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Labs Use Three Times More Energy Than Offices

Mar 9 2022

Did you know that it takes the same amount of energy to power one lab-grade ultra-low temperature freezer than it does to power an entire house? That’s just one piece of equipment, and one of the main reasons why labs expend so much energy to do their groundbreaking research. And energy costs are up 27% from February 2021 to February 2022, according to Forbes. 

But biotech labs can embrace sustainability and reduce unnecessary energy expenditures to both protect the health of the planet and the lab’s bottom line.

With inflation leading to costs rising at the most alarming rate since the ‘80s, lab operations teams are looking for ways to identify and manage their controllable costs. With spatial analysis, it becomes easier to cut back where possible in order to keep being able to invest where it counts.

The Rising Cost of Running a Biotech Lab

Running a biotech lab is expensive. Between the cost of disposable and reusable supplies, real estate, PPE, biotech equipment, labor and training, energy costs, animals, and the cost of various types of analyses — including the kits and reagents needed to do them — over half of biotech labs run on budgets of at least $1 million per year, according to Bioinformatics. 

And many of the fixed costs of running a lab, like rent of a space and the cost of powering critical equipment, are set to keep increasing. So how do you take control of your costs? Approaching biotech lab energy management with a focus on sustainability can help.

How much energy does a lab use?

Unlike the average office, labs often contain temperature controls, refrigerators, and freezers that must be kept running at all times, set to the correct fraction of a degree. But that doesn’t mean every lightbulb in a lab needs to be on all the time — especially not in the break room if no one’s in it. In fact, it means that it’s even more important to prevent using unnecessary energy in a biotech lab.

Labs can use more than three times as much energy as the average office building.

How can labs save energy?

Significant lab energy expenditures will always need to be considered when planning the budget for a biotech lab. But taking a more sustainable approach and taking proactive steps to reduce energy use can have a significant impact on reducing costs. 

Some questions to ask yourself when starting to consider your lab’s energy use: 

  • Do you monitor energy use on a regular basis? How closely is your team monitoring all utility bills?
  • Is your location the right size to house your experiments, your employees, and their offices? 
  • Are your HVAC units working as efficiently as they should? When was the last time filters were replaced or maintained, and how are blinds (or lack thereof) helping keep spaces naturally warm or cool?
  • Are all office computers set to go to sleep instead of just running all night?
  • Have you created a culture of care for the environment and our future?
  • Are energy and utility systems integrated with one another, and using IoT technology?

Once you’ve taken a hard look at your lab’s energy use practices, you’ll start to find areas for improvement. Here are six ways that your lab can be more sustainable in 2022, which can benefit your budget and the environment long-term.  

6 Ways to Make Your Laboratory More Sustainable

1. Monitor your energy use.

Monitoring your energy use on a regular basis is the first step in reducing energy expenditures, as it’s hard to identify how well various initiatives are working to reduce your usage if you don’t have a benchmark to work off of. Then, you can set clear energy saving goals and incentivise your team to help you to reach them.

Conducting a full energy or sustainability audit on a quarterly (or even yearly) basis can be a helpful tool, too — where you can find out which of your energy saving initiatives made an impact and which didn’t. 

How do you measure energy consumption?

Your utility bill will show your business’s energy use in kWh, or kilowatt hours, typically on a monthly or bimonthly basis. You can also monitor your energy consumption through smart meters or sensors, usually found in a control room or outside the building.

2. Switch to energy conservation equipment.

Some types of equipment can be easily replaced for a more energy-efficient alternative: energy conservation equipment. 

Energy conservation equipment covers any type of equipment that operates more efficiently and expends less energy to get the same job done. A lot of your equipment might already have energy conservation settings, like a sleep timer on every computer in the lab. Some types of sustainable equipment carry the Energy Star designation that helps consumers identify more energy-efficient options.

An easy way to transition to using more energy conservation equipment is to start with your light bulbs. If your lab is lit by incandescent bulbs, making the switch to LED or halogen bulbs, or compact fluorescent lamps can help cut costs. They expend much less energy and they last much longer, too. 

And with sensor technology, unoccupied rooms can automatically turn off the light and even reduce heat or cooling energy. Why heat a conference room if it’s empty? 

Finally, consider solar power options to complement your other energy sources. It can be an investment to set up, but with the amount of energy that labs use, it can certainly be worth investigating. And if your lab is in a particularly sunny part of the world, even more so. 

3. Make good use of blinds and curtains.

Train your team to be aware of the power of blinds and curtains in reducing reliance on HVAC systems. Though it seems simple, it’s amazing what diligently closing blinds in rooms that get heavy sun can do to reduce air conditioning needs, and what letting the sun shine through during the winter does to reduce heating bills.

4. Become a green lab and create a sustainable lab culture.

Green lab certifications, like the ones offered by non-profit organization My Green Lab, are a great way to learn about strategies for running a sustainable lab. They also show your employees, consumers, and investors that your business is doing its part to protect the planet — and a study by Morgan Stanley showed that Millennials are more drawn to invest in companies with strong policies on environmental and social issues.  

Certifications can play a part here, but ensuring that you have excellent policies on recycling, safe waste management, and energy use can help too. 

5. If possible, defrost freezers regularly. 

As mentioned above, ultra-low temperature freezers contribute significantly to the massive energy use of biotech labs.

According to Lab Manager, regularly defrosting freezers — meaning clearing out samples that are no longer needed, moving still-needed samples to another freezer, and turning the original freezer off until all ice melts and it can be cleaned and plugged in again — optimizes the performance of the freezer and can reduce the amount of energy it takes to run it by up to 10%.

6. Utilize integrated lab solutions.

Do you know when meeting rooms are unoccupied — and are the lights and HVAC still on when they are? Are you thinking about downsizing to a smaller space to accommodate administrative work that can be done in a hybrid model? Do your lab employees and students need to book benches for COVID-era spacing and occupancy protocols?

An integrated lab solution, like VergeSense, can help. By providing workplace analytics, VergeSense provides the most complete view into office and lab utilization across buildings, floors, rooms, individual desks, lab benches, and more. That means it'll be easy to find out if you’re overdoing it on your energy usage because of an oversized and underutilized space. 

Sustainability is a Win-Win for Biotech Labs

Biotech labs only stand to benefit from making changes towards more sustainable operational practices. With reduced costs and reduced environmental impact in your grasp, how will you approach making your lab more sustainable in 2022? Get started by conducting a workplace sustainability audit

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