A new report by Cornwall Insight, one of the top management consultancies in the energy, utilities, and environmental sector, says that energy buyers have many more years of rocketing fuel prices to come.
Stating that prices will remain above £100/MWh annually, which is double the five-year pre 2021 historic average, alarm bells are sounding for organisations that have an obligation to provide comfortable environments in multi-occupancy housing, such as student accommodation.
The almost unique situation that exists in most student dwellings is that the room occupant does not directly foot the bill for the energy they consume. The all-inclusive room-fee is a very attractive offer for students as it helps them to budget their monthly outgoings for their accommodation, confidently. But for providers of rooms the sudden increase in energy costs has put a severe dent in their cash-flow.
The report predicts, that although the recent surge in prices will subside, they will remain at an all-time high up to 2030 and beyond, with the winter of 2025 being especially significant with £150/MWh being a real possibility because of a drop in power production due to nuclear power station closures and the delays in the commissioning of Hinkley Point C.
Shopping around for cheaper energy is futile as all energy providers are facing the same issues.
So, what are the options for those who simply must reduce spend?
In the case of student accommodation, the only logical solution is to control energy consumption at the point of use.
It is human nature to consume more of what is considered free! All energy managers will have anecdotes of finding thermostats in rooms that have been turned up to maximum and left at that setting. The method of control is the window, which is opened when the room is too hot and then closed to warm the room by stemming the flow of heat to the outside world.
Controls on heaters go some way to regulating energy use, with timers, programmes, and restrictions on maximum outputs etc. but most of these are manufactured for the domestic market where a homeowner is responsible for paying the bills and therefore does not try to ‘cheat the system’.
In a commercial application the ‘locked’ controls integrated into these heaters is easily ‘un-locked’ by resourceful students. They simply hold a button for a few seconds and then, to quote Pink Floyd, ‘Set the controls for the heart of the sun!’.
A local control system designed and manufactured specifically for the student market is a cost-effective way to manage energy use in these circumstances.
But what criteria should those looking for such a device use to make the right choice?
- Robust design and build quality will keep the devices safe and reliable in more challenging environments.
- A manufacturer’s long history of working in this sector with acute understanding for the requirements of both students and energy managers.
- A dedicated programming handset ensures the timings and temperatures cannot be tampered with.
- A system that is easy to manage and operate, is essential.
What is termed the 3-stage student profile as the name suggests has 3 settings – Setback – the default temperature, Boost – for when more heat is required, and Frost mode which is a minimum temperature input that safeguards the room from moisture and damp.
Times are assigned to these settings so that energy is not wasted, the setback temperature is typically timed for 12 hours (at around 18-19°C) after which the control turns down to Frost mode (usually 10-12°C).
If more heat is required, the occupant simply presses the boost button which raises the temperature to 22-23°C for, let’s say 45 minutes, after which it returns to the Setback mode.
If the occupant leaves the room during a Boost period, the PIR senses the room is empty and again reverts to Setback. Likewise, if a window is opened and there is a sudden drop in temperature, energy input to the heater is reduced by a percentage.
In the current crisis, these sector specific, intelligent thermostats make the job of keeping rooms comfortable, while using less energy, much easier. By constantly seeking ways to reduce energy input, a system like this provides control that in real terms saves hard cash.