In support of the #ClimateStrike

This is my contribution to the #ClimateStrike. For the past 8 years or so, I’ve volunteered as energy coordinator of the Informatics Forum. My mission has been to reduce energy consumption in the Forum, both by encouraging occupants to change their behaviour (e.g. by turning off lights and equipment) and to identify changes in building operation. It’s been a steep learning curve, as my academic expertise is computational neuroscience, not engineering.

Here are some reflections on what I’ve learned:

  1. Modern buildings are complicated, with a big chunk of energy being consumed behind the scenes on services such as ventilation.
  2. The details of construction and operation really matter to efficient operation. I have had the privilege of working with Bill Bordass, helping with a “Post Occupancy Evaluation” of the building. He explains what’s wrong with how we build now and how we can do better.
  3. Controls and control engineers are crucial. The University’s control engineers were able to save about 15% of our electricity consumption by automating the opening and closing of a vent and adjusting the controls. Control engineers are my unsung heroes.
  4. The spec of the building is crucial. Somehow we ended up having a very oversized  uninterruptible power supply (UPS) that gobbled another 15% of our power, but it was never clear who wanted it in the first place! (Thankfully we’ve now replaced it and another UPS – the signs are that we’re saving a decent amount of electricity.)
  5. Data can be quite helpful. We have automated readings of overall electricity consumption and how much is used by servers and offices. Though one of the biggest insights into energy consumption came from 2 manual readings of a meter in the plant room!
  6. Academic buildings are an energy nightmare compared to standard office buildings. We stay in them at all hours, so the automated controls on lights in corridors don’t get much of a chance to turn the lights off.

Here’s what we (and the University) could think about:

  1. Is it crucial that all our servers stay on during a power cut? When it next comes to replacing the UPS, we could perhaps get a smaller one if demand  for it is lower. We should really be checkpointing our jobs anyway.
  2. Server energy consumption use has been increasing (perhaps something to do with deep learning and GPUs?) Can we make our code any more energy efficient? Can we teach energy efficient coding?
  3. Can we replace the fluorescent lights with LEDs, and perhaps tweak the controls?
  4. Can we reduce the need for travel and travel more often by train? Of course, plane is often cheaper than plane, even for UK mainland travel, but train fares, even first class, can be reasonable in advance and the University expenses policy says that “a non-standard class rail fare is allowable where the claimant plans to work for the duration of the journey“.
  5. The ventilation in some offices is still not good, and could, I think (I’m not a building engineer), be modified without increasing energy consumption on ventilation – and might perhaps allow us to reduce consumption.

I’m sure there’s more to think about – comments welcome.

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Winter shutdown 2018

A wee bit of graphical encouragement to minimise use of power in the Forum & Bayes building over the break. The dips in electricity consumption every winter vacation can be seen in this graph of electricity consumption in the Forum (click for larger version; note that contrary to the label this graph does not include Bayes operation).

So please follow the Winter Shutdown advice: ensure windows are closed, blinds are down (especially on street-level windows) and equipment is powered-off, where possible.

Feel free to shutdown your desktop – you should be able to wake it up remotely even if you have powered it off.

Heating will be reduced in the Informatics Forum and Bayes, during the closure period; however the heating buttons on each floor will work and will a provide a one hour boost.

Happy Christmas and a good New Year!

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Winter shutdown

Hourly electricity use December 2015-January 2016.

Hourly electricity use December 2015-January 2016.



Many of us are going to be out of the office for the next couple of weeks, and so this is a good opportunity to save energy – see the graph of hourly electricity consumption in the Forum in December 2015 and January 2016 (blue is servers, red is sockets in offices, orange is everything else, such as lights, lifts, dishwashers, kettles, data projectors).

We don’t have control over everything, but before you leave the School of Informatics, please don’t forget to:

  • Turn off non-essential equipment (like PCs, if you’re not going to be using them)
  • Close all of the doors and windows
  • Switch off the lights (including decorations)
  • Turn down radiators

Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year from your Energy Coordinator!

