Making shopping centres beacons of energy efficiency Shopping centres from Italy to Norway have undergone radical retrofitting as part of an EU-funded project seeking to re-conceptualise commercial buildings as lighthouses of energy-efficient architectures and systems.
Image of the interior of the modern building, blurred shopping mall background

© Ulia Koltyrina -

The thousands of shopping centres, malls and covered markets dotting the European urban landscape are hubs of economic, commercial and social activity which make a substantial impact on surrounding areas and communities. Typically, they also have a significant impact on the environment, especially through high electricity consumption for lighting, climate control and other energy-hungry systems.

The EU-funded COMMONENERGY project sought to make shopping centres both consumer and environmentally friendly by implementing novel design solutions and innovative technologies that can turn commercial buildings into leading examples of urban energy conservation.

“The majority of European shopping centres are already built, but there is still huge potential for energy savings through regular retrofitting and restyling, with around 4 % of malls undergoing renovation work each year. These upgrades offer regular opportunities to improve the overall energy efficiency and sustainability of malls across Europe,” says project coordinator Roberto Lollini at Eurac Research in Italy.

The COMMONENERGY partners implemented numerous distinct technologies, systems and applications capable of reducing shopping centre energy consumption by as much as 75 %. The cost of retrofitting should be recovered in just seven years, and the mall environment enhanced for both retailers and consumers.

Shopping around for benefits

The extensive benefits of the project’s sustainability-focused retrofitting approach are on display in demonstration buildings that have been comprehensively renovated with guidance from the COMMONENERGY partners. These include the Mercado del Val covered market in Valladolid, Spain; the CitySyd mall in Trondheim, Norway; and the Modena Canaletto shopping centre in Modena, Italy.

The buildings all underwent deep retrofitting, affecting many aspects of their internal and external architecture and systems. Innovations included the application of a multifunctional climate-adaptive façade system, multi-purpose coatings and insulation, as well as potential applications for the strategic integration of vegetation to reduce heating and cooling demand.

The project also applied smart natural ventilation and cooling to reduce the use of energy-intensive climate-control systems, and incorporated geothermal heat pumps and heat-recovery technologies to reuse waste heat.

In addition, lighting systems were thoroughly revised, enabling a greater use of natural light through windows, skylights and solar tubes, while electrical fixtures were changed to smarter, energy-efficient solutions with ambient effects for different uses.

The retrofitting projects also sought to make shopping centres hubs for renewable energy generation, incorporating solar collectors, photovoltaic panels and innovative battery systems to help meet the building’s energy needs as well as to power electric-vehicle charging stations.

The numerous different technologies are integrated into an intelligent building energy management system, an advanced IT platform and a building-monitoring solution. This enables fine-tuned control of all systems to reduce energy consumption and operational costs, enhance the comfort of building users, and refine aesthetic features to create optimal retail and leisure environments.

“To counteract the growth of e-commerce, shopping centres need excellent architecture to attract clients, and high-quality indoor environments provided by efficient climate-control and lighting systems – using renewable sources as much as possible,” according to Lollini.

A lean construction management method has also been developed for planning and overseeing the deep retrofitting of shopping malls to reduce construction time and costs. Simulation software, comprehensive best-practice guidelines, and a library of technologies and solutions compiled by the project will provide future insights to help building designers, owners and managers draw up retrofitting projects for shopping malls and similar structures. “Increasing consumer awareness has been one of the project’s key targets. We would like to trigger a domino effect to enhance the energy-efficient renovation of many types of commercial buildings across Europe,” Lollini says.

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