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OVERVIEW | Energy efficient university campus projects

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Buildings at the University Stuttgart-Vaihingen (Source: Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics)

By Heike Erhorn-Kluttig (Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics)


Similarly to energy efficient school projects, university complexes offer the possibility to reduce the energy consumption of public buildings visited by young people. This allows for a high scatter effect and visualises the approach to future decision makers, as well as architects and engineers being educated at the universities. Advanced energy saving and energy generation technologies can be tested and integrated into lectures. Energy efficient university campus projects can be test labs for the energy improvement of districts. This is why in several EU Member States demonstration projects in university buildings have started.


Specifics of university complexes


More than 20 million people study at universities in the European Union. In Germany alone, 425 different universities and academies exist with 16.8 million square meters of floor area and an annual maintenance budget of €2.6 billion. In most countries, the regions are the bodies responsible for the universities which also finance energy improvement projects. State programmes, private sources (e.g. sponsorships and enrolment fees) can further contribute. Energy improvement projects for universities are quite complex because they involve many different actors and processes.


Central district heating or cooling systems provide heating and cooling for many university complexes. Because of the size of the building complex, periodical energy supply contracting is applied, also for the electricity supply. This has to be taken into account when developing energy concepts for the renovation of a university. However, the evaluation of the energy supply tenders can include a factor rewarding energy contributions from renewable energy sources. Other university complexes are heated and cooled by local district heating systems owned by the university. Then the university can decide on the optimisation of the energy efficiency of the supply system on the basis of their financial options. These energy efficiency measures often include the installation of combined heat and power (CHP) units, renewable energy generation from biomass and biogas and photovoltaics (PV) for feed-in or self-use.


Since universities consist of a high number of buildings with large building envelope areas and complex building services systems, renovating a university campus is most of the times not completed in a single step. Single buildings are energy improved together with the repair of defects. The focus is then mostly on the building services systems such as ventilation and control systems. For the energy improvement of the whole university complex, so-called roadmaps are developed bringing energy improvement measures in a sensible order to be able to use synergy effects and omit lock-in effects. These roadmaps include a time span of at least five to ten years and have to take into account the future development of the university such as key research areas and the number of students.      


EnEff:Campus – a focus within the German energy research programme Energy Efficient Cities


In 2009 the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy launched a research programme called Energy Efficient Cities (EnEff:Stadt, now included in ENERGIEWENDEBAUEN), supporting the energy improvement of building districts and connected district heating systems. Some of the supported projects focus on the development of specific technologies or computer tools but most of them deal with the planning, realisation and monitoring of new or renovated energy efficient districts. Several projects on energy efficient university campuses were also included soon after. More detailed information on two of the German show cases is presented below.


Climate neutral campus Leuphana University Lüneburg   


East part of the campus Leuphana University Lüneburg with CHP and new central building (Source: Leuphana University Lüneburg)


The Leuphana University Lüneburg consists of 25 different buildings constructed in different periods (1936 to 2016). The oldest buildings were converted from military barracks into institutional buildings, including energy improvements of the roof and heating systems. All buildings are connected to a local central district heating system. The research project, realised between 2010 and 2017 with the aim of a climate neutral energy supply, featured the reduction of the energy use of the building stock by 30% delivered energy and 50% primary energy, an energy efficient new central building with less than 100 kWh/m²a delivered energy and the integration of the users via ambient computing. The total project costs accumulated to more than €4 million with €2.8 million spent on building and energy supply system measures. The specific energy improvement measures for the existing building stock included the optimisation of the heating circuits, the shut off of the local district heating in summer, new meters and efficient pumps as well as LED lighting and single room control. Specific measures at the new central building involved heating with two different temperature levels, switchable glazing on the south east and south west façade, LED daylight-dependent electrical lighting, cooling ceilings with phase change material, vacuum insulation panels and intelligent user dependent control systems. The local energy supply system consisting of combined heat and power systems was modernised and converted to biogas. An energy saving contracting project allowed for the installation of a 650 kWp photovoltaic system. By this, the primary energy use derived from measured delivered energy consumption could be reduced from 146 kWh/m²yr in 2012 to 12 kWh/m²yr in 2016. The 2016 measured value does not include the new central building which was first used in 2017. Further improvement of the value is expected from the optimisation of the combined heat and power systems which have not yet reached the planned efficiencies.     


