How can we navigate ZHdK through the energy crisis?

Claire E. Schnyder, Head of Operations, is appealing for voluntary energy saving. Photographs: Regula Bearth © ZHdK

Since summer 2022, Claire E. Schnyder, Head of Operations, has been grappling with energy issues far more than in previous years. Together with the ZHdK Energy Task Force, she is monitoring developments, weighing up possible risks and developing scenarios for a potential energy shortage. She discusses ZHdK’s responsibility in saving energy and where achieving that goal is proving difficult for her.


Sylvia Battegay: How will the looming energy crisis impact ZHdK?
Claire E. Schnyder: As a large consumer, ZHdK bears a special responsibility when it comes to saving energy. Everything we save corresponds to a large amount. Since last summer, we have been exploring how we can feasibly reduce energy consumption so that teaching and research are curtailed as little as possible by a potential energy shortage. To this end, we have founded the Energy Task Force. An energy shortage would affect many different technical areas and, to be tackled, requires a lot of expertise. Building technology in particular is a complex issue at the Toni-Areal. Since autumn we have been countering an impending energy crisis by asking staff and students to save electricity voluntarily and by clarifying which electricity-saving measures we could implement in the future. In addition, most of the measures have to be initiated now to become implementable within a short period of time.

What challenges does implementing individual measures pose?
One of the biggest challenges is to ensure health and safety while saving electricity. For example, the high air exchange rate in teaching rooms and offices is an important protective measure against the spread of viruses, but ventilation also consumes large amounts of electricity. We need to weigh up decisions very carefully — and yes, health comes first. Measures should affect teaching and research as little as possible. The needs of our various premises and different stakeholders also play an important role in assessing possible electricity-saving measures. Of course, the same standards cannot be applied to a boarding school housing over forty children and young people as to workshops or offices and classrooms.

Heat from waste incineration: the boiler room of the ZHdK

Where can ZHdK save most energy?
Lighting, room ventilation and air conditioning are the largest electricity consumers at ZHdK. Converting the Toni-Areal to LED lights has been planned for some time, but unfortunately has not yet gone ahead. One idea for example is to switch to emergency lighting at night or to reduce air conditioning and ventilation to a minimum at night. This will not work everywhere. Museum objects as well as musical instruments should not be exposed to large temperature differences. Matters quickly become very specific.

Are all universities devising their own energy plans or are there synergies?
Yes, we regularly meet to exchange ideas and experiences — incidentally, in the same group as during the pandemic. On a meta-level, we have in common that learning, teaching, research and administration take place at all universities, whose operations almost all depend extremely on well-functioning IT. In exchanging ideas and experiences, we have learned to accept that universities take different measures to implement requirements. This often has very practical reasons. For example, ZHdK has four properties, ZHAW seventy and the University of Zurich well over a hundred. So there are completely different starting points for the feasibility of certain measures — saying that, we are all subject to the same federal and cantonal savings targets.

What do you think is needed at the organizational level and what at the communal level to deal with an impending energy crisis?
I think the organizational level is easier. There are systems and methods that can be used to prepare for managing such events: our Energy Task Force works with scenarios, which enables gauging risks in terms of probabilities as well as the extent of damages. We can track over several months whether an event becomes more or rather less likely. At the communal level, we need to remember what helped us during the pandemic. When we realize that not everything works 100%, that procedures change a little or a lot, it helps if we are willing to share the burden. It is about understanding each other and trusting that everyone will contribute as best they can to making the best of the situation. We demonstrated this flexibility and trust to a significant extent during the pandemic. This makes me confident that we would also cope with far-reaching electricity-saving measures similarly well.

Personally, where do you find saving energy easier and where is this more difficult?
Fortunately, I rarely get very cold. Temperatures have to be really low. I find 20 degrees no problem at all, on the contrary. Taking a shower is more challenging: washing my hair with cold water is no fun at all …

What kind of energy supply does ZHdK need in the future?
We are well positioned. The Toni-Areal meets the Minergie standard. Most of our electricity comes from hydroelectric power and our heating from waste incineration (district heating). Of course, we can always improve, but we have a good starting position.

Sylvia Battegay ( is a PR manager at ZHdK University Communications.
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