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Tackling Climate Change with Building Simulation & Energy Modelling

By Edwina Cramp on Tuesday 23 January 2018

Climate change is happening faster than anyone wants to believe. 2017 marked the second hottest year on record - 2016 being the hottest - and first time some scientific papers concluded that certain extreme weather events could not have occurred in a world where global warming did not exist. The studies suggested that the record-breaking global temperatures in 2016, an extreme heat wave in Asia and a patch of unusually warm water in the Alaskan Gulf were only possible because of human-caused climate change.

And buildings play a huge part in this. In fact, buildings are responsible for 32% of total global energy use and 19% of energy-related Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions – that’s more than any other industry. They also face multiple climate change impacts including more frequent strong winds, increased heat - particularly in cities (Urban Heat Island effect) - and the floods and wildfires that accompany extreme weather events. Buildings have already experienced big increases in damage over recent decades.

Yet buildings also offer near-term, highly cost-effective opportunities to curb energy-demand, and even reverse it in developed economies. A few developed countries have already reversed growth in total energy use by using stricter building codes and appliance standards. This is, fundamentally, why we do what we do at IES. We want to reduce the environmental impact that buildings have on our planet.

Our building simulation and energy modelling technology is used around the world to help achieve compliance with a lot of the more stringent energy related building codes and standards. And according to the American Institute of Architects “Quite simply, energy modelling presents the greatest opportunity for architects to realise more ambitious energy-saving in their design projects."

The key to our success is our ability to look at the building in an integrated way and pinpoint simple but highly effective things you can do to reduce a building’s impact on our planet.

So what is building simulation and energy modelling? Quite simply these tools examine two aspects of building efficiency. First, they look at the structure of a building, the thermal properties of materials used, and natural light coming in. Then they look at how mechanical lighting, heating, ventilation, cooling and (de)humidification are delivered. The relationship between these two elements determines the total energy consumption of a building for the desired comfort level.

OK,  so it’s not quite as simple as that – these two aspects are also greatly impacted by the weather outside, the way a building is used, the number of people inside the building, the time it’s used and the electronic equipment and appliances inside. To encompass all these elements, energy modelling software solves the complex equations that describe different modes of heat transfer: conductivity, convection, long- and short-wave radiation and also mass transfer.

And because energy transfer, airflow and comfort are all interrelated in most buildings, the most advanced building simulation tools couple airflow and energy analysis. Now, that comfort level part is actually pretty important – we spend on average 86% of our time indoors and the internal environment and indoor air quality impact on how comfortable and healthy a building is for the people using it. Delivering a comfortable and healthy building that uses the minimal energy possible is the ultimate aim.

The commercial use of energy modelling software by building services engineers started in the 1990’s and, in more recent years, architects have started incorporating these tools into their workflow. Today, against the backdrop of the digital revolution, their use is emerging during actual building operation to help ensure that once the property is designed and built it is performing as intended and as efficiently as possible.

So, in summary, simulation and modelling tools like the IES Virtual Environment (IESVE) give the factual insights required to design, build and operate low-impact buildings which utilise natural resources as much as possible, but still deliver comfortable and healthy buildings.

They can help inform any performance questions - from which building materials to use to avoid overheating from the sun, to how best to size heating, cooling and ventilation systems to be as efficient as possible; from how to tweak operational controls and dramatically reduce running costs, to how to cost-effectively refurbish a building and reduce overall energy demand. 

The key to our success, and the reason why tens of thousands of people around the world are using the IESVE to make better buildings, is our ability to look at the building in an integrated way and pinpoint simple but highly effective things you can do to reduce a building’s impact on our planet.

So far, with our technology, we have saved almost 27 power stations from having to be built. And this number is continually rising as more and more building professionals understand the social, environmental and economic benefits of using integrated building performance analysis tools.