The challenge

Financial incentives are a key driver of energy efficiency, but are weakly developed in many educational institutions because the ICT departments which control operational activities seldom pay the energy bills.

What we did

In 2010, Forum for the Future completed a JISC-funded collaborative project with the University of Gloucestershire Business School and University of Bradford to examine this problem by:

  • Understanding current practice – how energy costs are currently budgeted and charged for, and by whom;
  • Identifying and analysing possible alternative methods of addressing energy costs, and providing financial and other incentives, using existing accounting methods or alternatives that could be considered; then identifying for each method its advantages and disadvantages, and the particular circumstances in which it is likely to be most appropriate;
  • Identifying good practice, current gaps and opportunities for improvement, in these areas;
  • Suggesting topics and options for more detailed examination and trialling in a possible stage two of the project.

What we found

We identified a number of mechanisms which we felt had the potential to provide greater incentives for ICT energy efficiency. We found that:

  • Three of the five mechanisms we identified – grants, awareness and competitions, and whole life costing – are used to some degree, but in a patchy manner;
  • The two more systematic mechanisms – devolved energy budgeting and shared savings schemes – are barely used at all. However, we did identify sufficient levels of interest and best practice examples to suggest that this situation could change;
  • Financial mechanisms are only part of the story. They will be marginal or ineffective if other elements are not in place, such as strategic targets for environmental improvement, and effective cross-departmental collaboration and understanding;
  • Some areas of ICT are also easier to influence than others. In particular, data centres are a very focused and easily metered area of high energy use, generally with clear responsibility structures, and within the sole control of the ICT department (except for cooling and power supply, which is shared with estates).

Many of the approaches we studied also have an underlying need for accurate information, which will require higher levels of sub-metering than is currently the case.

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