Revealed: Britain's most energy-efficient university

Facility managers take note; this is the story of a university that ranked 91st on Britain’s league table of green universities and was catapulted to the top of the league thanks to a forward-thinking environmental strategy.

Lighting played a big part in Manchester Metropolitan University’s rise to first place, along with other factors in a comprehensive plan that covered energy, water waste, carbon management, compliance and sustainable travel. But with LED technology improving faster than a document can be signed and stamped, timing was vital to ensure a successful outcome for the strategy.

The university was impressed by the ‘spectacular’ output of the LED sources used in the student union

‘It was about having the right conversations at the right time,’ says John Hindley, head of environmental strategy at MMU. When the university’s new 24,000m2 Birley Fields campus was designed five years ago, the LED lighting on the market was expensive and the technology untested. ‘There was quite a lot of apathy,’ Hindley recalls. So Birley Fields was built with CFL lighting, but Hindley knew that it was possible to do better. ‘I sat down with the designers fairly early in the process and said: “I know you’re designing this now, but we might be lucky enough to support the project by upgrading these CFL systems to LED. It will be much better for us long term, and it’s less maintenance.”’

Hindley got what he wanted, and secured half a million pounds from the Revolving Green Fund. The team was able to upgrade the CFL lighting in Birley Fields’ halls of residence with LEDs a couple of years later, when confidence in LEDs had grown. ‘That was a big win, because it’s normally quite difficult to get a change approved in any ongoing design and build project,’ Hindley says.

 

Spectacular light output

LED luminaires from Luxonic were incorporated into the baffles in the ceiling for better acoustics, an idea that worked so well that the luminaires were also installed in the student union and the nearby All Saints campus. ‘The light output from these fittings is really spectacular, particularly in the student union where the lights are 100 per cent LED,’ says Hindley. ‘It was our first real stab at LED lighting with the support of the university, and one of the key challenges was the pace of technological change that was happening at the same time. It’s been good to come through the process with really good lighting and good design which looks great in both buildings.’

 

A living laboratory

The ambitions of MMU’s environmental strategy team didn’t stop there. At the university’s business school, a high ceiling with 700 luminaires was giving the facilities team a headache. ‘We were spending a heck of a lot of time in the building replacing compact fluorescent lamps. It was becoming an issue because with high-level lights, you wouldn’t just go and replace one. You’d wait until a few were out and then go and replace the whole lot, but even so, getting to them is at a high expense,’ explains Hindley.

The solution was found in-house. Hindley spoke to a lecturer in engineering and explained that he had a real problem that he’d like of one of the engineering students to look at. ‘We wanted better light levels, increased energy efficiency and lower maintenance. The light fittings were fit for purpose, we just needed a different arrangement for the lamps,’ says Hindley.

The student, Luke Cleary, devised a retrofit for the existing architectural fitting using an LED acrylic rod with a reflector and a Dali driver. ‘The light output is really good, the engineering team is happy with the fitting and we’re looking to retrofit the building this summer,’ says Hindley. ‘It’s been a good solution and a very good example of how you can still use your expensive, architectural fittings that go with the building and retrofit them with an LED solution.’

The energy used by the building’s 700 luminaires will drop from 32 to 14W. Hindley has yet to work out a cost for the project but he expects it to pay for itself in less than five years.

‘If you look at it from a facilities or estate management perspective, there are thousands of light fittings across the university. We’re doing our level best now to make sure we’re replacing them with LED solutions that emit very good lux and have excellent colour rendering while decreasing the amount of hours we spend on maintenance.

The project has convinced the estate’s electrical engineers of the benefits of LEDs

‘That’s a strong philosophy we’re going forward with now and I’ve got the support of the estate’s electrical engineers. When LED first came out it really wasn’t up to scratch and this journey has been about enhancing everybody’s knowledge about how it’s advancing. It’s totally fit for purpose and the benefits for the engineering teams internally is that there is a lot less maintenance to go with it.’

But it’s not just the bank account and the reputation of the MMU that will benefit from Hindley’s approach: ‘It’s a good example of collaboration between an environmental strategy team and the academic side. The student got a dissertation out of it and hands-on experience of lighting design and prototyping. Our linkages across the university exposed opportunities for the students to use the campus as a living laboratory.’

 

From green to smart

MMU’s green revolution was only the start of what Hindley calls a ‘smartness journey’. From now on, any new lighting that is installed at the premises will be connected to a Dali or a KNX system. Lighting, and other systems in the buildings such as CCTV, fire alarms and burglar alarms are all integrated with a central Skywalker server. ‘You can tell a building to turn all its lights off. It’s about cutting down the extra run time, but then again if the building gets broken into, the lighting will come on.’

As well as giving the facilities team more control, they will be able to glean insights from the data that the system gathers.

‘We’ll be looking at space use and occupancy to improve our energy efficiency and space utilisation strategy,’ says Hindley. ‘There is so much more you can do with an integrated system: self testing, error reporting through the lighting server interface…’

Learning more about the estate using ‘live’ information will also speed up maintenance. Rather than someone reporting a faulty lamp, the system will report it directly to the management team.

‘The principle is about making lighting smarter, making it work more efficiently for you to its maximum capacity, making sure it’s integrated with other systems and making the best use of that,’ says Hindley.