22 Aug 2022

Student Room Numbers

Student Room Numbers
Take control of energy use in rooms where the occupant isn't directly responsible for paying the bills.

This article presents solutions for providers of student accommodation that need to control the use of energy within their properties, while retaining a comfortable environment that is conducive to studying.

Student accommodation has seen a dramatic evolution in the last 25 years. Pre-turn of the century, most rooms were owned and managed by universities, many of them more like hostels than hotels!

Then big finance moved into the sector. Fast forward to 2022 and its market share is increasing annually. Older draughty buildings with shared facilities are superseded by the ensuite luxury that today’s student enjoys. University owned and operated accommodation now accounts for just 41% of the sector with only a 4% rise in wholly university-owned stock compared with a 119% increase in direct-let beds since 2013/14.

In 2021 there was a net increase of 21,000 new beds with a further 115,000 currently in the Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) pipeline.

This year will see the total number of PBSA beds rise to almost 700,000. In most cases the occupants of these rooms are not directly responsible for footing the bill of the energy they consume. This means Energy Managers are constantly trying to balance student comfort with energy efficiency. An equation made even more difficult with the current energy crisis where outgoings are rising but it is difficult to raise income. The only solution is to supervise the use of energy more closely.

Universities are upping their game, their sights sharply focussed on carbon reduction and looming deadlines for their net zero commitments, in many cases as soon as 2030!

Prefect Controls have been designing control systems, specifically for student accommodation, since 1997, so they have first-hand experience of the changing sector. Their raison d'etre being the same since the company was founded – to help customers use energy only when it is required.

This means automatically reducing heat input when energy is being wasted, for example, when rooms are empty, or windows are open. Individual controllers keep rooms at a comfortable setback temperature, allowing a boost if necessary, but only for a pre-determined period – after which setback re-engages. If rooms are empty for an extended length of time, the temperature drops to an appropriate level using minimal energy to avoid damp or frost damage.

The two Prefect systems are found in large, purpose-built property, university halls of residence and campus sites, but also in smaller houses of multiple occupancy (HMO).

Irus, the central control system affords managers the ability to control energy use from any internet enabled device via the secure Irus Portal, without the need to ever set foot in a room – a real benefit during the recent pandemic. The system also has many other features, over and above temperature control, such as monitoring of environmental conditions in the living spaces, the control of water heating and leak detection.

Ecostat2 is a local control system, providing some of the Irus features, but with a lower capital outlay and it is found where a centrally controlled energy management system is not viable.

In 2021 Irus added 8,187 rooms to the portal, which now monitors 40,000+ controls. The number of local controls is more difficult to calculate but, an informed estimation would suggest there are more than 100,000 rooms managed by Prefect’s Local Controls. Combine these figures and potentially 1 in 10 rooms are controlled by a Prefect product.

Adrian Barber from Prefect reflects, “To have made such a stride in 2021 is magnificent, considering it probably took us eight years to bring the first 8,000 Irus nodes online!”

He continues, “Prefect is not a newcomer, when it comes to developing products for this sector, and is certainly not ‘jumping on the student accommodation bandwagon’. 25 years of experience in this unique energy management sector, and the evolution of our products to meet ever-changing demand, means we are well placed to continue supplying the rapid expansion of PBSA and assist providers in maximising energy efficiency for the long haul.”