Energy Infographic


Enlarge and download as a PDF | Source: UNSW Estate Management

UNSW takes an active approach to reducing energy consumption through the implementation of various energy saving initiatives. Despite this, our total energy use continues to rise slowly due to the increasing operation of highly advanced, energy-intensive research equipment, and our continuous growth on building area required to support student and staff numbers.

Like most organisations in New South Wales, the majority of UNSW’s energy requirements are currently met either directly or indirectly through the burning of fossil fuels. The University is committed to finding new ways to meet its energy needs that are both environmentally and economically sustainable and has implemented several strategies to minimise the environmental footprint of the energy required by its facilities.

Reducing our reliance on energy sourced from fossil fuels is critical because:

  • the burning of fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases that accelerate climate change
  • fossil fuels are a finite resource that will run out
  • the price of energy generated from fossil fuels in NSW has doubled since 2007 and is expected to double again by 2020.

Good progress has been made to improve the efficiency of energy use and generate low- and zero-carbon energy onsite. UNSW's Energy and Water Strategy has been produced to provide a summary of recent and future activities.

Energy is a key component of UNSW's
Environmental Management Plan.
See the EMP for a status report for 2017.

Total energy use

Total energy use on the Kensington campus has risen from 93.5 gigawatt hours (GWh) in 2013 to 119.1 GWh in 2017. This is an increase of 27%.

The source of primary energy consumed by UNSW in 2017 can be broken down as follows:

  • 71% from grid electricity (mostly from coal-fired power plants)
  • 26% from natural gas
  • 2% from co-generation
  • 1% from renewable sources such as solar energy.

From 2013 to 2017, three main buildings were added: E26 (BioSciences South), J17 (Mech. Eng), and E10 MSEB. These account for 56% of the increase in total energy use from 2013 to 2017 (i.e. 14,500 MWh out of 25,600 MWh total increase). The remaining increase, can be attributed to increase in student numbers in recent years.

Energy initiatives

Energy generation - natural gas

Although natural gas is a fossil fuel, its conversion into energy results in approximately 78% less greenhouse gas emissions than coal-based alternatives. The use of natural gas for space and water heating at UNSW, therefore, offers significantly better environmental outcomes than grid-based electric alternatives. 

In the long run, however, it is still better to shift away from gas as it is much easier and cheaper to generate electricity from renewable sources. In 2017, natural gas consumption at the Kensington campus was about 113.7 terajoules, up by approx. 65% since 2013. 

Electricity generation – photovoltaic

Since 2005, UNSW has been installing photovoltaic cells on buildings around its campuses. The continued expansion of installations meant that in 2017, photovoltaic systems met approx. 1% of the University’s energy demand. This is an increase of 3.2 folds since 2013.

Solar progress from 2017

  • A new 95 kWp PV system was installed on the new Biosciences South (E26) building roof.
  • A new 112 kWp PV system was installed on Old Main Building (K15) roof.
  • The Quadrangle (E15) 42 kWp PV system was replaced by a newer 100 kWp system.

Electricity generation – co-generation and tri-generation

Co-generation and tri-generation are techniques for energy generation that capture and use the heat energy that results from the production of electricity (that would otherwise have been wasted). Co-generation systems use waste heat from the production of electricity to supply hot water to buildings, whilst tri-generation systems capture both the heating and/or cooling potential of the waste energy. 

UNSW currently has one co-generation system and one tri-generation system on campus which, in 2017, accounted for approx. 2% of the University’s energy demand.

Energy efficiency - building upgrades

The energy management team at UNSW continually improves the energy efficiency of the University’s facilities through initiatives such as:

  • replacing ageing electric hot water systems with solar or gas-powered systems
  • replacing old lighting systems with new, more energy-efficient, sensor-controlled lights (around 10-15% of a building’s energy consumption comes from lighting and EM has been working to centralise lighting control systems allowing EM to re-program and optimise the settings and make significant energy savings)
  • fitting new bathrooms with only cold-water taps
  • installing variable speed drives to pumps and fans
  • ‘tuning’ the building management systems
  • enhancing energy efficiency design for new buildings
  • re-commissioning major heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) plants.

Energy efficiency - awareness campaigns

The University also runs awareness campaigns about energy efficiency for staff, students and the wider community. These campaigns include:

  • making live energy data available for the UNSW community
  • encouraging security staff patrolling buildings at night and cleaners to turn off lights
  • creating posters.

Carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions

The University is required to report its carbon and greenhouse gas emissions to the Commonwealth Government under the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting (NGER) Act.

The term 'greenhouse gas' refers to any gas that absorbs infrared radiation when released into the atmosphere. The absorption of this energy creates an insulating layer that balances the amount of energy received from the sun with energy radiated away from the earth's surface, creating a stable surface temperature.

Different gases are able to absorb different levels of radiation and remain in the atmosphere for different periods of time, making comparisons between them difficult. To enable us to estimate how much a given mass of a greenhouse gas is contributing to global warming, the gas is compared to a baseline of one unit of carbon dioxide (CO2) and is expressed as a carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2eq). For example, methane has an insulating (global warming) potential 21 times greater than that of carbon dioxide, meaning the emission of one tonne of methane is equivalent to the emission of 21 tonnes of carbon dioxide (21 CO2eq).

The NGER Reporting Guidelines break emissions down into three categories:

Scope 1: These are direct emissions, such as those from the burning of natural gas and motor vehicle fuels.

Scope 2: These are indirect emissions, removed by a single step such as those generated as a result of the use of electricity produced by a third-party.

Scope 3: These are emissions that are more than one step removed. This category is most difficult to measure and includes emissions such as those resulting from business travel by staff, the disposal of waste, the extraction and transmission of energy and the purchasing of goods and services. UNSW did not measure Scope 3 emissions during the 2017 reporting period. This is something we intend to investigate for future reporting, as scope 3 emissions are likely to represent the greatest proportion of UNSW’s carbon emissions.

In the 2016-17 financial year, the University’s campuses and operations were responsible for the production of 79,666 tonnes of Scope 1 and 2 emissions of CO2eq greenhouse gases, which is an increase of 20% since 2013-14 due to an increased population of staff and students and new, research-intensive buildings.

Scope 2 CO2eq greenhouse gas emissions associated with the consumption of NSW grid electricity are the largest contributor to the University’s carbon footprint. In 2016-17 UNSW’s Scope 2 emissions totalled 73,859 tonnes.

The Scope 1 CO2eq greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of natural gas (primarily for space and hot water heating), and the liquid fuels used by the vehicle fleet totalled 5,807 tonnes in 2016-17.

UNSW greenhouse gas emissions