Energy Efficient Cities

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Engineering


Since 80% of the UK population lives in urban areas, and buildings and ground transportation account for over 70% of the demand for energy in the UK, there are large benefits to be had from improved energy efficiency in towns and cities. Cities are integrated systems composed of numerous components with interconnecting links: the density of the city is related to building type; the transport system depends on the nature of the buildings and the green spaces in the city; the opportunity to use local forms of power generation (combined heat and power, biomass, heat pumps, fuel cells, wind or solar power) is a function of orientation, building density and form; the scope for natural ventilation within buildings varies with external wind conditions and so depends on the urban environment; and so on. We propose an integrated approach to research ways of reducing the energy demand in cities. A number of current staff in the Departments of Engineering, Architecture, Chem. Eng., Computer Lab, JBS and BP Institute at the University of Cambridge already working in relevant areas, but more can be achieved by the appointment of additional lecturers in carefully chosen and complementary fields. With this critical mass, we propose to establish an interdisciplinary research initiative around the theme of energy efficient cities. The initiative will develop an integrated approach to buildings, transport and decentralised power generation, bringing together design and technologies with the specific goal of energy demand reduction, while recognising the other factors that affect human choices and behaviour within cities. The research would address urban design and planning to integrate low-energy buildings and transport, developing quantifiable systems level models so that trade-offs can be assessed. Research into the energy performance of buildings and groups of buildings is in its infancy. Very few buildings are analysed with appropriate prediction tools and even fewer are monitored and studied after completion. Thus there are major gaps in our understanding of what actually happens. Emphasis will be put on the development of novel technologies for energy efficient buildings. Examples include: novel materials and surface treatments that can change the thermal properties of buildings; optimisation of heat transfer through and ventilation flows in buildings; sensors and smart computer-based systems to optimise energy use; and technologies to exploit the energy available on the site from ground source heat pumps to photovoltaic roofs and wind turbines. A significant proportion of the built environment is currently designed around meeting people's mobility needs. For the time being it seems certain that urban residents will wish to continue to use private transport, but may be willing to accept smaller, lighter vehicles, better suited to the urban environment. The performance of current vehicles far exceeds that necessary for use in towns and cities in terms of acceleration, top speed, size and weight. This has been driven partly by customer preference, and partly by crash-worthiness, but the latter can be altered by urban planning and by restrictions on the speed, size and weight of other road traffic. Relevant technologies to achieving high efficiency with extreme engine downsizing include: enhancing the performance of turbochargers; development of strong, ultra-light weight materials; sensors and smart computer-based systems; improved energy storage devices for electric/hybrid vehicles; integration of building and vehicle power supply; and attention to some of the vehicle's sub-components (eg air-conditioning, which currently can account for 20% of the fuel consumption when operated; tyres, re-optimising for reduced rolling resistance and improved fuel burn rather than high speed). In addition to the research, another output will be trained people, building up the UK's capability in areas important for reducing energy dema


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Description - Uncertainty Quantification & Calibration using Bayesian Techniques: With funds from this grant, we were the first to calibrate energy simulation models using Bayesian Inference. We also introduced uncertainty quantification to urban-scale energy modelling. These findings lead to EPSRC funded 'B-bem: The Bayesian building energy management Portal' (EP/L024454/1, £450k, 2014-18) which developed new probabilistic methods for occupancy studies and energy systems.
- We developed multi-objective optimization models for district energy systems at high temporal and spatial resolution. Since 2015, this has lead to a new open-source software ( which a current PhD student is developing (CDT-FIBE). We are currently training ARUP as the first industry user of this tool.
- During the lifetime of the project, funds from the project enabled new collaborations with geotechnical engineers on urban-scale analysis of geo-energy systems. This lead to a new 18 month project that focuses on sustainable utilization of underground space in cities (£149, 2017-18). It is funded by the University Global Alliance in partnership with UC Berkeley (USA) and NUS (Singapore). With additional funding from Innovate UK, we have partnered with British Geological Society to create 3D spatial models of the city, integrating both above and below ground features.
- The EECi funds enabled a new partnership with Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, as a result of which we developed a bespoke thermodynamic model of plants in enclosed climate-controlled spaces. We further tailored this model to assess the potential of climate-controlled urban farms in citied. Beyond the lifetime of EECi, this work has been supported through the University's Knowledge Transfer Partnership scheme and Impact Acceleration Grant. It enabled us to work closely with an award-winning urban farm in London and help them expand by analyzing optimum environments for food production. Results from this work are featured on the EPSRC Lens on Research and Innovation (
- We established partnerships with Indian Institute of Human Settlements on the topic of urban energy needs. In 2017, this partnership lead to two grants (as co-I) from the British Academy as co-I: One with Geography and one with Architecture as lead. Both grants are on understanding energy needs of low-income urban housing in India.
Exploitation Route This was a Science & Innovation award, whose objectives were to build new capacity in the area of Energy Efficient Cities through multi-disciplinary research on buildings, transport, and urban planning. The award enabled the recruitment of three new members of academic staff in the Departments of Engineering and Architecture. Recruited as lecturers they have now been promoted to Readerships (2) and Senior Lecturer (1).
- All of the outcomes stated above are result of their new collaborations with colleagues in Statistical Science, Geotechnical Engineering, Plant Sciences and Geography.
- We sustain the built environment and energy systems group ( -- roughly 8 researchers (including PhD students and PDRA). It continues to attract PhD students both from UK and internationally. Since 2013, we have been awarded over £1 m in research funding from both industry and EPSRC.
During the lifetime of the grant, we hosted researchers from University of Osaka (Japan), Granada University (Spain), University of Cyprus (Greece), Uppsala University (Sweden). All of these lead to publications whereby urban-scale simulation methods developed by us were used in new applications.
Since 2015, we have published new implementations of our stochastic simulation methods with researchers from Aarhus University (Denmark), University of Tokyo (Japan), and Georgia Tech (USA). All of the above are published.
In addition, our papers on Bayesian calibration are heavily cited, and there are now entire sessions dedicated to this topic at the International Building Simulation conference.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Construction,Energy,Environment,Transport

