Sustainability | Renewable Energy

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The Most Sustainable Town in Europe

homes in the Sun Ship, Solar Settlement, Vauban

Vauban, Germany, a city district in Freiburg, is the most sustainable town in Europe. The "Sun 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 pioneering first community in the world in which all the buildings produce a positive energy balance.

Buildings that generate more renewable energy than the building's occupants consume are known as plus-energy buildings. Residents in plus-energy buildings in Vauban simply sell excess energy generated by the property's renewable energy sources back to the municipality (for use in other homes in the community), resulting in lower electricity bills.

Vauban, Germany is one of Europe’s most significant carbon-neutral solar communities; with plus-energy homes, as well as passive solar, zero net energy, and plus-energy homes and buildings.

Renewable Energy in Vauban

Rooftop solar panels provide a large share of energy for Vauban's buildings. Augmenting solar energy in the town is a high-efficiency municipal biomass and gas cogeneration plant. District heating to Vauban is also supplied by the plant. Vauban's cogeneration (also known as a combined heat and power- CHP) plant, in addition to Vauban's large supply of solar PV energy for Vauban, helps provide electricity for buildings in the town. 

Passive homes and plus-energy homes


Vauban, Germany is a sustainable town for every other city in the world to emulate. Vauban is a “zero-emission” district in Freiburg, Germany. Electricity for buildings in Vauban is primarily sourced from rooftop solar panels on - residents’ homes, co-op buildings, and municipal buildings. In addition to solar, a significant share of energy and heating for Vauban is supplied by a municipal bio-natural gas cogeneration plant

residences in the Sun Ship

Many homes in Vauban are either passive solar energy buildings (ultra energy efficient buildings that consume roughly as much energy as they produce), or plus-energy buildings (producing even more energy than they consume). Homes in the Sun Ship (Das Sonnenschiff) are entirely plus-energy buildings.

Residents in Vauban primarily live in co-ops, including many plus-energy buildings. Plus-energy homes are not only found in the Sun 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 homeowners.

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 homes and buildings are almost entirely heated by passive-solar gains and a technically simple heat recuperation system. Passive buildings are popular in European cities (featured cities in Green City Times) like Vauban, Germany, Vaxjo, Sweden, Copenhagen, Denmark - as well as many 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. Typical features of most passive buildings worldwide are:

  • well-insulated with high-quality, super-efficient insulation materials
  • use timber construction for the framing
  • are sealed airtight 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.

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 is given to bicycles, pedestrians, and designated lanes for electric trams.

Vauban, Germany
Vauban, Freiburg, Germany
urban plan of Vauban, Germany
urban planning layout of the city district of Vauban, 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 ’90s. 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 quotes from and nicely highlight the ecologically-focused development of Vauban:

"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. All houses were built with improved low energy standard...[many homes in Vauban, as well as commercial 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. 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 PV].

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 -

trams in Vauban

"The district was planned around green transportation (as with another city known as a global beacon of green urban planning, Curitiba in southern Brazil), because, besides consumption, transportation is the hardest ecological impact of development to reduce. While the district includes streets, cars hardly ever pass through, and car parking is not catered for. Residents who do own vehicles can park in a community lot on the edge of the district, unsubsidized by the car-free households.

Pedestrian and bicycle paths form a highly-connected, efficient, green transportation network with every home within walking distance of a tram stop, and all schools, businesses, and shopping centers located within walking distance. When moving into Vauban, 57% of the households that previously owned a car decided to let their car go. All in all, 70% of the inhabitants live without a car in Vauban."   FROM  -

Please also see:

Europe's Solar City- Freiburg


Sustainable Urban Planning in Curitiba

Like Vauban, Germany (but in a variety of unique ways), these world cities below 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

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