A Universe of (Good) Data At Your Fingertips

Note: This post is intended to give a “inside look” at a breakout group session at the BEM Innovation Summit. The ideas expressed were part of an open brainstorm, and do not reflect commitments, or final summit findings.

Building energy modelers want, and need a universe of useful data.

Observing the BEM Summits “Support and Resources” breakout group (which focused on the question, “what tools does an energy modeler need when they sit down to model?”), this point was abundantly clear.

“Right now, if you asked ten different modelers to model the same building, you will get ten different models,” said group moderator Caroline Fluhrer. “Reaching a level of greater consistency and accuracy depends upon quality input.”

When you have divergent, conflicting sources—or worse yet, inaccurate numbers— how do modelers ensure they are accurately reflecting a buildings energy use?

Tasked with brainstorming tool ideas, the group began by rallying behind short-term industry needs: Capture existing data, gather additional data that fills in identified gaps, and define a method for quality control.

Capturing Existing Data

“Organizing existing data sources to inform energy modeling is a low hanging fruit,” said Chip Barnaby of ASHRAE. “Capturing good resources that exist now requires few resources.”

D.J. Hubler of Johnson Controls (and formerly of RMI) also proposed that data collected from building retrofits, audits and existing building management systems can potentially inform modelers working on new buildings.

A giant database of existing information that can help you design and operate similar buildings in the future is entirely achievable.

Yet a barrier remains: what organization is in the best position to provide a publically accessible database?

Filling in the Gaps

If there were a format and repository for good data, would people use it?

One possible incentive discussed during the breakout pointed to USGBC’s LEED rating system, which assigns points to information sharing.

Another option: leverage code compliance.

“Building data collection and sharing into the permitting process and requiring it for a building to be code compliant could drive this forward,” said Gail Hampsmire of Green Buildings Certification Institute.

Quality Control

A standard process, a common format for input verification, and a characterization of the quality of the input (in whatever form), can ensure that data is not only credible but is at the level of detail that is useful to modelers.

Over the long term, the industry may like to see real-time energy simulation and data transfer (perhaps through smart metering and smart grid technologies) from a building, directly into a shared, open database.

A distinction was made between the need for a database versus a knowledgebase that taps into the collective knowledge of the energy modeling industry. While this clever verbiage solicited “oohs and ahs” from the group, they all agreed that existing tools, like IBPSA’s BEM Book Wiki could be advanced to quickly to meet this need.

“We need to make sure the tool supports the process correctly,” said Alan Daly of Taylor Engineering, LLC. “Ultimately we want information that is more transparent, more believable and saves time.”