How Can Universities Save Money Through Energy Invoice Validation? Tom Hedges June 6, 2024

How Can Universities Save Money Through Energy Invoice Validation?

Universities have hefty operational costs, with energy expenditures representing a major financial burden due to the size and complexity of campus facilities.

Given the fluctuating nature of energy prices and consumption patterns – and tightening budgets – ensuring accurate billing is crucial; not only to minimise costs but to provide accurate data for reporting purposes.  

For that reason, energy invoice validation is a vital strategy for any university that wants to pay what they should be paying for energy – and not a penny more. Read on to learn how it works.

What is Energy Invoice Validation?

Energy invoice validation is the process of scrutinising energy bills to ensure they accurately reflect actual usage and appropriate tariffs. It’s a meticulous process involving a detailed comparison of billed amounts against meter readings, tariff rates, network charges, and so on.

Why Do Energy Invoices Need to Be Validated?

There are a several reasons invoices can contain errors, including faulty meters and suppliers using outdated billing systems.

Discrepancies often include incorrect meter readings, wrongly applied tariffs, and errors in tax calculations, all of which can lead to significant overcharges. By identifying and correcting these errors, organisations can avoid undue expenses and allocate their budgets more effectively.

Why is Energy Invoice Validation Important for Universities?

Given the complexity and variety of energy uses across a university’s multiple buildings – from lecture halls and laboratories to residential spaces and sports facilities – the potential for billing errors is high.

Even minor inaccuracies can scale up to substantial costs when applied across the entire institution – but the scale of the facilities is not the only challenge. 

Energy Management Challenges in Universities

As well as the potential for errors mentioned above, here are some other unique challenges universities face when it comes to managing energy use.

Aging Infrastructure and Deferred Maintenance

Many university buildings have outdated heating, cooling, and lighting systems that are not energy efficient. Upgrading these systems requires significant upfront capital investment; since budgets do not always allow for these upgrades, working with the existing systems to optimise consumption becomes all-the-more important.

Varying Occupancy

Managing spaces with varying occupancy levels is another challenge. On a typical campus, spaces such as classrooms, lecture halls, and laboratories have high occupancy during class times but may be nearly empty at other times.

If heating, lighting and ventilation systems are not responsive to changes in occupancy, energy wastage can occur when spaces are heated or lit unnecessarily during off-peak hours.

Many university buildings such as libraries and research facilities may also have extended hours into the evenings and weekends. Occupancy is often irregular during these periods, which complicates things further.  

Systems that can schedule operations based on real-time usage data or predictive analytics can help manage energy consumption more effectively by adapting to actual usage patterns rather than fixed schedules.

Where real-time data collection is not possible, analysing energy consumption data retrospectively – along with other data on occupancy – can help in the development of more effective adaptation strategies.

Behavioural Factors

No matter what policies are implemented, it’s impossible to control the behaviour of every student, member of staff and visitor. For example, if a room overheats in the winter and windows are opened while the heating remains switched on, energy is being wasted – and nobody can police such actions all the time.

This adds up across campus and, while initiatives may be implemented to encourage behaviour change, relying on students to buy-in or remember to conserve energy at all times is not the most accurate approach to optimising consumption. (Of course, many members of Generation Z are highly environmentally conscious and will be vigilant in this regard – but there are also many that will not.)

Energy invoice validation helps in identifying inefficiencies and anomalies in energy usage, prompting more targeted energy management strategies. If a certain area is over-consuming on a regular basis, some investigation may reveal who is responsible, or whether the cause is due to faulty equipment, etc.

More Benefits of Energy Invoice Validation
 
Better Financial Planning

Accurate billing supports more predictable budgeting, reducing the risk of unexpected outgoings. In addition, regular scrutiny of invoices encourages a deeper understanding of consumptions patterns which can help reduce costs in the long term.

Accurate data also enables universities to make informed decisions about energy contracts and negotiate better terms with suppliers.

Sustainability

Schools and universities are responsible for 36% of the UK’s public sector building emissions.

Through ensuring accurate energy usage data, universities can more effectively manage their environmental impact. This aligns with broader sustainability goals, such as the commitment to reaching net zero by 2050 (or before, as many universities across the country have set earlier deadlines for themselves).  

According to Universities UK, cost is the main obstacle for their member universities, and rising energy costs over the past few years has made it even more difficult to fund green initiatives such as upgrading heating systems. Again, it’s important to work with the existing systems and data until such investments are feasible.

Compliance

As per Carbon Budget 6, the UK has legislated to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035 (compared to 1990 levels).

Accurate consumption data is crucial for reaching this target and for compliance with the regulations therein, and this is becoming increasingly important in the higher education sector.

Currently, universities in England and Northern Ireland don’t have to report on emissions (except for institutions that meet the criteria for corporate reporting based on their size). In Wales, reporting to HESA’s Estates Management Record (EMR) is mandatory and universities in Scotland have their own reporting obligations.

The rules may change in future; as per the government’s net zero plan, reporting may be enforced in England and NI if not enough progress is made voluntarily. With that said, many institutions already report voluntarily. After all, sustainability is a factor many prospective students look for in a university these days; a study in the Lancet actually states that 45% of 16-25 year olds are experiencing climate anxiety.

Without accurate data on energy consumption, how can any institution be sure that their reporting is correct?Precise data is necessary to correctly calculate an institution’s carbon footprint and invoice validation systems provide up-to-date figures, minimising the risk of misreporting and the consequences therein.

How Services Like Optima Energy Work

At Optima Energy, we provide a cloud based platform for energy invoice validation, helping large (and small) organisations – including universities – verify the amounts billed.

Our robust solution compares invoiced amounts against actual meter readings and contractual terms to ensure every charge is justified and accurate. In fact, 77 validation checks are conducted each month and if there are errors, customers have two options: they can resolve the discrepancy in-house, or use our Bureau Services.

With our Bureau Services, customers leave their energy portfolio management to our team, who also provide advice on the reports generated and the best actions to take.

In addition, our comprehensive reporting tools make compliance with regulations a piece of cake.

Conclusion

In summary, universities don’t have to wait for a hefty injection of capital in order to be more sustainable. Energy invoice validation not only ensures that institutions are paying the correct amount according to their actual energy use – it also provides data to help with optimisation.

50+ large commercial customers (including 95% of UK water companies) use our scalable solution. If you’re not absolutely certain that you’re paying only for the energy you use – contact us today to request a demo.

Discover how one of the UK's largest water companies

SAVED £££

by using Optima energy invoice validation services

WATER COMPANY CASE STUDY

DOWNLOAD NOW!

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Discover how one of the UK's largest water companies

SAVED £££

by using Optima energy invoice validation services

WATER COMPANY CASE STUDY

DOWNLOAD NOW!

Send case study to: