Climate change poses a potentially existential threat to humanity, and while it has been an issue far from inconspicuous over the past 3 decades. We have so far failed as a society to meet the requirements that the urgency of the climate crisis demands. Frankly, our behaviour needs to change, exemplified by our approach to heating. While it may not be regarded with the same urgency as is the aviation issue or deforestation, heating plays a significant role in our global greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, in the UK alone heating accounts for 17% of our annual greenhouse gas emissions.[1] Ultimately, it would be almost inane to argue that in-home and office heating should be eradicated, but it is a perfect example of an area we ought to make more efficient – by reducing consumption – if we are to oppose global warming effectively.

Being a large institution, Eton uses a considerable amount of energy to heat its many buildings. Heat and hot water are provided by several energy centres in locations around the school, such as by Penn House and by the Queens Schools. Collectively, the larger energy centres generate approximately 15MW for consumption. However, these centres are not only expensive to maintain, but they also produce thousands of metric tonnes of emissions every year: overall, heating accounts for 70% of Eton’s carbon footprint.

Inspired by this, our project for the Environmental Hackathon was to simultaneously reduce the costs and emissions of heating the school. Called Radiaction, our project makes heating controls automatic during the Michaelmas and Lent terms. By reducing the amount of wasted energy, it saves money and emissions, whilst keeping rooms around the school at comfortable temperatures.

The design has two parts: a circular clamp and a box, the latter to hold the processing unit. The circular clamp is designed specifically to attach onto any of the radiator knobs around the school. Including a motor in the design, the device can turn the clamp on instruction, in turn, turning the radiator knob, and adjusting the temperature. Meanwhile, the box containing the processor is connected to the device securely.

The processing unit, a Raspberry Pi, works in tandem with several of the device’s key components. The gyroscope, for example, enables the servomotor contained within the processing unit to turn the correct distance required to change the temperature by the right increment. Another component, the thermostat, ensures that the microcomputer constantly monitors the temperature of the room to maintain the correct settings. Finally, a Wi-Fi module allows anyone to connect to the microcomputer to specify the desired room temperature using a web and mobile application. Through these additional components, our device can automatically monitor and change the temperature of the room. Since radiators can now be controlled remotely via the app, we can save more energy than ever before.

The graphs above embody the differences in room temperature from using and not using the device. The graph on left shows the temperature when standard school radiators are turned on during the winter (on level ‘3’), whereas the graph on the highlights positive impact of adopting our unique device. Not only do we use less energy via the motor and battery than the school currently expends in the status quo, but we also manage the keep the heater at a substantially lower – controlled – temperature over the same period, not allowing it to increase uncontrollably.

Ultimately, Radiaction provides a more sustainable approach to heating, reducing a considerable portion of the school’s emissions whilst lowering overall costs at the same time. The goal, in an ideal world, would be to develop a device that would be not only cheap and more environmentally friendly to create but also one that was longer lasting and efficient to enable school and institution-wide reduction in energy waste.

[1] (Department for Energy Security & Net Zero, 2023) – 

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