RMI Report Highlights Opportunities for More Effective Building Energy Modeling

Building energy modeling has enjoyed a steep adoption and market uptake curve in the last decade.

However, the two biggest drivers of today’s modeling demand—building owners’ need to comply with regulations and codes, and desire to comply with voluntary programs like LEED and tax and utility incentives—do not necessarily best support the objective of widespread low-energy building design and operation.

And, while professional organizations, national labs, and even private consulting firms have all made great contributions to the field of energy modeling, many opportunities still exist to increase the effectiveness of modeling.

“What we’re really trying to do is get energy modeling used early,” says Erik Kolderup of Kolderup Consulting. “Performance requirements, asset rating requirements, absolute energy standards…will start getting people thinking about this earlier.”

The need to identify best practices and deliver quality tools for performing in-depth performance analysis has never been greater. Rocky Mountain Institute’s new report, “Collaborate and Capitalize: Post-Report from the BEM Innovation Summit” takes a first step to outline opportunities to advance the future of energy modeling and increase collaboration in the building energy modeling community. (Note: While the content presented in this report was developed in a collaborative consensus process, it does not imply an endorsement of all statements and proposed solutions by each attendee or partnering organization.)

The report’s recommendations are an outcome of RMI’s March 2011 Building Energy Modeling Innovation Summit, which convened key stakeholders in the building energy modeling industry to develop a coordinated workplan addressing the barriers currently hindering widespread solutions for low-energy buildings with reduced electric demand. This summit was developed in partnership with the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers, the U. S regional affiliate of the International Building Performance Simulation Association, the U.S. Green Building Council, and the Institute for Market Transformation.

Barriers include:

  • Lack of credibility: Customers (of energy modeling services) and other stakeholders do not have confidence in energy modeling results.
  • Limited time for critical thinking: Currently, practitioners do not spend the majority of their time on critical thinking and informing design.
  • Need for more experienced and skilled practitioners: A limited number of energy modelers possess sufficient skills and experience.
  • Low market demand: The demand for and value of energy modeling services could be much higher.

The report outlines several recommendations to develop cost-effective and high-quality building energy analysis that can result in deep energy savings, and identifies critical industry needs across:

  • Methods and processes
  • Simulation engines and platforms
  • Support and resources for practitioners
  • Education, training and certification
  • Market drivers and customer demand

The report specifically highlights that customer awareness and education in the advancement of building energy modeling is critical, and that key opportunities exist to clearly communicate the value proposition for building energy modeling in a variety of applications. 

Reliable and consistent whole-building energy analysis is key to achieving increasingly aggressive performance targets in the building sector, and to motivating building owners to invest in energy efficiency.

RMI is addressing this need with a three-pronged approach:

"Energy modeling should be so easy, accurate and trustworthy,” says John Bacus of Google’s Sketchup, “that you do it both early and often during the design process."

Read the full report