Description The results from our plant simulation modelling is used by an urban farm in London to optimize their ventilation and environmental conditions within the growing area. In 2017, we further augmented this by installing real-time monitoring within the farm, from which we co-benefit because the instrumentation helps us further calibrate and improve our model. See link:
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description EPSRC IAA Knowledge Transfer Fellowships, UK
Amount £52,347 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2016 
End 03/2017
Description EPSRC Institutional Sponsorship Grant, UK: Environment of Urban Farming, partnership with Growing Underground (London)
Amount £19,966 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2016 
End 03/2017
Description H2020-Research and Innovation Framework Program
Amount € 11,224,058 (EUR)
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 05/2017 
End 05/2022
Title Research data supporting How Well Do We Know the Future of CO2 Emissions? Projecting Fleet Emissions from Light Duty Vehicle Technology Drivers 
Description Matlab fig files to recreate the figures used in the publication. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Description BGS-Ruchi Choudhary 
Organisation British Geological Survey
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We partnered with the Urban Geo-Science team of British Geological Society for six months (October 2017-March 2018). Innovate UK funded their secondment at CSIC. Jointly, we developed an integrated 3D database of below and above ground features of London for the objective of sustainable use of underground space.
Collaborator Contribution PhD student Mingda Yuan has assimilated database of below ground structures. BGS analyzed the below ground geological properties (thermo-hydro). PDRA Asal Bidarmaghz used these to implement large-scale finite element models to assess the long term influence of heated underground spaces on ground thermal properties.
Impact 1. We have co-authored and submitted 2 journal articles 2. We have submitted 1 co-authored conference paper 3. BGS has agreed to support future work. They provided letter of support for a grant application submitted to EPSRC-NSF in November 2018 4. This collaboration is multi-disciplinary involving civil engineers and geo-scientists. 5. The Data-centric Engineering program of the Alan Turing Institute is supporting a 3 year PDRA (2019-2021) to take forward this work, and thus it now also involves data-science in addition to engineering and geo-science.
Start Year 2017
Description City-scale energy analysis - École Normale Supérieure de Cachan 
Organisation École Normale Supérieure de Cachan
Country France 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Dr. Choudhary visited the Civil Engineering Department in Summer 2015 for 6 weeks (April-May), and worked with students there on the topic of visualization of city-scale energy data. In September 2017, she was hosted for a month as Invited Professor in the Department.
Collaborator Contribution In 2015 École Normale Supérieure de Cachan provided technical expertise and resources for interactive visualization of data. As a follow up, a student from ENS visited the B-bem group for a 9 month internship period where we mentored him on the topic of quantifying uncertainties in internal loads of buildings at city scale.
Impact A student from École Normale Supérieure de Cachan visited as a research intern for 12 months (October 2015-2016) to work on this topic. Dr. Choudhary was invited as Visiting Professor for 4 weeks in September 2016 and 2018 to work with new students.
Start Year 2015
Description Collaboration with University of Tokyo 
Organisation University of Tokyo
Department Institute of Industrial Science
Country Japan 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution - Guest Professor at Ooka Lab, Institute of Industrial Science for 4 months (Sept-December 2015) supported by an invitational Fellowship by Japan Society of Promotion of Science. - Interacted with PhD students and staff on the following topics: uncertainty analysis, distributed energy systems, exergy analysis of building energy systems. - Since 2015, we have regular annual visits to each others labs
Collaborator Contribution The Ooka Lab invited Cambridge PhD student Bryn Pickering for 2 week visit in December 2015. We have co-authored 2 peer-reviewed conference articles and 3 journal publications. From the B-bem project, PDRA Kathrin Menberg has been heavily involved in these collaborations. We have worked with University of Tokyo to carry out uncertainty analysis in the estimation of ground thermal properties for geo-energy systems. In turn- University of Tokyo helped us carry out exergy analysis of heat pump systems, which enabled us to have an improved understanding of system efficiencies.
Impact 1. Uncertainty Analysis:1 conference publication; 2 journal articles 2. Distributed Energy Systems: 1 conference publication in 2016. 3. Exergy Analysis: 1 conference publication (2017), and 1 journal paper.
Start Year 2015
Description GU-Ruchi Choudhary 
Organisation Growing Underground
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Funded by the University's Institutional Sponsorship Grant (2016-2017), we have installed environmental monitoring system in the underground farm, which are now being used by the farm managers to optimize their ventilation and environmental conditions within the growing area. In 2017, we further augmented this by developing a simulation model of the farm.
Collaborator Contribution Development of a simulation model of the farm and design, installation, and curation of the monitoring system
Impact Forthcoming Book Chapter in 2018 on Urban Farming in 'Next Generation Plant Factory' by Springer; Forthcoming: paper accepted for publication in CIBSE technical symposium
Start Year 2016
Description Seminar-CRASSH 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact In Search of Good Energy Policy, CRASSH Seminar Series, Cambridge, UK, January 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019