Faculty Fellows: Simulating Building Energy Use

Bess Krietemeyer (principal investigator), assistant professor, School of Architecture, Syracuse University

Tarek Rakha, assistant professor, School of Architecture, Syracuse University

Jason Dedrick, professor, School of Information Studies, Syracuse University

Project: Developing an urban energy model to simulate, test, and visualize energy usage and future scenarios and strategies. “Imagine that you have a neighborhood and are able to visualize existing energy measurements. And then, let’s simulate putting advanced technologies in all of those buildings and see the impact,” says Rakha.

Nuts and Bolts: Working with the Pecan Street Institute, an energy research organization, the team is using data on household energy use from a neighborhood in Austin, Texas, to develop a visual simulation of energy use, as well as how those energy flows might differ, using different building materials or building technologies.

Intellectual Collision: Krietemeyer and Rakha are colleagues in the School of Architecture, where Krietemeyer focuses on visualization of energy use at the urban scale and Rakha on building energy models. After hearing Krietemeyer present her work at the annual SyracuseCoE Symposium in 2016, Dedrick, who has conducted research on smart grid technologies, approached her to collaborate, using large data sets he had available on energy use in Austin.

Practical Application: The data is not particularly meaningful in its existing state in Excel spreadsheets. “We’re creating a tool that visually illustrates energy use that can be used by a variety of stakeholders,” says Krietemeyer. “Maps will show how the community uses energy but also how a single household uses energy over the course of a day, a month, or a year.”

And Another Thing: The tool, which they call VIS-SIM, can also demonstrate “what if” scenarios important for designers and architects. How will energy be saved if we change the color of the roof or change the type of glass in the windows? What if we change the orientation of the building?

SyracuseCoE Impact: A $25,000 competitive award in 2016–17 funded the improvement of an existing building energy model, making it more precise and calibrating it to actual energy use data. A second award of $15,000 in 2017–18 is funding creation of a dashboard, a functioning online visual platform where multiple stakeholders can use the data and provide feedback. Both Krietemeyer and Rakha have labs in the SyracuseCoE headquarters, where much of their individual work on the project occurs.

Expert Opinion: Ultimately, the tool could be used in other geographic areas and climates to make smarter decisions about energy use or building for energy efficiency. “Austin was our initial testbed because the data was available,” says Krietemeyer, “but we hope to test this in multiple regions and multiple climate types.”