Lean, mean and green

Heating, cooling and powering the 2012 Olympics in a sustainable way

By Morand Fachot

Some modern Olympic Games have been branded as extravagant and a waste of public money. Installations are costly and facilities in service for only a short period during the event – but are unsuitable for later use by the general public. Mindful of this, the London 2012 organizers placed sustainability firmly at the core of this year's Olympics. The provision of heating, cooling and power in a sustainable way is at the very centre of this effort and should ensure a positive legacy long after the Games are over. Many IEC TCs (Technical Committees) and SCs (Subcommittees) prepare International Standards for components and systems that are being installed on the Olympic Park.

Cutaway view of the Energy Centre (Photo: London 2012) Cutaway view of the Energy Centre (Photo: London 2012)

Early green commitment

When bidding to host the Games the LOCOG (London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) made a commitment to meet 20% of the Olympic Park electricity requirements with new local renewable energy sources. These include advanced waste-to-energy technologies, PV (photovoltaic) panels, small scale wind turbines, bio-diesel generators and micro-co-generation for public lighting, venues, accommodation and electric vehicle power. All additional site electricity demand is to be met with off-site renewables, supplied by wind farms and marine current turbines.

Three IEC TCs prepare International Standards for renewable energy sources proposed for the 2012 Games. They are TC 82: Solar photovoltaic energy systems, TC 88: Wind turbines andTC 114: Marine energy – Wave, tidal and other water current converters.

The commitment to renewable sources was restated in the London 2012 Sustainability Plan. Furthermore, the ODA (Olympic Delivery Authority) set an overall target of cutting carbon emissions by 50% across the Olympic Park, in comparison with schemes constructed and operated using more conventional means. To achieve this it adopted a 'Lean, Mean, Green' approach:

  • Lean – minimizing energy demand by building energy-efficient venues
  • Mean – supplying heat, cooling and power from on-site energy centres, further reducing their carbon emissions
  • Green – generating heat and power from renewable sources.

The right mean and green tools

To provide heat, cooling and power on site, the organizers chose to build two flexible modular energy centres at Kings Yard (Olympic Park) and Stratford City. Each is equipped with a natural gas-fired CCHP (combined cooling, heat and power) unit and bio-mass fired boilers.

Using zero carbon renewable energy sources such as biomass will provide savings in carbon emissions of more than 1 000 tonnes per year in comparison with schemes employing fossil fuels. CHP (combined heat and power) plants are up to 30% more energy efficient than those using traditional means of generation. Basic demand for heat during winters will be met through the bio-boilers that burn sustainable biomass such as woodchips and pulp.

IEC TC 5: Steam turbines, has been asked by the SMB (Standardization Management Board) to carry out a study of standardization needs for CHP. The energy centres have a flexible modular design that will avoid overcapacity in the first phase of development but allow future technologies to be incorporated in the buildings as they are developed and as demand grows after 2012. They will provide an efficient, low-carbon heating and cooling system across the site for the Games and for the new community and housing projects that will be developed after 2012. Between them the two centres currently produce 92,7 MW of heating, 55 MW of cooling and 10 MW of electrical power. Eventually they will be able to supply a total of 194,9 MW of heating, 64 MW of cooling and 30 MW of electrical power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses.

The centres are interconnected and electrical power is distributed by 200 km of underground cables running through two 6 km tunnels. This underground network has replaced 52 pylons and 130 km of overhead cables.

IEC TC 20 prepares International Standards for electric cables.

A primary electrical substation forms the central part of the utilities network. It takes power from the upstream 132 kV electrical network outside the Park, 'stepping it down' to 11 kV to supply venues and buildings across the Olympic Park and Stratford City. Each 132/11 kV transformer is supported by 11 000 items of switchgear and auxiliary equipment.

Standardization for power transformers is the task of IEC TC 14, whilst TC 17 and its SCs prepare International Standards for high- and low-voltage switchgear and controlgear and associated assemblies.

Energy-efficient designs

To minimize primary energy use, both centres exploit recovered waste heat for their operation. They use energy-efficient systems and mechanisms to reduce the costs of heat supply. Ammonia-based chillers and electrical and absorption chillers enable the centres to meet the demand for cooling, while the site-wide heat network generates hot water and heats the Aquatics Centre swimming pools and other venues and buildings.

The roof of the Olympic Park Copper Box, the venue for various events, is fitted with 88 light pipes that allow natural light inside, reducing the demand for electric lights and achieving annual energy savings of up to 40% in comparison with a more conventional structure.


As with any major project, some adjustments were required late on in the process. As time constraints caused the installation of the preferred wind turbine system to be abandoned, the ODA had to revise down its target for cutting carbon emissions, from 50% to 43%. However, energy efficiency schemes in boroughs surrounding the Park have been introduced to make up for the shortfall and some small renewable sources, such as PV panels on the Media Centre and its car park and some micro wind turbines, have been added. Further efforts will also be made to deliver additional carbon savings by reducing electricity consumption during the Games.

Electrical installations at the core

Power generation and distribution are essential for the Olympic and Paralympic Games and will provide a beneficial legacy for the local communities. They are just two of the countless electrical systems deployed during the event that rely on IEC International Standards for proper and safe operation. A successful, lean, mean and green London 2012 implies an IEC success – albeit a discreet one.

Cutaway view of the Energy Centre (Photo: London 2012) Cutaway view of the Energy Centre (Photo: London 2012)
Olympic Aquatics Centre (Photo: London 2012) Olympic Aquatics Centre (Photo: London 2012)
Copper Box, the venue for many competitions (Photo: London 2012) Copper Box, the venue for many competitions (Photo: London 2012)