Campus Planning Strategies for High Energy Performance and Net Zero

Otto Van Geet, National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Nancy Carlisle, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Campus planning strategies for high energy performance and net-zero Nancy Carlisle, AIA & Otto Van Geet, PE, NREL

Campuses as well as communities are embracing the idea of moving on the path towards net-zero energy. Campus planning is an important step in the process because it allows you to look at the building energy supply and demand, on-site renewable energy and transportation energy as one integrated system. It establishes a framework for low energy buildings, alternative transportation, using waste heat from a building to heat another and for quality of life issues that allow one to attract\retain staff and students. Looking at the whole system, provides opportunities for using renewables that go beyond the building boundaries. The same approach being taken by campuses could also be applied to research and industrial parks or other entities.

In the presentation, we will first review how NREL approached campus planning in the early 2000's which set the stage for many of its high energy performing buildings, on-site solar energy and other features. Campus planning at NREL addressed issues of density, building footprint and orientation, environmental features of the site, campus infrastructure and energy supply. The process would be the same that one would use today. Next we'll review what is working well and metrics and lessons learned from the NREL campus; and what might be some new approaches to explore. For example, NREL has looked at microgrids, fault detection and diagnostics, and other topics. We will also survey some of our partner organizations and look to our work at sites other than only research campuses to provide examples that are relevant to research campuses.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand general planning steps (and resources for more information) for net-zero campus
  • Understand the important role that campus planning plays in moving towards net-zero and why.
  • Identify five or more important criteria for consideration in planning for net zero campuses.
  • Identify five or more energy efficiency and or renewable energy strategy that can be applied in campus planning.


Otto is a Principal Engineer at NREL. Otto has been involved in the design, and operation of energy efficient research facilities such as labs and data centers, general use facilities, and low energy use campus and community design. Otto was one of the founding members of the Labs21 program and provides technical guidance for the program. He and his family live in an off grid passive solar house with a 2 kW PV/hybrid power system and solar water heating that he designed and built 19 years ago.

Nancy Carlisle, AIA is the Director of the Integrated Applications Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The center has a staff of approximately 80 people, an annual budget of $24 million dollars and a mission to transition energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies out of the lab and into the market. Center expertise spans the disciplines of policy, finance, engineering and design and analysis. The Center supports U.S. DOE programs and other Federal customers.


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