In Sheffield University’s recent Sustainability Strategy, a commitment was made to consider switching to a low carbon source of grid electricity. We’ve written a detailed briefing explaining why the University should switch its electricity supplier, the advantages to be gained, and how doing so is both practically and economically viable.
As we say more fully in the briefing’s introduction, we write the briefing in the spirit of collaboration, and fully aware of the laudable work the University does in other areas of sustainability.
Executive summary of the briefing:
The University of Sheffield Clean Energy Switch Team commends the steps already taken by the University towards the goal of becoming one of the most sustainable universities in the UK. This briefing takes on the task, set out in the 2018 Sustainability Strategy, of investigating the University’s current electricity procurement practices and setting out feasible, pragmatic alternatives.
Current electricity supply.
The University’s electricity is currently generated at a biomass-burning generator. Biomass should not be considered sustainable. Burning biomass emits as much carbon dioxide as burning coal, in addition to emissions resulting from deforestation, its production process, and intercontinental transport of wood pellets. There are compelling scientific and moral reasons to switch to a low carbon energy supply.
Why switch to a clean energy supplier?
University of Sheffield (UoS) students care deeply about climate change and how UoS sources its energy. Switching to a low carbon energy source would allow UoS to be a green energy leader among UK universities, creating opportunities for deepening links with industry and attracting prospective students. UoS stands to gain financially from switching to a low carbon energy source.
The feasibility of switching to a clean energy supplier.
The University’s contract with the current energy generator is due to end in 2020, which means that the current energy procurement policy should be amended by Summer 2019. Our research indicates that low carbon energy contracts do not come at a premium. Switching can almost certainly be achieved cost neutrally, and it is even likely that savings can be made. Entering into a power purchase agreement (PPA) with a supplier is the most environmentally sound, secure, and economically viable approach to the purchase of low carbon electricity.
The University should set up a low carbon electricity supply contract. To this end, an action plan for switching should be established, detailing what will be done up to September 2019, which is the deadline for changing or terminating our current contract with Inenco. One of the best value options, when accounting for both financial and environmental costs of energy, is setting up a PPA with a low carbon generator. UoS energy procurement guidelines should be established to institutionalise the buying of low carbon electricity and reflect the pioneering leadership of UoS in genuinely sustainable solutions to climate change. If cost savings arise from the new contract, we suggest that funds made available are ring-fenced, to develop a UoS ‘sustainability fund’.