Affordable and Clean Energy
Affordable and Clean Energy

Measures towards affordable and clean energy
Energy efficient construction and renovations
Reports to THE Impact Ranking indicator 7.2.1 & 7.2.2
KAUST is proud to have considered sustainable and conscious building standards a priority from its inception. The KAUST Campus is LEED Platinum Certified for New Construction and was the largest LEED Platinum project completed back in 2009. The LEED certification encompasses a series of standards which include high-level energy efficiency measures. Moreover, KAUST's Facilities Management Planning, Design, Engineering & Construction team (FM PDEC) ensures that all new and renovated buildings at KAUST meet construction standards that equate to a minimum LEED Gold equivalent for New Constructions.
LEED Platinum plate at KAUST academic campus. Photo: N.Nason
KAUST also has an internal Sustainability Design Criteria for new construction since 2016, which is based on LEED criteria, to set standards for energy efficiency by laying out specific pre-requisites for any building developed or renovated, not only on campus grounds but also in the surrounding community. Some of these standards include, but are not limited to, overall energy reduction, incorporation of renewable energies whenever possible, assessment of site condition (shading, exterior lighting...), massing and orientation, envelope attributes, among others. Regarding appliances for residential areas, KAUST FM PDEC follows several specifications and international standards such as ENERGY STAR, to make more energy-efficient choices.
Reducing emissions and energy consumption through research and operations
Reports to THE Impact Ranking indicator 7.2.3 & 7.2.4
KAUST actively fosters research and innovation on cleaner energy sources that will lead to a reduction of carbon reliance and lower emissions. Through a combination of research in hydrogen fuels, synthetic fuels and renewable energy sources carried on by the KAUST Solar Center (KSC) and Clean Combustion Research Center (CCRC), the university also explores how some of its own discoveries can be applied to its carbon management.
Sci-Café: Hydrogen Economy (2019). The discussion during this event revolved around the research being done at KAUST to foster a hydrogen economy by exploring low-carbon ways of generating hydrogen
In September 2020, the G20 Energy Ministers pledged to endorse the Circular Carbon Economy (CCE) Platform as a tool to manage emissions and foster access to cleaner energy. The platform was acknowledged as a holistic, integrated, inclusive, and pragmatic approach to managing emissions while providing new pathways toward economic diversification and growth for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Since KAUST’s inception in 2009, research into CCE technological solutions has always been an integral part of our portfolio, including CO2 Capture, Nature-Based Solutions, Renewable Energy, and CO2 Utilization.
Diagram showcasing KAUST's plan for carbon management under the Circular Carbon Initiative. Image:
In order to contribute towards the CCE Platform and align its plan of carbon management and emission reduction with global players, KAUST launched the KAUST Circular Carbon Initiative (CCI). The aim of CCI is to connect more deeply the different strands of KAUST's CCE research to support the creation of a National Platform for the promotion, adoption, and rapid deployment of CCE technological solutions.
KAUST Circular Carbon Initiative promotional video used for public outreach and stakeholder engagement (2020)
KAUST CCI's plans to address sustainable carbon management are based on 5 key thrusts: (1) CO2 Capture: Direct air (DAC) and point source capture technologies; (2) Nature-Based Solutions: Key nature-based solutions, with an emphasis on Saudi ecosystems; (3) Geo-Solutions: Explore and quantify geological storage and geothermal energy potential for CCE; (4)E-Fuels: The manufacture and application of synthetic fuels; (5) Cross-Cutting: Integration with renewable energy sources.
As part of its commitment and plan to reduce energy consumption and consequently its carbon emissions, a pledge was taken by the Facilities Management Operations and Maintenance (FM O&M) team, where among several commitments, there is the objective of reducing KAUST's energy consumption by 10% by 2025. In order to achieve this goal, KAUST plans to rely on several measures that were implemented throughout the years at different operational levels:
Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning (HVAC)
Ventilation system at one of KAUST's labs
HVAC systems account for approximately 70 percent of energy use, which scales up with airflow rate. KAUST has a Building Automation System standard to ensure all control equipment for HVAC systems are connected to the Integrated KAUST Automation System (IKAS), in order to monitor usage, remotely control equipment and identify faults, thus saving energy.