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University’s climate strategy – Zero by 2040

The University has launched a new Climate Strategy – Zero by 2040. From the announcement:

The United Kingdom, along with more than 170 other countries, officially signed the Paris Agreement in 2016. The agreement sets out a global target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and a decisive call to action to mitigate dangerous climate change caused by human activity.

To meet this challenge, and to support Scotland’s and the world’s transition to a low carbon economy, the University of Edinburgh will reduce its carbon emissions per £ million turnover by 50% from a 2007/08 baseline, and will become a net zero carbon university by 2040.

To meet these new obligations we will take action on research, learning and teaching, operations, responsible investment, and will investigate renewables opportunities.

It will use the University’s five campuses as living laboratories for learning and to test innovative ideas that can be replicated elsewhere.

On first impressions, this looks like a realistic programme. I’d like it to get to zero carbon sooner, but I do think it is better to set achievable targets rather than targets that are highly likely to be missed, as were ones in the past.

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Keeping the lights off

Seminar Room Light Switch

Seminar Room Light Switch

The Social Responsibility and Sustainability department have teamed up with the servitors to pass on details of energy-wasting “incidents”. We seem to be doing fairly well in the Forum, with only four incidents since February, all to do with lights left on, particularly in G.07. So please, remember to turn the lights off when you vacate a  seminar room.

Here’s what the energy-saving reports look like:

Weekly energy saving report for the 7 days ending 10 Jul 2016

We’re sending you this summary because you are listed as a stakeholder or energy coordinator for this building. If that’s not correct, please get in touch and we will update our records.

This summary is based upon routine security checks of almost every University building. When lights or equipment are left switched on, or when windows and doors are left open, an action is taken (e.g. lights switched off) and a record is kept.

These checks have happened for years, but these weekly summary reports allow us to let you know about these issues for the first time in the hope that we can help you to address them.

Monthly summary

  • So far this month there have been 1 issues.
  • That’s a 34% increase in issues compared to the last 2 months.

This week

  • There were 1 issues this week. That’s higher than average.

They were…

A sustainability issue has been reported here.

  • Incident number: ASEC-2016-012304
  • Reported: Wed, 06 Jul 16 05:02:21 +0100
  • Type: Lights Turned Off (Large Office\Classroom)
  • Severity: Over 20 Lights
  • Summary: 20 x Lights in G7 20 x Lights in 4.33 Both large Classrooms/Meeting rooms. Lights turned off.


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A history of electricity conservation in a million readings

Informatics energy use, 2011-2015After a period of relative inactivity, prompted by being interviewed by the Social Responsibility and Sustainability Department, I’ve produced a plot of the electricity use in the Forum from July 2011 until now. July 2011 is when logs start from the Forum UPSs, which allows the electricity use to be apportioned between Servers, Offices (basically anything that runs from a socket in an office or seminar room) and  Other (ventilation, lifts, lighting, dishwashers, microwaves, coffee machines &c.). The graph reflects changes we’ve made to systems in the building quite nicely.

There are actually more than a million readings – actually 1,589,728 – which  I’ve now munged so that they’re almost all available from a SQL database. There is also a (at present poorly documented) R package that allows for easy querying and plotting of the data. It also does the work of extracting real power  from the UPS logs –  the Office UPS only supplies apparent power, so I’ve converted to real power using a power factor of 0.9, estimated from the Server UPS. Not included in the UPS power is the overhead required to run each UPS. Let me know if you’re interested in the data or the package.

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Sleep report

School of Informatics Computing Officer Chris Cooke has been working on the DICE sleep system recently, making it easier for machines to sleep whilst users are logged in. The system has been tested for a while and has now runs on all DICE desktops. Chris has also blogged about quantifying how much sleep machines are getting. The improved sleep system should  save a considerable amount of electricity and the system is designed so that machines should stay awake whilst running long jobs, so there should be no disruption to work. Thanks to Chris for his work on this, and thanks also to the group of beta-testers who’ve helped Chris to refine the system.

