Tallinn University of Technology

On the third Thursday of October, the staff and students of TalTech gathered in the café of the main building to discuss options for saving during this autumn and the coming winter. As the heating and electricity expenses of the university have more than tripled compared to a year ago and the additional state funding for higher education is entirely spent on utilities with more needed, it is clear that we all need to help cut costs. This is an issue that extends beyond money – as we all know, TalTech has set the goal of becoming climate neutral by 2035.

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Mari Öö Sarv | Photos: William Kass

The staff and the students were given an opportunity to send their thoughts or questions to the Real Estate Office before the coffee morning and many took advantage of this. About a fifth of the proposals were related to lighting; however, according to the Real Estate Office, only 8% of the power consumed by the university is used for lighting. 13% of the proposals concerned waste, a similar number was made regarding transportation as well as the use of the premises.

For example, proposals were made to declare Fridays remote work and learning days and transfer to a four-day work week; to switch off more of the general lighting on campus in the evening and to turn off screens for the night or use screens only in emergencies; to favour public transportation over cars, for example, by increasing the frequency of public transportation and adding a night trolleybus/bus, promoting carpooling, and adding convenient bicycle parking spaces; to construct a cooling system similar to district heating that would service all of the buildings on the campus; to reduce the use of bottled water, to stop using disposable cups and selling meat dishes; to mount screens which display information on the power consumption of the campus to increase awareness and to organise a challenge for the structural units to reduce their consumption; to install stations for collecting electronic waste on the campus; to propose research topics related to energy audits, renovation and ventilation projects of the university, etc. to the students; to reuse technological equipment and furniture; to remove halls with high energy requirements from the timetables; to leave the grass uncut, which would help economise on labour as well as fuel for lawn mowers plus support the biodiversity of the campus. The more general need to nudge the staff and the students of the university towards making better choices when it comes to exercise, diet, waste, etc. and to offer convenient options for achieving that was also expressed.

Souvenirs to keep you warm

At the coffee morning, Riina Uska, Real Estate Development Director of TalTech, presented the steps that have been taken so far to save power: the exterior lighting of buildings and the heating of external areas during the winter have been switched off. Naturally, room temperature has been lowered – reducing the temperature of water in the heating system by one degree means a 5% financial gain, according to Uska. She suggests that we should treat the premises of an employer with the same thrifty attitude as heating our own homes. The purpose of the university is to keep the students and the staff on the campus, because contact learning and working is much more efficient and it helps us stay warm as well. Cosy fleece blankets and sweatshirts, travel mugs, and woollen socks are available at the souvenir shop of the university.

The Facilities Management Division and quite a few structural units have ‘found’ rooms which are not really used – leaving these unheated leads to big savings. The same approach is taken to heating rooms which are rarely used. Another easy way to economise is to use rooms according to the number of people – heating a classroom seating 150 students is not wise for only 15 students. When classrooms are full of people, their bodies help heat them up faster, leading to a call to lecturers to make their lectures and seminars as exciting as possible to have more students attend because each student functions as a 100-watt heater.

The lighting and heating of the university buildings cannot simply be turned off in the evenings and at the weekends because many laboratories need a steady temperature, student organisations and choirs have meetings in the evenings, pupils prepare for competitions and exams on various subjects, and open university students attend lectures on the weekends. However, lectures and seminars can be grouped into adjacent rooms, the premises can be used more efficiently, and the university should give up inefficient property outside the Mustamäe campus.

Riina Uska explained that the long-term goal is to implement fully controllable utility systems for buildings, where heating and ventilation correspond to the timetable. The university is also planning to produce its own electricity, and the roof of one of the buildings should be covered in solar panels this year, with several others waiting their turn. TalTech is not going to sell power because we might be able to produce only about 10 per cent of the energy we need. Our goal is to take full advantage of the roofs of the buildings, which is not as easy as might seem at first glance – there are many utility systems on the roofs already, the systems are complex, and public procurements take time. The most energy-efficient study and research building of the university is the Ehituse Mäemaja building with its roof already covered in solar panels; it also uses 80% of its residual heat, whereas other buildings use about 60%. In March, the Mustamäe campus switched to the Utilitas district heating system, which is constantly increasing its carbon-neutrality.

The last one to leave turns off the lights

The university has common areas where lights turn on automatically when movement is detected and only in areas with actual movement. This is a great option for savings; however, not all 155,000 square metres of the campus have smart lighting. The last one leaving a room switching off the lights is a basic rule, projectors are turned off after a lecture and computers are shut down for the night. Information Technology Services noted that a computer which has been turned off for the night will be a more reliable partner the next day.

Something ironic also happened at the coffee morning – a proposal was made, ‘Everyone should come out of their comfort zone at all times. As an experiment, let’s turn off the lights in this room because we do not need them for our brainstorming session. Let’s leave only the screens with the information materials on.’ As it happens, it is impossible to turn off the lights because ‘smart lighting’ turns on the lights when there is movement in the room. You could argue that the system is not that smart if it cannot be used as desired. Nevertheless, ten minutes later, the lights were out – an employee of the Real Estate Office simply switched off power to the lights in the switchboard.

Nonetheless, the lighting was only an example, as already stated, and everyone must leave their comfort zone every day, even if only for a little while. The coffee morning tested another matter of convenience – coffee was indeed served, but everyone had to bring their own cup. And so it was – no disposable cups were used when looking for ways to save.

The reason for organising the coffee morning was not really saving in the sense of economising; rather, it was convening the students and the staff in an emotional sense and letting everyone speak when discussing important issues that the university faces. ‘The satisfaction survey indicated that people want more information, so why not gather in the café of the main building every month,’ Rector Tiit Land stated, holding a clay coffee mug.

Kaja Kuivjõgi, Head of the Rectorate Strategy Office, added that the format of the gathering is meant to be decided by the participants, who can also propose topics. ‘Everyone who normally does not attend the meetings of managerial staff or structural units can express their opinion here. It is also a great opportunity where unexpected and surprising ideas could help find new solutions,’ Kuivjõgi stated. This is what happened at the first coffee morning – the young and the old, professors and directors, students and support staff from various structural units alike discussed their ideas in the early morning light.

The coffee morning in November will focus on students’ expectations for the university regarding its future.

Ülikoolipere liikmed kohvikus säästukohtade üle arutlemas