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The most sustainable town in Europe

Solar settlement in the Vauban district in Freiburg, Germany
Solar Settlement in the Vauban district, Freiburg, Germany




Vauban, Germany, a city district in Freiburg, is the most sustainable town in Europe. The "solar ship"  is in the Solar Settlement in Vauban; part of why Freiburg is known as Europe's "solar city". The Solar Settlement is known internationally as the first community in the world in which all the buildings produce a positive energy balance. Buildings that generate more renewable energy than the building and its occupants consume are known as plus-energy buildings. The solar ship helps make Vauban one of Europe’s most significant solar communities.

Energy for buildings in Vauban is mostly sourced from rooftop solar panels - on residents' homes, co-op buildings, and municipal buildings. Energy and district heating to Vauban is also supplied by a high efficiency municipal biomass and gas cogeneration plant.  Vauban's cogeneration (combined heat and power) plant augments Vauban's large supply of solar PV energy for Vauban;  providing electricity and heat for buildings in the town.

plus-energy co-op buildings in Vauban; including the solar ship
plus-energy co-op buildings in Vauban; including the solar ship

Residents in Vauban primarily live in co-ops, including many plus-energy buildings. Plus-energy homes are not only found in the solar ship, but are also found throughout Vauban. Solar PV panels on rooftops combine with the local biomass plant to produce all of the energy needs of Vauban's buildings and residences, after which excess energy is sold back to the municipality's utility company by Vauban's building and home owners.

Passive homes and plus-energy homes

The plus-energy home category is the highest level of energy efficient building development in the field of passive home construction. Passive home (“passivhaus”) construction refers to cutting-edge energy efficient green building construction practices. Passive buildings in Vauban (and these are typical features of most passive buildings worldwide) have these features:

  • well insulated,
  • use timber construction for the framing,
  • are sealed air tight to keep out external weather completely, and to keep heat inside,
  • often use renewable energy (rooftop solar PV panels and/ or geothermal heat pumps), for heat and electricity, or use electric heat pumps and rooftop PV,
  • have double or triple-pane windows.

For a more detailed guide on passive home, and plus-energy, building construction see Green City Times' article on cutting-edge energy efficient construction practices in the Swedish city of Vaxjo.

Passive homes are almost entirely heated by passive-solar gains and a technically simple heat recuperation system; and are popular in European cities like Vauban, Germany, Vaxjo, Sweden, Copenhagen, Denmark; as well as a few other cities known for cutting-edge energy efficient building construction throughout Europe. Buildings in Vauban are almost entirely passive home or plus-energy construction; including the residential and business buildings.

Urban planning in Vauban

The urban planning techniques of “filtered permeability” and "fused grid" were implemented in the design of the municipality of Vauban. These urban planning terms refer to a town design of connected streets throughout the town, as well as plenty of pedestrian and bike paths. Urban planning led to a city layout in Vauban which lends itself to cycling as the primary mode of transit.

The town of Vauban is virtually absent of all GHG emission producing sources. Vauban is a “zero-emission” district in Freiburg, Germany. However, Vauban is not completely carbon neutral, as cars are actually allowed. Residents of Vauban can own cars and park them in town (but not necessarily in front of their homes). This is only possible if they pay quite a bit (comparable to at least $23,000 USD), for a parking spot on the outskirts of town.

Thus, the majority of residents in Vauban don’t own a car, choosing instead to use the tram, cycle, or simply walk. Most streets don’t even have parking spaces. In Vauban, roads designated for cars are very narrow. Plenty of space on Vauban's streets are given to bicycles, pedestrians, and designated lanes for electric trams.

Vauban Germany| Green City Times
Vauban, Freiburg, Germany
urban plan of Vauban, Germany
urban planning layout of the city district of Vauban, in Frieburg, Germany

Vauban's unique history

The radical culture of Vauban has roots in its dramatic history. Ironically, Vauban was a military town through WWII and into the early 90’s. When the military left, the vacant buildings were inhabited by squatters. These vagabonds eventually organized Forum Vauban, creating a revolutionary eco-community. Today, Vauban is modern, beautiful and represents the very cutting edge of sustainable living.

The following quote from use.metropolis.org nicely highlights the ecologically-focused development of Vauban in Freiburg:

"The district Vauban is known as a model for a sustainable ecological collectively planned urban district...On the area of an old military base a whole new district with a lot of housing spaces was be built with the participation of the citizens. The City of Freiburg responsible for the planning and development of the district-project cooperated with an extended citizen participation organized by an association called Forum Vauban.

Under guiding principles concerning different high ecological standards different environmental projects such as a co-building group and a car reducing traffic system began in 1996. The city simply gave away land at the start of the building phase. Nowadays nearly 5000 people live in Vauban - a nearly car-free, low-energy, social integrating, and sustainable [town] full of playgrounds, and its own kindergarten. A new attractive district especially for young families was constructed and developed. In 2002 more than 20% of Vauban inhabitants were under 10 years old. The demand for land was stronger than availability.

Participatory planning during the building stage was a great success. Legal, political, social, and economic participants were integrated from a small grassroots level up to the city administration. Concrete objectives were achieved or exceeded. All houses were built with improved low energy standard...[over] 150 houses [and buildings, co-op buildings are] "passive house"  or "plus energy house" standard, producing more energy than they use.

A highly efficient co-generation plant (CHP) operating with wood-chips [and natural gas] is connected to the district's heating grid. Good insulation and efficient heat supply creates CO²-savings of 60%. A large number of solar collectors and photovoltaic modules were installed. The electricity needed in Vauban is produced on-site through CHP and photovoltaic [solar].

The ecological traffic concept reduced the number of private cars, provided good public transportation, and a car sharing system. Streets and other public spaces became playgrounds for children or other public uses."

FROM -/sustainable-urban-district-vauban

Please also see:

Europe's solar city- Freiburg

Solar ship Vauban Freiburg Germany| Green City Times
Solar ship- Vauban, Freiburg, Germany

Like Vauban, Germany (but in a variety of unique ways), these world cities are also taking the lead on climate action through novel urban planning strategies:

Paris - Curbing Auto Emissions for Cleaner Air

Olso - Climate Goals: Is Oslo Leading the Way?

San Diego - Profiles in Sustainable Cities

(and please also see the Green City Times article on Desalination for information about the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere; in Carlsbad, San Diego)

Chicago - A Sustainable City

Austin, Texas

One Comment

  1. Please let us here at Green City Times know what you think in a comment; and we’ll try and answer any questions as well.

    Please also visit our other blog at https://greencitytimes.blogspot.com

    [Dan Braff is the founder of GCT –

    Daniel Braff

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