If you want to see how much your machine is sleeping, I’ve written a couple of scripts (which work with GNOME) that notify you discretely when you unlock how much your machine slept yesterday. To use them download this zip file, unpack it, put the sleep-analyse and sleep-info scripts in ~/bin and put the sleep-info.desktop file in ~/.config/autostart .

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Sleep and biscuits

Here is some great news from Chris Cooke (Computing Officer) about improvments to the sleep system on DICE desktops:

I’m looking for volunteers to help me test some energy-saving software.You will need to have a DICE computer already allocated to you.

Your reward will be the satisfaction of helping to reduce the School’s energy consumption, but in case that’s not enough, the first dozen people to respond can also relieve me of a Tortina chocolate biccie (“a heart of smoothest cream from the finest hazelnuts captured between two light and crisp wafers and then wrapped in exquisite milk chocolate”).

If you already have a DICE computer and you’d like to help, please replytelling me its name.

The software to be tested is a new version of lcfg-sleep, which decides when DICE desktops go to sleep and wake up. The main new feature of the test version is that it will send a machine to sleep while an X session is running, if that X session has been idle for long enough. (The current version, which runs on all DICE desktops, doesn’t sleep the machine at all if an X session is running.)

I’m not aware of any remaining bugs in the new version of lcfg-sleep, and it’s been running for some time now on computing staff desktops. However I’m not quite so sure whether it has the best possible configuration. I’d like to fine tune it to make sure that it doesn’t annoy people too much, for instance by being too quick to make the computer sleep.

If you take part, your duty will mainly be just to tell me what you think of the new sleep behaviour, especially if it annoys or inconveniences you. If you spot anything wrong please tell me about that too of course.

The software is documented at:

and the new version’s differences are documented at:

If you’d like to help please reply telling me the name of your DICE machine. Thanks.

And thanks to Chris for working on this. The test system has been running well for me for about a week now.

Image released under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike license by Chocablog.

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Event: ‘Our Climate Change Story’

I’ve had notice of this event, organised by the Sustainability office:

‘Our Climate Change Story’
Informatics Forum G.07, Tuesday 5th March 5-7pm

This Climate Week, come along to find out what staff and students across the University are doing about climate change, ranging from energy efficiency in buildings, to setting up a food co-operative, and discuss what we want to make happen next.

Contributions will include short presentations from David Somervell (Sustainability Advisor), Sarah Lang (Hearty Squirrel Food Co-op), David Sterratt (Energy Coordinator, Informatics Forum), Max Crema (Vice-President Services, EUSA), and others. There will also be plenty of interactive discussion with everyone involved.

Please book a ticket if you plan on attending, so we know how many to expect, at

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Progress on pantry lighting

Dave Hamilton, building superintendent, has reported some welcome news on pantry lighting in his email to if-people:

There has been a long standing problem in the Forum whereby pantry area lighting is tied to the main stairwell lighting and the areas are being unnecessarily lit at night.

Work is due to begin this coming Thursday  (24th Jan.) to place the pantry area lights on a separate circuit with individual PIRs. This will stop them coming on with the stair lights but will bring them on if anyone enters the area in the evenings.

The work will involve annexing an area usually reserved for seating and the corresponding area on the floor above. The areas will usually be out of operation for two days at a time.

Normal access to the sink and associated facilities will be maintained but the seating will be limited.

Current Schedule:

East Side pantries:
Thu. 24th: MF2 (floor), Level 3 (3.41) ceiling
Fri 25th: Level 3 (3.41) floor, Level 2 (2.42) ceiling
Mon. 28th: Level 2 (2.42) floor, Level 1 (1.36) ceiling

Work will then move on to the west side pantries:
Tue. 29th: Level 5 (5.01) ceiling
Wed. 30th: Level 5 (5.01) floor, Level 4 (4.01) ceiling
Thu. 31st: Level 4 (4.01) floor, Level 3 (3.01) ceiling
Fri. 1st: Level 3 (3.01) floor, Level 2 (2.01) ceiling
Mon 2nd: Level 2 (2.01) floor, Level 1 (1.01) ceiling

Apologies for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience whilst we and E+B try to limit unnecessary energy consumption within the Forum.

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