As part of an Energy Conservation Program, many actions were taken by the Facilities Management department to reduce airflow and fan operation on campus, which greatly reduced energy consumption. Some of these actions, particularly in the laboratories of KAUST, were implemented following a FM PDECLaboratory Control System standard, which ensures that specific laboratory equipment such as Fume Hoods are also integrated with the main laboratory airflow control system, adjusting their extraction power accordingly.
Thanks to such integrations, one of the most successful actions taken to reduce energy in the laboratories was linking the HVAC system with the lighting system. This ensures that, once the labs enter unoccupied mode and the lights go off at the end of the day, there is also lower ventilation with minimum air change per hour.
The Health, Safety, and Environment (HSE) department has also reviewed the appropriate Air Changes per Hour (ACH) for labs, based on their operation, presence of chemicals, air circulation, etc., to further optimize and reduce energy usage. After the review, a Laboratory Ventilation Management Program was issued by HSE. Together with the FM O&M team, the program reduced the ACH of 162 lab spaces, by directly reducing AHU fan speed, electric duct heater operation, and chilled water consumption, whilst maintaining safe ventilation levels in the lab spaces.
Moreover, and as part of awareness campaigns carried by the FM O&M team, users are also encouraged to turn off the lights of the laboratory when they are unoccupied in order to save energy not only from the lighting but simultaneously from HVAC too. The team has also set timers on the lights of the labs, based on lab user requirements and behaviors, ensuring lights turn off at a certain time, sending the HVAC to unoccupied mode automatically.
Awareness campaign to alert lab users across campus for the energy waste caused by not taking advantage of the Integrated KAUST Automation System (IKAS)
Another awareness program carried in the labs was the management of door alarms. As part of the ventilation design of the laboratories, there is a safety system embedded which increases ventilation levels of a laboratory to maximum performance when the door to the service corridor or to the atrium is left open for more than one minute. This has a significant impact on energy consumption.
By raising awareness with lab users, sending monthly reports, and praising the laboratories that keep their alarm triggers to the minimum, the average time of open doors dropped significantly, which resulted in considerable energy savings.
The following are several other examples of actions undertaken to tackle energy wastage involving HVAC systems:
  • Auto adjust of the Off Coil temperature set point with respect to actual outside air temperature for all Fresh Air Handling Units;
  • Increase the electrical, mechanical, and substation rooms' set point to 25 degrees;
  • Complete shutdown for unoccupied laboratories;
  • Modify the run time schedule of Fan Power Box units to turn off fans at unoccupied mode;
  • Adjust the run time schedule for the AHU's of lecture halls, auditorium, and mosque;
  • Complete shutoff for Variable Air Volume boxes (VAV) unoccupied mode;
  • Force all VAVs to be in unoccupied mode all the time for vacant offices;
  • Shut off the fans of the fan coil unit (FCUs) once the space temperature is maintained;
  • Locking the temperature set point of all corridors' micro sets at 23 degrees;
  • Optimization of operational parameters for electric heaters in the ductwork.
The lighting system across KAUST has been upgraded in order to be even more efficient, through the installation of LED lights and by optimization of light controllers (sensors, dimmers, timers, etc.) according to the KAUST standard on Lighting Control Devices.
Similar to the optimization carried on the lighting schedule of the laboratories and buildings, FM O&M and HSE teams have modified and optimized the external lighting schedule of the campus. Post lights, solar tower lights, planters, parking areas, and parapet lights, were set to switch off at particular times during the day when a specific area is not occupied, while still maintaining a safe environment and passage for pedestrians.
Dim lighting illuminating the campus library at night. Photo: KAUST Flickr
Energy Generation
KAUST aims to expand its commitment towards renewable energies. Accordingly, on-site solar photovoltaic (PV) and solar thermal installations play an important role in diversifying KAUST's energy supply. KAUST aims to harness natural resources while creating comfortable conditions for its community. This goal is approached through passive and active designs in renewable energy.
Active System (Solar Rooftop)
The monumental roof for the KAUST campus has been designed to incorporate massive solar thermal arrays to provide domestic hot water to all campus buildings, and solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays to generate and distribute power to campus buildings based upon demand.
The two rooftop solar plants on the North and South Laboratory buildings occupy nearly 12,000 m², have a maximum output of 1 MW each, and can produce up to 3,300 MWh of clean energy annually. This output saves around 2062 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.
