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Building Energy Simulation – Strategic Applications

Buildings 12 February 2013 | 10.00am

We’ve reached a point where building energy simulation is relatively straightforward; sometimes we get challenged by the sheer scale and complexity of large-scale developments, and occasionally by the physics of new materials, but by and large, the simulation process is well understood and well validated. Consequently, we are now looking for ways to use building energy simulation to inform decision making at a more strategic level, either for individual buildings or across precincts and cities. We’ve started developing software applications that are tailored to this set of problems and which are customised to the specific needs of each client.

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One of our recent projects was for PG&E Company [1], who needed a way to determine which building efficiency measures would be most effective in reducing the state’s energy consumption and peak demand and help them progress towards zero net energy, one of their strategic goals. We created a stand-alone application that would work on their own computers; allowing them to select from a wide range of building types and climate zones, and to then use slider bars to adjust the building design. The prediction updates in just a few seconds even though the model is a full annual energy calculation that accounts for all building envelope effects, HVAC performance and control. We may have sacrificed a bit in terms of accuracy, possibly up to 5% compared to a full model, but we’ve gained the ability to make real-time calculations, which is crucially important.

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To achieve this we’re really pulling out all the toys in the box and being creative with how it all sticks together. Energy Plus is our simulation workhorse of choice; it’s totally transparent and easily automated, runs on our Linux cluster and generates text outputs that we easily manipulate. We use a range of programming tools including Matlab, Perl, Python and JavaScript to do the organising and yet more number crunching – horses for courses here – whatever is best suited to the project. And we’re developing user interfaces using Unity, .NET Framework, HTML, iOS and others.

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We anticipate opportunities to work across a wide range of scales from individual buildings all the way up to cities and regions. The applications we’re creating can help building owners and portfolio managers find the most effective way to improve building performance, either in terms of dollars, stars or emissions using tools that are more interactive, intuitive, and properly suited to their day-to-day operations and decision making processes.

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[1] The Technical Feasibility of Zero Net Energy Buildings in California

Jon Morgan

Melbourne, Australia

“I have always wanted to explore the principles behind the way things work. I began in automotive and aerospace engineering but my work is now in architecture and the design of buildings and urban systems. I’ve always looked for ways to disassemble and re-connect stuff, anything from the purely physical (like push-bikes and computer programs) through to the theoretical (like ideas about economics, people and cities).”

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