blueMAP TU Braunschweig


Central campus of the Technical University Braunschweig (Source: IGS)


The university complex of the TU Braunschweig consists of 136 buildings, built from 1918 to 2007. Several of the buildings are listed buildings (under historical preservation). The project ran from 2012 to 2016 focusing on the development of an energy efficiency roadmap for the whole campus with defined targets for 2020 (reduction of the primary energy use by 40%) and 2050 (energy supply by renewable energy sources only). Some of the planned measures have already been realised while further ones are planned for the remaining time until 2020 and even more until 2050. The foreseen energy concept until 2020 includes the improvement of building envelopes (mainly roof and façade areas), the replacement of lighting systems in traffic areas, labs and offices, the optimisation of the operation of air-conditioning and ventilation systems and the increase of space efficiency due to higher densified office spaces. A combined heat and power station shall be installed and replace the currently available district heating. PV on all suitable roof areas will further improve the energy balance of the university. So far the primary energy use of the university based on measured delivered energy reduced from 293 kWh/m²yr in 2012 to 238 kWh/m²yr in 2015. This translates to a reduction of nearly 20% of the primary energy already by 2015, through measures including the majority of PV installation. The CHP and many more measures are yet to be realised.


University projects presented on BUILD UP


The BUILD UP portal features a number of university building case studies. However, most of them are single university buildings. A few of the most interesting building projects are included below.


LUCIA: Pioneer Energy Autonomous public building in Spain


South-east and north-east façade of the LUCIA building (Source: University of Valladolid)


The LUCIA building of the University of Valladolid is a zero CO2 emission and zero energy building using passive and bioclimatic design strategies. Due to management and production of autonomous local renewable energies, the building has received the LEED platinum level. The façade includes overhangs providing a self-shadowing effect in the summer, reducing the cooling load while providing natural light. Considering the building’s location, the U-values of the façade (0.17 W/m²K) and roof (0.15 W/m²K) are very low, leading to low transmission losses. The insulation material is based on wood. Solar tubes are providing natural lighting indoors and a digital addressable lighting interface is used as lighting control system. Heating and cooling are provided by geothermal pipes. Together with the façade integrated PV and a biomass combined heat and power system, the energy use is 100% renewable. 


The Edge: Amsterdam office building with highest BREEAM score to date


West and north façade of The Edge (Source: Ronald Tilleman)


The Edge is a new office building in ZuidAs, Amsterdam including also spaces of the University of Amsterdam and the Hogeschool van Amsterdam. The building has achieved a BREEAM green building certification score of 98.4%; so far the highest score ever. The building uses information technology to shape the way people work and to maximise comfort and energy efficiency in the building spaces. The building adapts to the users’ preferences for lighting and heating via a mobile app. Solar panels in the south side of the building are used for shading the offices and for generating electricity. Sustainable highlights include a smart lighting system (light over Ethernet), energy generation from 5,900 m² PV panels providing heating energy via an aquifer thermal energy storage and electricity powering all smartphones, laptops and electric cars. These features make the building a net zero-energy building showcase.


HSB Living Lab: student housing in Gothenburg, Sweden


South-west façade view of HSB Living Lab (Source: Erik Abel)



The HSB Living Lab offers apartments for students and guest researchers with flexible living units and a multi-functional shared space. It is a show case and test lab for sustainable lifestyle at home. The four-storey building is portable and constructed in steel modules. This allows for flexible spaces and rapid construction. The low-temperature heating system uses a three flow pipe system, radiators and underfloor heating and is connected to a district heating network.    




Throughout Europe there is a high number of university buildings with in general high consumptions for electricity, but often also for heating and cooling. Energy improvement measures are needed, but are often difficult to finance. Therefore the focus of the renovation measures is often on repairing defects. The university projects presented in this article can give inspiration for a more thorough energy improvement approach, either for new single buildings (Lucia, The Edge and HSB Living Lab) or as renovation roadmaps for a complete university campus (Leuphana and Braunschweig).