Solar PV system at the rooftop of a KAUST campus building. Photo: N.Nason
Solar Hot Water System at the roof of a KAUST building. Photo: N.Nason
Diagram extracted from the IKAS controller showcasing the campus Solar Hot Water System at work in real-time
The solar thermal panels occupy an area of 3.8 m² and their 182 L capacity feeds five solar hot water storage tanks with a combined capacity of 29145 L. The holding tanks store hot water produced by the main panels and supply the water heaters on campus, reducing the number of times electric heaters need to trigger in order to produce hot water, thus reducing energy consumption.
Energy monitoring and reviewing
Reports to THE Impact Ranking indicator 7.2.5
Integrated KAUST Automation system (IKAS) control room. Photo: N.Nason
The Integrated KAUST Automation System (IKAS) is an implemented centralized monitoring system that allows the FM O&M team to fully monitor and control all operations' systems such as the Building Automation system (HVAC), Lighting and Power Monitoring system, Fire Alarm system, Toxic Gas Monitoring system, among others.
Using the information acquired by IKAS, KAUST goes through continuous energy consumption monitoring and reviews to identify and avoid energy wastage and faulty equipment. For that, baseline energy demand is identified for most of the facilities and buildings, and an energy review is conducted every time the consumption increases/decreases +-5% in the month being reviewed, compared with the previous month and/or the same month of the previous year. The FM O&M team is expected to follow the Energy Review SOP (in place since 2019) in order to identify the root cause of any energy deviation and take action accordingly.
Additionally, several energy-saving initiatives were executed last year by the Utilities team, which helped tackle energy wastage:
  1. Optimization of chiller plant operation.
  2. Optimization of Desalination Plant operation utilizing new tanks.
  3. Replacement of mechanical electricity meters with smart meters.
Energy and the community
Community engagement and outreach on renewable energies and energy-efficient technologies
Reports to THE Impact Ranking indicator 7.4.1
KAUST is really active in engaging not only its academic community but also the local surrounding community in activities and exhibits that bridge the gap between science and the public.
Related to energy, there were several futuristic solar pieces that were available in public places for people to engage, experience, and learn about what can be achieved using renewable energy technology.
Outdoor solar seat at the academic campus Spine for the public to try and interact (2020)
One of such pieces was an outdoor seat that incorporated flexible, lightweight, and semi-transparent solar technologies. The piece was built through a collaboration between KAUST and Armor, a global technology company that pioneers solar solutions. For this installation, the ASCA® photovoltaic film draws on technology and materials co-developed by researchers at KAUST Solar Center.
The film is produced by printing semiconducting inks onto plastic film, providing a cost-effective technology for future mass production. The piece enables an occupant to stretch out comfortably and charge a device thanks to solar energy. Once this solar energy is collected, it is stored in the device batteries that power two USB ports. The ASCA® film also acts as a sensor, detecting falling luminosity, and automatically switches on the bench lighting, powered by the energy stored in the batteries.
Solar Palm Tree in an exhibition at Bldg 5 at the academic campus (2018)
The Solar Palm Tree became the community waiting area for the futuristic, fully electric, self-driving KAUST shuttles, available to all KAUST community (2020)
Another energy-related installation showcased to the community was the Solar Palm Tree. Similar to the outdoor seating, the manmade tree demonstrates how semiconducting inks can be printed onto plastic film to produce functioning solar panels that are flexible, visually appealing, have different shapes, and can perform at low light levels. The seating underneath the palm also possesses USB charging ports to charge devices and can be used by the local community to relax and appreciate solar technology.
KAUST also introduced fully electric, self-driving shuttles on its campus to become the pioneer in adopting autonomous vehicles in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The pilot project incorporates vehicle technology from two global leaders in autonomous mobility and advanced manufacturing, Local Motors by LM Industries and EasyMile. The launch of the new project established KAUST as a local leader in eco-friendly transportation and mobility research and incited conversation about clean energy mobility across the academic and local communities.
Sci-Café on Renewable Energy (2020). The Sci-Café is a live-streamed, community-open discussion forum where KAUST faculty are invited to talk about their expertise on key development subjects and foster healthy discussions between all members of the community
KAUST Sci-Café events are also an opportunity for the campus, local community (and overall public, since the events are open and streamed online) to learn about research done at KAUST and its broader application towards sustainable development. This public discussion forum allows for a deep engagement with the world-class research performed at KAUST and the researchers behind it.
Proudly, the format was recently extended to the local school as The KAUST School (TKS) Sci-Café. The discussions involve school students and a panel of KAUST Ph.D. students and researchers answering questions about their research, backed up by science teachers from TKS. In addition to the traditional panel-style format of the university Sci-Café, the school version includes several demonstrations and interactive activities designed to engage school students and provide an opportunity for them to learn and experiment with the work that is being done on campus.
TKS Sci-Café on Smarter Plastics (2019). 2 Panelists from the KAUST Solar Center showcased how plastics can be used to create flexible solar cells, in order to generate clean solar energy
Another public-open media format where KAUST routinely shares its science with the world is through the podcast Sciencetown, where several contemporary research topics are discussed through engaging interviews and storytelling. Episodes about solar energy and low-carbon transportation delved into what solutions are currently available to make global energy production far less ecologically damaging.
Finally, there are other organized programs that aim to expose students and professionals from out of KAUST to the field of renewable energies and energy efficiency. One of those programs is the KSC Summer School & Internship Program. The 2019 edition brought over international guest lecturers and included a summer school for undergraduates (i.e. outside our standard university program). The free, open-registration program is designed for undergraduates with a potential interest in a research career and aims to motivate students to consider solar energy conversion as their career path.
Energy services for industrial partners
Reports to THE Impact Ranking indicator 7.4.3
KAUST offers an array of free and paid services for industry partners in the fields of clean and renewable energy. The services range from educational opportunities for industry professionals to official partnerships for R&D, and the renting of facilities, equipment, and human expertise for collaborators to develop and test new technologies.
An example of the offered educational programs is the KSC Winter School (pg.18). In 2019, and specifically for the purpose of training local engineers, KSC has initiated and equipped a dedicated photovoltaic educational laboratory, in order to reach out to local industry.
In the 2020 edition of the KSC Winter School, the KAUST Solar Center held a free registration three-day program for in-Kingdom engineers from industry (Aramco, Sabic, Nomadd) and government (Renewable Energy Project Development Office (REPDO)). The participants utilized KSC’s Photovoltaic Education Labs and attended lectures on topics such as the fundamentals of photovoltaic energy conversion to emerging technologies. They also had the chance to experience fabrication, characterization, and field testing of solar modules.
An engineer from the Renewable Energy Project Development Office (REPDO) receives his certificate after attending the KAUST Solar Center Winter School (2020)
Career Development Panel Discussion held at the KAUST Research Conference: Emerging concepts in solar energy conversion – from computation to implementation (2020)
KSC also organizes yearly conferences on several solar energy topics and invites governmental, institutional, and industrial partners to attend. The 2020 edition of the KSC Research Conference placed particular emphasis on in-Kingdom activities in renewable energy and photovoltaic energy generation, in line with KSC’s efforts to establish and strengthen existing links with institutions to jointly address the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 energy strategy.
In particular, large-scale PV deployment and PV stability - an important topic for the Kingdom given its particular environment (illumination, temperature, and dust) - were featured. The conference also counted with the participation of delegates from the Ministry of Energy, KACST, ACWA Power, KA-Care, KFUPM, REPDO, University of Jeddah, Taibah University, and King Abdulaziz University.
Offering industry and external institutional collaborators the opportunity to develop and test their technologies is also a service KAUST provides. Supporting clean and renewable energy R&D, the Nanofabrication and Prototyping and Product Development (PCL) Core Labs offer paid services that encompass full services or independent use, upon training completion. At The Nanofabrication Core Lab users can characterize and fabricate anything from solar cells to flexible electronics, while the New Energy Oasis Park (part of the PCL) offers users the opportunity to test renewable energy technologies in real-world conditions.
PCL's New Energy Oasis Park at KAUST, featuring several systems being tested by industry collaborators
KAUST also offers Industry partners the chance of using KAUST technological expertise through official collaborations. One successful example was the partnership with Saudi Electricity Company (SEC) for energy efficiency assessment. Through a collaboration with KAUST's Visualization Core Lab (VCL), machine learning models to predict customer electricity consumption patterns were created, aiming to prevent energy fraud, waste, and abuse in the Saudi power sector. The preliminary results presented in 2019 showed that KAUST's machine learning models successfully identified anomalous electricity consumption patterns over 70 percent of the time when compared with an expected 3 percent success rate from randomly surveying customers. That optimization translated to a potential recovery of 73,000,000 SAR in company revenue, as well as in an optimization of the grid, resulting in less energy waste and more energy savings.
Policy development and advocacy for clean energy technologies
Reports to THE Impact Ranking indicator 7.4.4
KAUST is actively involved with the government of Saudi Arabia and routinely contributes to supporting decision-makers in several important topics, some of them on the Energy and Climate front.
KAUST President Tony Chan speaks during a session as part of the World Economic Forum’s Meeting of the New Champions in Dalian, China. Image courtesy of World Economic Forum
As part of the 2019 World Economic Forum's Meeting of the New Champions, KAUST president inaugurated the IdeasLab session titled "Fast-Tracking Green Technology," which featured innovative work from KAUST researchers on green technologies such as carbon sequestration and solar technologies.
In 2020, the Kingdom hosted the G20 Leader's Summit and KAUST contributed towards the summit from its genesis by collaborating with the Saudi Ministry of Energy and the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture in developing concepts for the G20 programs. In the event, KAUST experts contributed to one of the three main aims of the summit, Safeguarding the Planet, by being part of the working groups that tackled Energy Sustainability and Climate Stewardship.
From these working groups, seven priority areas were established, and KAUST led (and co-led) four of them: Cleaner Energy Systems for a New Era, Managing Emissions - Implementing the Circular Carbon Economy, Adaptation - Contribution to Global Solutions and Holistic Approach to Sustainable Mobility.
KAUST was also part of the Steering Committee of the Science 20 (S20) Summit, which gathered 19 national science academies and scientific institutions from the G20 countries, with the aim of presenting policymakers with consensus-based recommendations. As a result of the summit, 10 policy recommendations developed by 180 scientists and experts (including KAUST experts) were endorsed by all G20 academies of Science. Particularly for clean energy, 2 policies were elaborated:
  • Promote circular design of materials and energy systems through advancing the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) plus Renewables aimed at net-zero carbon emission;
  • Improve the sustainability of the digital infrastructure, including end-user devices, and improve opportunities for smart city technologies to contribute towards a cleaner environment.
Circular Carbon Economy diagram contemplating products, energy and CO2 emissions (Source: Saudi Arabia S20 Information Session-Agenda)
Investing in low-carbon innovation
Reports to THE Impact Ranking indicator 7.4.5
Through the KAUST Innovation department, the university supports and funds several startups that either possess low-carbon emitting technologies or contribute towards a low-carbon economy. Several funding opportunities are available to entrepreneurs, one of the most prominent being TAQADAM, a sponsored startup accelerator program delivered by KAUST that funds innovative business ideas and helps participants execute their business models, deliver valuable products or services, and create local jobs.
The startups also benefit from continuous support from KAUST Innovation after they get their initial funding. The entrepreneurs benefit from logistical, strategic, and financial mentorship while developing their businesses and also have direct access to KAUST's industrial partners and collaborators. There are several success cases in low-carbon innovation in the KAUST start-up portfolio.
One prominent example is the success of Red Sea Farms. The Red Sea Farms uses innovative technologies to perform high-quality agriculture using saltwater. The agri-tech company uses a combination of salt-tolerant selected plants and greenhouse cooling technologies that generate nutritious produce in freshwater-scarce environments. At their refitted greenhouse, 80% to 90% of freshwater is substituted with saltwater, reducing freshwater and energy requirements tenfold compared to conventional techniques.
KAUST Professor Mark Tester and Dr. Ryan Lefers, founders of Red Sea Farms
KAUST startup Red Sea Farms featured in regional news outlet Arab News (2020)
As most freshwater in the region arises from fossil fuel-based desalination, the energy savings also equate to lower carbon emissions. The company's success as recently culminated in the launch of a 2000 sqm saltwater greenhouse pilot facility, based at the KAUST Research & Technology Park (KRTP).
Another example of a KAUST startup successfully targeting a low-emission future is Iyris. The startup produces transparent solar photovoltaics (PV) that can be incorporated in buildings and greenhouses in order to generate electricity, transforming glass windows into solar cells. The technology can block the heat and be used as a power source, contributing to both energy savings and emission-free energy generation.
KAUST startup Iyris featured in the regional news outlet Arab News (2019)
KAUST Prof. Derya Baran, co-founder of Iyris, with the company's transparent photovoltaics, ready to be integrated into future buildings
Setting itself apart from its competitors, who produce PVs that are opaque, Iyris' transparent solar technology can also be built into a building's envelope, considerably cutting installation costs. The company's team is in the process of testing and optimizing its technology to be suitable for Saudi Arabia and the GCC regions.