Buildings, especially contemporary buildings, are designed with energy use in mind. Attributes like thermal insulation, built-in appliances, and building positioning are all taken into account in order to make the building more efficient. However, these measures may be rendered obsolete with changes in use patterns, the roll-out of more energy-efficient fixtures, or even simple wear and tear over time. It’s likely that a given building, no matter its age, could benefit from energy modeling services.
Energy modeling refers to the process of creating a 3D digital model of a building and/or its systems, in order to make use of the increased processing power and decreased measurement time that can be exacted upon a digital model versus a physical object. Most often, this term is used to refer to the modeling of the entire building and its systems, such as HVAC and insulation. As stated by the US Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “[w]hole-Building Energy Modeling (BEM) is a versatile, multipurpose tool that is used in new building and retrofit design, code compliance, green certification, qualification for tax credits and utility incentives, and real-time building control.”1 As stated here, there can be many motivations for energy modeling, as it yields benefits financially, environmentally, and within the realm of urban planning.
Energy modeling can be sponsored in a variety of ways. Some homeowners or property managers may find it to be a worthy investment to hire a private consulting firm to perform energy modeling, as this can decrease unnecessary recurring costs and make a home more desirable to future buyers. Some utility companies offer this service to industrial or residential clients as a courtesy or to decrease their load during peak hours. Finally, some governmental and non-profit agencies offer the service, often with specific goals such as environmental mitigation.
The process of energy modeling is simple. A provider will review the design documents of the building and the specifications of most appliances contained therein. Often, the review period will also include an in-person walkthrough, to note any anomalies, gather information that is lacking in the documentation, and enquire about use patterns of the residents. Then, a specialist will create a 3-dimensional model of all of the energy-related components within the scope of the service. They will look for areas of decreased efficiency, such as ducts that are the wrong size for the task at hand. Problems may arise from poor planning of the building and its systems, or from improved industry standards since the time of construction or installation. Finally, the provider will deliver a report to the client with ranked recommendations for increased energy efficiency. The options are ranked in order of their impact, as the client will likely not be able to complete all of them, or not all immediately. The client is expected to prioritize based on available liquid funds and payback periods of the proposed improvements, as well as any subsidy programs available to incentivize these changes.
Energy modeling can be a valuable tool in the increasingly digital arsenal of HVAC and building optimization. The right provider can increase cost savings while helping building owners be more sustainable.