distribution board due to the ongoing success of an impressive sustainability strategy.

A quick glance at the University’s recent carbon and energy management achievements and it is easy to see why Ward and the University have scooped numerous sustainability awards over the past few years.

London Met was in 2015 named England's number one university for carbon reduction, after using a new LED light installation as part of a wider scheme that has seen carbon emissions slashed by 47%. The lighting upgrade at the Holloway Road campus was the largest element of a wider sustainability scheme which included the installation of solar photovoltaics, energy-efficient fans and air conditioning controls.

The lighting programme saw outdated T8 lamps and panels replaced with LED upgrades throughout the Victorian blocks which make up the Holloway Road Campus. Through the LEDs alone, the campus has reduced energy bills by £55,000 a year and cut annual carbon emissions by 225 tonnes.

This is just one aspect of the educational establishment’s energy aspirations. At a broader level, energy use has been reduced by 50% since 2010, saving £1.25m in the process. Much of these savings have been generated under the guidance of Ward, who has strived to evolve the University’s initial no-cost energy-saving model into one that is in the vanguard amongst academia efforts.

“I was the first energy manager brought into London Met, and there wasn’t any kind of budget when I first started,” Ward told edie. “It was about getting the basics right and making the savings there, things like rebates off of energy companies and alterations on the building management systems (BMS) to demonstrate that you can make savings through energy efficiency.

“From there, the savings gave me the allowance to go and apply for external funding and once they saw the return on investment and the savings I was making I got my own pot of money to make changes.”

Over the past six years, a number of efficiency measures have been put in place by Ward and the University's new sustainability team. Upgrades to the BMS helped reduce emissions by 1,256 tonnes annually, and future savings deriving from there were reinvested into monitoring equipment to highlight potential savings further down the line.

The domino-like effects of this proactive energy management has now reached the point where renewables are appearing front and centre of the University’s energy strategy. An installation of 221 solar panels were recently placed on the roof of the University’s Science Centre, producing around 60kW of renewable energy.

Ward admits that it would have been easier for the University to accelerate its LED retrofit rather than install two solar arrays. However, the returns through Feed-in Tariffs and the extra publicity meant that the project created more benefits, which have also influenced the students.

"Anything that helps the students learn is a far better positive,” Ward explained. “The University focuses more on the quality side than the cost. Of course, we always have to stay within budget and reduce costs wherever possible, but [the board] are good at realising that there are other things that will benefit students than just changing lighting.

“The conversations are good here because the board doesn’t always expect a return on investment over a set payback period and if I can show any additional benefits we can receive here from doing the project, then it might take off.”

This was certainly the case with the solar arrays: a PC monitor links the roof to the reception area of the building to create real-time data of how much electricity is being produced. The students have also been involved in the renewables revolution: students embarked on the University’s ‘E-lympic rings’ project, which repurposed five wooden structures made for the 2012 Olympics. These ‘rings’ have since been fitted with solar panels.

Building blocks

Ward first noted the inherent benefits that energy-efficiency upgrades could have on student involvement in sustainability during a glazing retrofit of an old 1960s building. Staff and students from the University's arts and architecture departments constantly occupied the building, so the glazing had to take place during lessons and lectures. Ensuring that the process wasn’t disruptive was a high priority for Ward, and teachers and students actually got involved with the development in a way that “linked up with their education”.

Ward stressed the importance of approaching conversations about energy management with key stakeholders in the right manner. The key to boardroom buy-in, she said, lies in the language used.

“It has to be in the easiest-to-understand language,” Ward added. “There’s no point going in with acronyms and such. People don’t have much time and they want to know the basics, they want to make sure you know what you’re talking about and what the project will do for them and cost them. It’s about finding your angle.”

This approach to boardroom dialogue will be present through the University’s current plans, which will see it move all its campuses into one place, as previously announced on edie’s Sustainable Business Covered podcast. Much of the refurbishment will take place over the summer and the University is pushing for a mix of BREEAM and SKA ratings on its buildings, which could entail the use of possible CHP schemes in conjunction with the district council.

Rachel Ward at edie Live 2017

London Metropolitan University’s energy manager Rachel Ward is among the expert speakers appearing on stage at edie Live 2017 at the NEC Birmingham on 23-24 May. 

Ward is appearing in the opening session of the Energy Management Theatre on Day Two of the show, which takes a closer look at how to build the business case for energy efficiency.

Register for your free two-day pass here

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