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Exploring Durham’s energy evolution with Senior Energy Manager Tom Bray

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Tom Bray is a Senior Energy Manager in our Estates and Facilities Department.

Dialogue spoke to Tom to discover more about his focus on energy use here at Durham, and how this translates to his activism outside of work…

Tell us about your role as a Senior Energy Manager.

I help lead the Energy and Sustainability team, which is part of the Estates and Facilities directorate. We have a really broad remit, working to improve biodiversity, environmental compliance, sustainable travel, waste and recycling, and energy and water consumption.

My main focus is looking at how we can reduce emissions linked to the University estate. This means supporting our community to make positive changes, facilitating continuous improvement to our buildings in regard to their energy demand, and helping develop the decarbonisation strategy for the University.

How does decarbonisation support our University Strategy?

As part of developing the decarbonisation strategy for the University estate, we have to set out a clear plan of how to move away from fossil-based infrastructure and toward a low carbon alternative as soon as possible.

This means ensuring new developments are built sustainably, as well as optimising our existing estate and installing new renewable energy assets. We’ll be sharing more about our decarbonisation strategy with our community in 2024, so look out for updates.

What does a typical day look like for you and the team?

Each day, the team are reviewing our energy use across the estate to identify areas of waste, working with staff and students to encourage and support change, and working on business cases for investment on decarbonisation projects throughout the University.

I am involved with a project to install 500 kW of solar panels across the University in the next few months, which would help reduce our emissions by about 85 tonnes. I’m also looking at how we can improve insulation, draught proof buildings and improve lighting around campus.

Solar PV on the roof of the Maths and Computer Science building
Solar PV on the roof of the Maths and Computer Science building

Why is energy conservation so important?

Energy is a precious resource, the electricity and heat that we use contributes to the University’s emissions and, ultimately, contributes to climate change.

Our University activities use a lot of energy as we burn gas to keep buildings comfortable and heat water, and use electricity to power teaching and research activities, light sports halls and event spaces, and much more.

But just because we have used a lot of energy in the past, does not mean we cannot use less in the future. With a concerted effort to minimise energy use, I am confident that we could reduce our ‘base-load‘ (this is the electricity we use overnight or during vacation periods), without a major impact on the way we use the estate, the way we carry out research or the way we teach.

What actions can staff and students take to help make a difference?

Minimising energy demand in our everyday activities can really help us make significant changes to our emissions as a University!

I want people to be conscious of how we are using energy everywhere we go - it may start with ensuring we are turning lights, projectors and screens off when not in use. Next, it could include making changes in how we use buildings and equipment, could fume hoods be consolidated and turned off? Are there any computers that could be switched off? What else can we do to drive down energy demand in the buildings we use? We would love to hear thoughts and ideas.

What’s your favourite thing about your job?

I love that I can be working on projects to have a real impact on the major issue of our generation. In developing strategy, provoking projects, and pushing energy conservation, I feel that I can have a meaningful impact on reducing emissions and responding to climate change.

Do you have any hobbies outside of work?

I love being outdoors and spend a lot of time running or hiking with my wife and my dog. In the summer, I enjoy riding my bike a bit too (I am fairly obsessed with the world of professional cycling and would happily spend a day on the side of a road watching a pro cycling race!).

I’m also part of my church community in Durham, and am often amazed how many people I meet there are staff at the University.

Tom Speaking at the BOP fest about Net Zero in Crook last summer
Tom Speaking at the BOP fest about Net Zero in Crook last summer

I work in my role at the University because I want to impact emissions in response to climate change. You could call me a climate activist! I spend a lot of my time outside of work trying to do the same.

During the lockdowns in 2020, I started to use some of this time indoors learning to communicate about climate change and emissions reduction by starting to share some thoughts on a Youtube channel. Three years later, I have uploaded over 100 videos about a ‘low carbon lifestyle’, including introductions to heat pumps, electric vehicles, and sustainable travel.

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