A new software effort underway at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) aims to make it quicker, easier and cheaper to model energy use of buildings. ORNL building researchers are developing software that will automatically calibrate models for simulating building energy use, thereby promoting greener design of residential and commercial buildings.
The new “Autotune” calibration software falls under the domain of Building Energy Modeling (BEM), which uses computer simulations to estimate energy use and inform smarter decision-making in both new and existing buildings. With up to 3,000 parameters affecting a building’s energy use profile, BEM allows engineering firms to optimize these variables in order to meet the needs of tenants and occupants while conserving energy.
“When modeling a building, you might be simulating for total energy saved after implementing new features. Or you may be optimizing for utility cost savings, or limiting electricity use during peak load periods, or other desired results,” said Jibonananda Sanyal of the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Building Technologies Research and Integration Center, a DOE user facility.
As this feature piece on the ORNL website makes clear, there is reason to support greater adoption of energy-smart building technology. Consider that in 2010, building owners spent $431 billion on energy and buildings in the United States consumed 41 percent of the nation’s total energy and were responsible for 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. It stands to reason that focusing energy conservation efforts on this space could have a huge impact.
Developed by ORNL buildings researchers Sanyal and Joshua New, the Autotune calibration software reduces the amount of time and expertise needed to optimize building parameters for cost and energy savings. The software addresses one of the biggest barriers to greener building design or retrofitting, the labor cost.
“The Autotune methodology uses multiparameter optimization techniques, in combination with big data mining-informed artificial intelligence agents, to automatically modify software inputs so simulation output matches measured data,” New said.
“Instead of having a human change the knobs, so to speak, the Autotune methodology does that for you,” Sanyal added.
The team designed the software using EnergyPlus, the DOE’s flagship whole-building energy simulation tool, and DOE supercomputing resources, including ORNL’s Titan supercomputer and the National Institute for Computational Sciences’ Nautilus system. They harnessed over a third of Titan’s nearly 300,000 CPU cores in parallel to carry out annual energy simulations for more than half a million buildings in less than one hour.
Currently, Autotune is available as a Web services to a select set of beta testers. The design team is working with universities and industry to build awareness in preparation for the public release, which is scheduled for September 2015.