Electricity and gas bills challenge the sustainability of museums

The electricity supply bill has also skyrocketed in the last year in the main public museums. As in hospitals, museums are institutions that maintain controlled air conditioning 24 hours a day, 365 days. In his case, to care for patients with centuries of life. Objects have no schedule. For these cultural centers, reducing spending is complicated, especially with heat waves abroad. Consumption is incessant to keep the exhibition halls at a temperature that does not drop below 17 degrees or exceed 27 degrees and a relative humidity that is kept below 55%.

These conditions and the escalation in the cost of electricity supply are complicating the economic sustainability of the centres, with an increase in the bill of 65% compared to what was paid in 2021. This is the case of the Museo Nacional del Prado which, as As they advance to this newspaper, they foresee an expense of 3.3 million euros this year. The main Spanish cultural institution paid two million euros in 2021 for the same supply and consumption. The Prado paid 1.6 million euros a year for electricity four years ago, in 2018.

Humidity is the most harmful of all environmental agents and is controlled by temperature. If the temperature drops, the humidity increases. That is why museums use gas to control room temperature and thus keep relative humidity at bay. In 2022, the Prado Museum will pay 40,700 euros. It will be an invoice 13% more expensive than the previous year. The National Museum of Sculpture has its three headquarters in Valladolid and in 2019 it paid 66,000 euros for the gas bill. In 2021 it grew to 73,000 euros. The National Archaeological Museum, given its size, consumes three times more kilowatts per hour than the Sculpture Museum. These two are part of the 16 state museums, managed directly by the Ministry of Culture, but there is still no forecast of the invoice to be paid in 2022.

In the National Library of Spain, the consumption of electrical energy will exceed one and a half million euros, an increase of 175% compared to the 547,000 euros that they paid in 2021. They will exceed 300,000 euros in payment for diesel. That is, 50% more than what was done in 2021, when the two facilities consumed 202,000 euros. The two tanks at the main headquarters, on Paseo de Recoletos, have a capacity of 50,000 liters each and annual consumption is 170,000 litres. In Alcalá de Henares there are warehouses and they consume 90,000 litres. The distributor meets partial orders of 3,000 liters per site.

To this increase in annual spending for electricity, gas and diesel supplies, we must add the drop in box office due to the loss of visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. From the Prado they indicate that the protocols of the pandemic force the air to be filtered more times and that has increased the consumption of electricity, which is at a higher price than a year ago. Although they warn that since 2015 they have been able to reduce the rate and consumption thanks to the implementation of LED technology for lighting works of art (sponsored by Iberdrola).

In the last economic balance closed by the Prado it is from 2021 and it recognizes 1.1 million visits, this amount is less than half of that reached in 2019. In 2022 the visits are going up: for now they are 30% from the usual box office pace before the pandemic shutdown. In 2019 the museum had 8,849 daily visits and in 2022 it is close to 6,000 per day. If everything continues like this, the Prado will earn just over 15 million euros at the box office in 2022. And in 2019 it was close to 23 million euros. The spending on staff at the Prado exceeds 22 million euros. Reduction of own income and increase in expenses, another "perfect storm".

For its part, the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum has just renewed its electricity supply contract and will pay almost 420,000 euros for consumption for one year. In the bidding contest, the museum demanded that the energy come from 100% renewable sources. Acciona won the call with a closed contract for the next five years and a total of more than two million euros, for offering the largest price drop (to 0.000950 Kw/h; the highest was that of Iberdrola, to 0 .037188 kWh). The previous contract signed for this supply and consumption was for half the price, one million euros. In addition, the museum consumes more than 90,000 liters of diesel per year for heating and has two 20,000-liter tanks. In 2020 they closed a contract with Enerplus for five years for a total of 334,800 euros, at a rate of 55,800 euros per year.

