A Guide to Energy Master Planning of High-Performance Districts and Communities

Shanti Pless, Ben Polly, Sammy Houssainy, Paul Torcellini, William Livingood, Sarah Zaleski, Matt Jungclaus, Tom Hootman, Mindy Craig

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


This guide was developed with partners throughout the United States to demonstrate how implementing district-scale high-performance strategies can be successful and scalable approaches to achieving deep energy savings that increase affordability, improve resilience, reduce emissions, and foster economic development. This document serves as a framework for districts, campuses, and communities, illustrating an iterative process of building support for, planning, and implementing high-performance districts by engaging stakeholders, setting aggressive energy goals, completing technical and financial planning, and implementing a high-performance energy master plan. The information in this guide is based on a 3-year U.S. Department of Energy Zero Energy District Accelerator and a range of real-world examples of emerging high-performance districts. It is particularly useful for architects, planners, engineers, local government agencies, and real estate developers in the early phases of planning a district with high-performance or other deep energy goals. For the purposes of this guide, a high-performance district is a multibuilding development that achieves aggressive energy and related goals such as zero energy, carbon neutrality, sustainability, ultra-efficiency, etc. High-performance districts optimize energy efficiency to reduce energy loads and use renewable energy resources to meet the remaining loads whenever possible. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 defines a high-performance building as “a building that integrates and optimizes on a life cycle basis all major high-performance attributes, including energy conservation, environment, safety, security, durability, accessibility, cost-benefit, productivity, sustainability, functionality, and operational considerations.”2 High-performance districts are collections of such buildings that take advantage of the synergies available when energy consumption and production are considered at a district level rather than one building at a time.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages146
StatePublished - 2020

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5500-78495


  • buildings
  • community energy planning
  • district energy
  • high performance districts
  • URBANopt
  • zero energy


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