Is Predicting Energy Efficiency Performance a Gamble?

Live from BEM Innovation Summit –

Vegas could make a killing collecting bets on potential building energy performance —some might say you have as good a chance picking next year’s Super Bowl winner.

Yet, building energy modelers are tasked with the challenge of predicting building energy use before a building is even designed, or before they know how the building will be used and operated.

Think about the sticker on a new car showing mpg. Will you consistently drive that car in a manner that meets the standard? Building energy performance, like fuel economy, is an assumption based on a number of variables that can change depending on how the building operates over time.

There’s just one problem: Most don’t operate a building based on a model.

Building energy modeling, said one attendee of RMI’s Building Energy Modeling Innovation Summit today, falls short in the way results are translated to the market. There is an implication of performance certainty that is not supported by knowledge about how the building is used.

“We need to close the gap,” said ASHRAE’s Chris Wilkins. “There’s a technical gap between what energy modeling tools can do and what’s required for simulation. And there’s a marketplace gap between expectations and how much time energy modeling takes, how much money it costs.”

Most important, he continued, is the gap between the accuracy of the results and the actual building performance.

Managing Expectations

To a client, it can be frustrating if projected costs and energy savings in a building don’t add up. However, very few understand the benefits of having an energy modeler involved through the entire design process, from concept to implementation.

Attendees agreed that energy modeling is often done after the fact, many times just to answer certain questions or “check a box”—to meet LEED certification, code requirements or disclosure stipulations. The goal is to make modeling a valuable step in the design process to ensure the right questions are asked from the beginning.

For energy modeling to help people make good decisions about energy efficiency in new construction and existing buildings, it has to be part of an integrative design process. But the industry faces multiple barriers to assuming a more prominent role.

During this first day of the Summit, participants were assigned to breakout groups to dive deep into industry barriers related to energy modeling support and resources, methods and processes, market drivers and customer demand, simulation engines and platforms, and education, training and certification.

By identifying key barriers in these areas, Summit participants set the tone for Day 2, where breakout groups will direct discussion toward solutions and implementation.

In her opening remarks, ASHRAE President Lynn G. Bellenger summed up the importance of the event and the task that attendees have before them. “This is going to be a game changing event that will set the standard for the industry.”

Follow developments from Day two live here at the RMI Outlet, or via Twitter (#BEMsummit) and Facebook.