Wednesday the 10th the energy saving decree enters into force which forces the lighting of public buildings and shop windows to be turned off. However, the Ministry for Ecological Transition has warned that the ornamental lighting of monuments is not included in the restrictions for energy saving, since they are not considered public buildings in the sense of those who are occupied by some dependency of the Administration. For its part, the Ministry of Culture has announced that all publicly owned museums will turn off the lights from 10:00 p.m. In the Alhambra in Granada they will not have to turn off the lights that illuminate at night, but they also inform this newspaper that in the first half of the year they have reduced the electricity rate: between January and June 2021 they paid 88,000 euros and in the same period of 2022, 74,500 euros. An extraordinary fact that, as explained by the Board of Trustees of the Alhambra and Generalife, is due to "energy saving measures, among which the progressive substitution of traditional light bulbs for LED technology bulbs stands out".

Rafael Hernández Martínez, head of the new Area of ​​Architecture, Sustainable Development and General Services at the Reina Sofía National Art Center Museum (MNCARS), anticipated the price increase when two years ago, with the confinement of COVID-19, he proposed to management of a climate saving and efficiency project. "Time has proved us right," he sums up, satisfied with having saved 60,000 euros on water, 135,000 euros on gas and 500,000 euros on electricity over these years. He recalls that the contracts for the museums are closed by the Ministry of Finance, which is responsible for negotiating the Administration's electricity supply with a framework contract. As is the case with the rest of the institutions, consumption has not grown but the bill has: in 2021 they paid 1.3 million euros for electricity and in 2022 they will pay 2.3 million euros. An annual growth of 77%.

This increase could have been much higher if savings measures had not been put in place before the war in Ukraine. They took advantage of the health obligations of the pandemic to execute an optimization plan without changing equipment. They found water leaks and fixed them; they changed the temperatures in the room to lower consumption; and on Fridays it was mandatory to work at home and they have reduced consumption "outside the room".

"We were pioneers in the implementation of teleworking and since then on Fridays it is mandatory to work at home. We save a lot because we turn off the air conditioning systems on Thursday and turn them on on Monday in the office area," says Rafael Hernández. The next thing, he announces, is the implantation of renewable energies with solar, geothermal and aerothermal contributions. "It is the bet of the future. We will lower the electricity bill and eliminate gas consumption, because we only use it to create heat and control humidity. We will save a million euros a year," he says. They are pending the subsidy with European funds.

The non-renewable energy price crisis coincides with the international debate on the participation of museums in climate justice. They present themselves as institutions more concerned with the past than with the future, but climate change is much more than a simple environmental or scientific concern. "It affects all aspects of social, cultural, political and economic life, also museums," they say from the association Museums for Climate Action. This organization is committed to the trust generated by these centers to "inspire real change in society". "Far from being relics of the past, museums are increasingly called upon to help shape a more just and sustainable future for all," they add. They propose three verbs to act: rethink, reimagine and mobilize.

The International Council of Museums (ICOM) assumed in 2019 the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development and has recently proposed, through the project "Mobilizing Museums for Climate Action", five approaches for museums to help" all of society to rapidly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions ". They warn that museums must understand how climate change will affect them to "adapt their practices, their location, their programming and its collections to be prepared for the future.” The urgent challenges of a warming planet cannot be distant from your contemplative world.

In January 2020 the Horniman Museum & Gardens (opened in 1901 in Forest Hill, London) launched a climate and ecological manifesto in which they specified plans to minimize waste, reduce pollution and invest in environmental research. They declared that these long-term institutions have a "moral and ethical imperative to act now" in the fight against global warming.

Henry McGhie is a researcher on the sustainability of future museums and just posted a guide so that these centers, in addition to libraries, archives and galleries, comply with the protocols and generate complicit awareness to mitigate climate change. The measures go through education, training, transparency, participation or the creation of an international support network. Among the proposals, the promotion of public awareness activities on climate change and sustainability management stands out. These international organizations demand that museums assume their responsibility as a key actor and disseminator for the future of the planet and society.

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