Kings College London has made a commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 43% from 2005-06 levels by 2020, with laboratories essential to achieving this goal.
Laboratories are filled with a variety of equipment types, many of which are communal so that they may be utilised by multiple groups and departments. Due to this communal nature and irregular working hours, equipment is frequently left on unnecessarily. Furthermore some types of laboratory equipment are particularly energy-intensive and thus finding ways to turn them off where possible could reduce energy consumption as well as potentially increase the life-time of the equipment. While not applicable to all equipment, a simple solution to this would be to apply plug-in timers to certain devices. Pictured here, plug-in timers come usually with 24-hour or 7-day programmes.
24-hour digital mains timer
At the end of 2014, the Sustainability department purchased 50 7-day digital timers for installation in laboratories. 7-day timers were preferred to 24-hour devices as permitted further flexibility to reflect the variable working schedules of the research community. Timers only cost ~£6.20 per timer bringing the cost to ~£315 in total. Devices targeted had to be of a specific nature – ie. equipment that did not house live samples overnight, no fridges or freezers, and nothing that potentially need to be run overnight. Incubators of any sort were not suitable for installation. Drying ovens, cabinets, and heating blocks commonly left on were prime targets for such timers. Water baths are commonly left on in research spaces and when metered can consume between 1-3 kWh per day. While they consume low amounts of energy, it was calculated that a water bath left on for just ~25 days could pay back the cost of a timer. Thus water baths were suitable for timers. Note a typical timer should have a lifetime of 5 years minimum.
There were a few lessons learnt from the project. Firstly not all the timers purchased worked perfectly. It’s worth engaging with your research colleagues to ensure that if a timer is faulty, you can replace it with another promptly. It’s also good to engage the staff about any timers installed to ensure they’re comfortable with the schedule chosen and the equipment being targeted – some ovens will take live samples and some won’t. Furthermore different laboratories have different working schedules, so ensure the schedule chosen best reflects the settings. Finally, it may be worth discussing with your research colleagues a year on if they’re still in use. A timer may frustrate a user and get unplugged, and it’s good to ensure that you get the best use from your investment.
Overall we bought 50 timers, and 45 of them worked in the end. Of those 45, the estimated savings are ~£3,100 per year. We may have to look for different targets on some of them, as some drying cabinets they were applied are being replaced with newer insulated cabinets with timers built in, but from such a small investment it seems an easy win for research spaces.
2017 Update* Since this project has been written, another 100 timers have been installed across the college tallying savings of £9,500 per annum total.