At the heart of Stanford University’s recently completed transformational, campus-wide energy system is a new central energy facility—designed by ZGF, in partnership with Affiliated Engineers—that embodies the latest technological advances and ecodistrict planning solutions. Part of the Stanford Energy System Innovation (SESI) Initiative, the system replaces a 100% fossil-fuel based combined cogeneration plant with grid-sourced electricity and a first-of-its-kind heat recovery system, yielding compelling results for the entire campus: greenhouse gas emissions slashed by 68%, fossil fuel use reduced by 65%, and water use reduced by 18%. Five distinct components comprise the 125,614 SF Central Energy Facility: an administrative / teaching building, a heat recovery chiller plant, an OSHPD-compliant cooling and heating plant, a service yard, and a new campus-wide, main electrical substation. Designed to sensitively integrate into the surrounding campus, the overall architectural expression is one of lightness, transparency, and sustainability to express the facility’s purpose. Materiality takes its cues from Stanford’s rich collection of historical and contemporary buildings.


More than a power plant, the facility is a learning center where students have the opportunity to see first-hand the systems and technologies at work. The entrance to the administrative / teaching building features an expansive photovoltaic (PV) trellis that provides shade and cover, and more electricity than needed to power the net positive energy building. Offices and an outdoor, multi-use room float above the entrance, providing views out to central campus, as well as into the hub of the facility, where a paved and landscaped courtyard highlights the primary thermal energy storage tank. A grand staircase imaginatively functions as theater seating for tours and lectures, with the thermal storage tank as the backdrop. At night, lights directed through slender perforated steel panels transform the facility’s centerpiece tank into a glowing beacon—the “heart” of the facility.