Contributors: Santiago Rodriguez and Lindsey Olsen

Energy modeling can be a powerful tool in balancing economic viability and environmental responsibility. This article delves into the myriad advantages of energy modeling, exploring its pivotal role in constructing buildings that are not only cost-effective but also environmentally sustainable. From significant cost savings and performance optimization, to increased occupant comfort, to ensuring regulatory compliance, energy modeling empowers clients to make informed, data-driven decisions.

What is energy modeling?

Energy modeling is a technique utilizing advanced software that provides a virtual representation of a building system to assess its energy performance. It allows architects and engineers to foresee via simulation how a structure will interact with its environment, anticipate energy consumption, and optimize components for efficiency.

This simulation encompasses a range of factors, from the physical attributes of the building envelope to operational dynamics, providing a holistic view of building energy performance. Energy modeling serves as a predictive engine, offering insights into how a project will interact with its surroundings and consume energy throughout its lifecycle.

For engineers familiar with the intricacies of design and construction, energy modeling introduces a nuanced layer of analysis. It involves a meticulous examination of variables such as building orientation, materials, insulation, lighting systems, HVAC systems, and even the integration of renewable energy sources. This multifaceted approach enables professionals to make informed decisions, optimizing the energy efficiency of a building from its initial concept to its operational phase.

Economic sustainability: cost savings beyond the traditional framework

Energy modeling offers tangible benefits to the bottom line. By simulating a building’s energy usage, project teams can identify areas of inefficiency and implement changes that result in substantial cost savings. Tweaking insulation, optimizing HVAC systems and lighting controls, or integrating renewable energy sources can significantly reduce energy bills over a building’s lifespan.

Beyond direct energy savings, accurate energy modeling informs decisions on materials and construction methods, contributing to long-term economic sustainability. This proactive approach not only positively impacts the bottom line over time, but also elevates the economic resilience of projects, making energy modeling a linchpin in the pursuit of both financial and environmental success.

By simulating different scenarios, architects and engineers can fine-tune a building’s design for optimal performance. Adjusting the orientation, optimizing window placement, or incorporating smart technologies can significantly enhance a building’s functionality. Predictive analysis through energy modeling allows teams to anticipate how a building will respond to changing external conditions, ensuring efficient operation in various climates and seasons. This not only improves the building’s overall functionality but also contributes to the longevity of its systems.

Navigating efficiency and compliance

Navigating complex building codes and regulations is a challenge for any construction project—even more so with increasing energy compliance requirements across both federal and municipal projects in  North America. Energy modeling emerges as a crucial ally, ensuring that designs align with the latest energy efficiency standards and environmental guidelines.

By incorporating energy modeling from the early stages of the design process, professionals can identify and rectify potential compliance issues before construction begins. This proactive approach not only saves time and resources but also safeguards against costly revisions and legal hurdles down the road.

However, even when not engaged from the outset, energy modeling applied at later stages still yields valuable insights and advantages for projects:

  • Retrofit identification. Energy modeling serves as a powerful tool for pinpointing retrofit opportunities in existing buildings. By simulating energy performance post-construction, professionals can identify areas of inefficiency, such as outdated HVAC systems or energy-intensive components that can be upgraded for enhanced performance.
  • Operational efficiency optimization. For buildings already in use, energy modeling can optimize operational efficiency. By simulating different scenarios, professionals can identify ways to improve energy consumption, adjusting scheduling, optimizing lighting, or incorporating energy-efficient technologies for reduced operational costs.
  • Adaptation to changing regulations. Engaging energy modeling later in the project ensures continued compliance with evolving building codes and energy efficiency standards. Assessing the existing buildings against current regulations helps identify areas needing updates, avoiding legal issues and ensuring project longevity.
  • Optimization for changing needs. Energy modeling helps optimize buildings for changing needs, accommodating shifts in occupancy patterns, modifications in space utilization, or the incorporation of new technologies with a focus on energy efficiency.
  • Quantifying return on investment (ROI). Incorporating energy modeling for existing projects allows stakeholders to quantify the ROI for potential upgrades. By simulating the impact of proposed changes, decision-makers can assess upfront costs, long-term savings, and environmental benefits, facilitating informed decision-making.
Salas O’Brien provided energy modeling for 712 West Peachtree and the Anthem Technology Center.

