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It's official! ECE is Net Zero Certified!

Posted by Morgan White on February 10, 2023

The Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Building at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has become the university’s first zero energy certified facility through innovative facility design and clean energy produced on campus. All of the operational energy associated with the building is now offset through a combination of on-site solar production and solar renewable energy credits (SRECs), which earned the 238,000 gross square foot facility official Zero Energy (ZE) Certification from the International Living Future Institute (ILFI).

According to ECE department head Bruce Hajek, “achieving net zero energy was an aspirational goal of everyone who contributed to the project and is the embodiment of the teaching and cutting-edge discovery excellence taking place in this world-class facility. The ability to meet this goal—in less than 10 years since the building’s opening—by using solar energy generated on campus showcases the relentless campus focus on reducing carbon emissions and what is possible through collaboration and leadership in this critical area.”

The ECE Building produces about 11 percent of its energy through its rooftop array, a 300 kW setup featuring 970 panels. The rest of its consumption is supported through SRECs from Solar Farm 2.0, a 12.32 megawatt (MWdc) utility-scale installation on south campus bordering the Village of Savoy.

Aerial view of Solar Farm 2.0 south of campus.Aerial view of the Solar Farm 2.0 south of campus. (Photo courtesy of Jim Baltz)

The IFLI standard for meeting ZE certification includes accounting for all heating, cooling, and other energy a facility uses. Any non-electrical consumption is converted to a kilowatt-hour electricity equivalent to assess the efficiency performance and necessary offset. The certification process required a full year for verification and guarantees for continued zero energy operation into the future. Offsite renewable energy production must also be located within the same regional power grid and linked to building energy usage.

Ehab Kamarah, associate vice chancellor and executive director of Facilities & Services, said, “Being an active partner with ECE on these types of projects is an example of why the university is a recognized leader in sustainable building design, construction, operations, and on-site renewable energy production. Finalizing this certification is a credit to the U of I’s expertise in solar innovation and expanding clean energy portfolio.”

Reaching energy conservation and clean energy targets as a part of overall sustainability efforts is fundamental to Illinois’ land-grant university mission. The Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP) is the university’s strategic plan to meet the Climate Leadership Commitments, including becoming carbon neutral as soon as possible and building resilience to climate change in the local community. The Urbana campus renewable energy portfolio already meets more than 12 percent of annual electricity needs.

The ECE building is a sustainable learning laboratory with features that reduce energy consumption and help make zero energy a reality. In November 2019, the building achieved LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for advanced energy efficiency features, such as LED and fluorescent lighting, intelligent systems to optimize energy usage, excellent space configuration, recycled materials incorporation, and other green design attributes. The facility was designed with most windows facing south for optimal daylighting, heat recovery chillers, chilled beams, exhaust heat recovery wheels, and occupancy sensors. Also, following the opening, the F&S Retrocommissioning team worked to enhance building control systems for peak efficiency by modifying programming, set points, and some controls.

<<see video of solar panels at>> 

Many characteristics of the ECE Building directly contribute to research and educational use. A section of the rooftop solar array connects to a major research laboratory in the building and provides hands-on experience with photovoltaic technology. There is a weather station on the roof for collecting data about conditions that affect solar production, like wind speed, temperature, humidity, insolation, and cloud cover. For all visitors, interactive digital signs show updated energy usage and a power dashboard in the building’s atrium.

More information about the ECE building is available at: