Penn State, Carnegie Mellon announce partnership to advance integration of energy systems and buildings for sustainability

Collaboration will promote research at the interface between the energy grid and the built environment.


PITTSBURGH, PA  – Penn State and Carnegie Mellon today announced formation of a Sustainable Energy Partnership, a collaboration intended to promote research addressing the essential interdependence between the energy grid and the built environment. The two universities said they will work together to conduct research at the interface between the electricity grid and the buildings that consume 70 percent of the power the grid provides, with a view to atmospheric decarbonization and improving the global quality of life.


“The global energy regime is approaching a critical moment,” said Justin Schwartz, interim executive vice president and provost at Penn State. “The confluence of a changing climate, stressed geopolitics, and a lowered quality of life for many around the world requires a new approach to energy and the built environment. Our collaboration with Carnegie Mellon will explore how that new approach might be achieved.”


Achieving sustainability goals, Schwartz said, requires decarbonization of both buildings and the grid. “However, optimizing either one alone runs the risk of sub-optimizing the whole. The grid and buildings need therefore to be treated as a single integrated system.”


The partnership with Carnegie Mellon, he said, is intended to develop a holistic and integrated approach to the interactions between buildings and the power grid through systems science and engineering, grid architecture, digitalization and advanced controls, and building design.


Jim Garrett, provost of Carnegie Mellon, said, “The vision of this collaboration is of a world in which improving quality of life at the community level is enabled by integrated coordination of building systems, electrical systems, and the surrounding human ecosystem, and global humanity.”

The inaugural leadership committee for the collaboration comprises:

  • Burcu Akinci, Paul Christiano Professor and Department Head, Civil and Environmental Engineering at Carnegie Mellon
  • Sez Atamturktur Russcher, Harry and Arlene Schell Professor and Head of the Department of Architectural Engineering at Penn State
  • Vivian Loftness, FAIA, LEED AP, CPHC, Design Futures, NIBS Fellow, University Professor, Paul Mellon Chair at Carnegie Mellon, and
  • Wangda Zuo, Professor of Architectural Engineering and Associate Director for Research of Global Building Network at Penn State

The first tasks of the Partnership will be to outline the scope of the issues involved, set research priorities, expand its membership internationally to help ensure a global perspective, and secure funding.


Penn State and Carnegie Mellon are collaborating with the United Nations to advance the buildings’ agenda. This Partnership will support the UN Environment Programme’s Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction as it supports countries’ efforts on a breakthrough target for buildings. The two universities  work on the UN’s High-Performance Building Initiative (HPBI) launched at United Nations Economic Commission for Europein support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Penn State launched ed the Global Building Network in 2018 in support of the HPBI and Carnegie Mellon provides leadership to the HPBI’s High Level Strategy Group.