Rising Prices and a Cold Academic Building: Energy Crisis Will Take a Toll on AUC Students

By Anna Debeye and Hana Peric

Collage by Amal

The current global energy crisis has taken its toll on the Netherlands. However, up until September the AUC community seemed to be exempt from the effects of the increased prices of gas, which is the resource most heavily hit by the crisis. This quickly changed when both the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and the housing association DUWO informed the AUC students in September that they would soon feel the impacts of a rising gas bill. Both organisations are facing increased energy prices in January 2023 and this will directly and indirectly affect the AUC community, despite the lack of gas dependency within both establishments. 

On September 15, UvA announced that they will not be renewing their energy contract with current gas supplier DVEP, as this company will exit the Dutch market at the end of 2022. As a result, the university will be entering into a contract with the company Vattenfall, which increases the UvA gas bill by approximately 3,3 million euros per year. Although the current UvA budget will be able to cover the rising costs, the university will nevertheless implement energy-saving measures. One example of such measures specified by UvA is “not heating or cooling the campuses between 19 and 24 degrees.” There is no exact information yet on further actions that will be taken to reduce the energy costs. 

As a daughter school of UvA, the new contract will also have consequences for AUC. Marcus Smit, leader of AUC’s Services and Communications team, explains that although the Academic Building (AB) is not dependent on gas, AUC is likely to “follow the lead of UvA in solidarity” and reduce the use of the heating and cooling systems by keeping the temperature in the AB between 19 and 24 degrees Celsius throughout the entire year.

Overall, AUC will not be affected by the anticipated change in gas provider to the same extent as other UvA buildings, due to the sustainability of the AB. AUC does not use gas, but rather geothermal heat: “The building uses thermal energy storage and concrete core activation,” Smit explains. He continues, “That is actually the reason why it [the AB] responds so slowly to temperature changes.” AUC had solar panels installed in 2016 in order to increase sustainable energy use within the building; additional energy-saving measures, such as a sedum roof cover for insulation, movement sensors, and daylight monitors, are all important aspects of AUC’s sustainable architecture. Although Smit could not confirm whether AUC is completely disconnected from the gas pipe system, the use of geothermal heat is nevertheless essential for the heating of the AB, and this positively impacts AUC’s energy bill. 

The AUC heating system. Photo by Anna Debeye

Despite the sustainable features of the AB, AUC will also be impacted by the increase in energy prices. The AB is owned by UvA, and AUC is thus expected to pay for the use of the space: “It is not that we are exactly paying for the gas bill of other buildings, but we pay an all-in rental price per square metre of building,” Smit elaborates. Energy costs are included within this all inclusive rental price and the costs will therefore increase from January onwards. For AUC, 2023 will therefore nevertheless be marked by higher energy prices. However, Smit clarifies that AUC tuition fees will not be impacted by the increase in costs in the foreseeable future. 

The AUC dorms will also soon be impacted by the rising gas prices. On September 22nd students received an email from DUWO announcing that service costs will increase by approximately 80 euros per month. This increase will begin in January, as DUWO will be signing new energy contracts at the beginning of 2023.

While the AUC dorms are not dependent on gas, the utility costs will go up because the building’s heat relies on electricity, the price of which increased along with gas. According to the dorm caretaker Adel El-Sabagh and social caretaker Daniëlle van den Tol, the dorms use the heat produced by the data centre of the Dutch National Institute for Subatomic Physics (NIKHEF) here in Science Park – their machines need cooling, and the dorms need heating. Pumps transport heat from the NIKHEF into the floor heating system of the dorms. The electricity required to maintain this system is the reason for the service cost increase.

Despite the impact of rising energy costs on students at AUC and other Dutch universities,  the Dutch government has thus far not included students in so-called “measures to cushion the impact of rising energy prices and inflation”. Those eligible for these measures would receive a one-off payment in the form of an energy allowance of 800 euros per household. Eligible groups include households with income at the social assistance level as well as the elderly, but not students as the government considers their living situations to be too diverse to grant categoric benefits. 

Although the funding for the subsidies comes from the central government, they are distributed by individual municipalities. At the municipal level, students who live in Amsterdam can apply to get free advice and some energy saving equipment from an energy coach. At the present moment this is everything that is being done in Amsterdam to soften the impact of the energy crisis on students’ budgets. 

The student union Landelijke Studentenvakbond (LSVb) has created a hotline for students to report problems they are having because of the energy crisis to better negotiate with the government on potential solutions. Similarly, DUWO mentions in the email that they are working on convincing the government to include students in these subsidies, and recommend that students check the DUWO website regularly for updates on the situation. 

The situation regarding government subsidies remains uncertain, but dorm caretakers El-Sabagh and van den Tol name small actions that students can take in the dorms to save energy and possibly lower their utility bill: 

  • Lower thermostats by around two degrees Celsius;
  • Minimise length of showers;
  • Unplug cables when not using or charging a device;
  • Report any problems with heating to DUWO through a repair request;
  • Note: buying or using an electric heater is not recommended because they consume significant electricity and may increase utility costs.

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