Increasing asset value: sustainability as an investment

Sustainability is a selling point. Buildings with high energy efficiency ratings not only attract environmentally conscious tenants but also enjoy increased asset value. Energy modeling provides tangible evidence of a building’s green credentials, giving it a competitive edge in the market.

Investors and developers recognize the long-term benefits of constructing sustainable buildings. The enhanced marketability and higher resale value make energy-efficient designs a strategic investment, aligning financial interests with environmental responsibility.

In the pursuit of forward-thinking projects, energy modeling plays a crucial role. It enables the prediction of future energy usage, guiding decisions related to upgrades, decarbonization initiatives, and system enhancements. This adaptability makes it a valuable tool for a range of projects, from LEED certification requirements to assessing carbon impacts and conducting scenario analysis.

Improved occupant comfort: a win-win proposition

Beyond numbers and regulations, energy modeling directly impacts those who inhabit the spaces we create. An energy-efficient building isn’t just about saving money and reducing environmental impact; it’s about creating a comfortable and healthy environment for occupants.

Through advanced simulations, designers can optimize natural lighting, control indoor temperatures, and ensure proper ventilation. This results in spaces that are not only energy-efficient but also pleasant to live and work in. Improved indoor air quality and a well-balanced thermal environment contribute to occupant well-being, creating a win-win proposition for both inhabitants and the environment.

Energy modeling in action: a practical perspective

A recent Salas O’Brien project at Princeton University exemplifies the practical applications of energy modeling. The project scope utilized energy modeling in its analysis of infrastructure; university energy, economic, and environmental impact policies; and predictive modeling to establish a basis for infrastructure conversion and expansion projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Faced with a complex transition involving new buildings, a shift from steam to hot water systems, and an overall increase in square footage, the project team utilized advanced programs for detailed modeling. These measures will substantially advance Princeton toward its 2046 carbon neutrality target date, coinciding with the school’s 300th anniversary.

Another complex project that relied significantly on energy modeling was a new 225,000 SF service center for a Confidential Aerospace Client in Mesa, Arizona. The space comprises a $100M+ investment and significantly expands the client’s maintenance, repair, and overhaul capabilities in the Western United States. For this project team, energy modeling went hand-in-hand with enhanced commissioning to ensure the project could achieve the owner’s LEED certification goals.

Alongside these success stories, it’s crucial to recognize the inherent lack of total certainty in energy modeling. As a tool, energy models are valuable references— but not magic. As a predictive tool, they can guide project approach and optimize designs while keeping in mind their limitations.

How Salas O’Brien can help clients with energy modeling

When it comes to energy modeling, there are many different levels of scale. Salas O’Brien has a strong team of energy modeling experts who can help clients support decision-making. Whether you need an initial basic model to get started or a deeply complex model that evaluates competing variables across a campus or multiple assets, our team is here to help you.

For media inquiries on this article, reach out to Stacy Lake, Director of Corporate Communications

Santiago Rodriguez

Santiago Rodriguez

Santiago Rodriguez is a building energy modeling specialist with more than 18 years of experience in the sustainable building design industry. Santiago is a thought leader in advanced energy modeling tools and has participated in a wide variety of projects as an energy modeler, helping achieve a higher energy performance in several cases . He has participated as an energy modeler for more than 40 projects that have obtained the LEED Certification. Santiago serves as the Energy Modeling Manager for Salas O’Brien in Atlanta. Contact him at [email protected]

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Lindsey Olsen, PE, PMP

Lindsey Olsen, PE, PMP

Lindsey Olsen is a Senior Mechanical Engineer who is deeply experienced in campus sustainability and engineering projects. She specializes in helping campuses transition to newer generation, more sustainable technologies, and is skilled in decarbonization, mechanical engineering, and program management. Lindsey is an Associate Vice President at Salas O’Brien. Contact her at [email protected].

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