Building energy simulation

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A building energy simulation takes as an input information about a building such as geometry, construction materials, HVAC system characteristics, and internal gains and outputs the resulting energy use, which can be analyzed by architects, engineers, and other building stakeholders.

Building energy simulation, also called building energy modeling (BEM) (or energy modeling in context), is a design tool to characterize energy flows connected to a building and predict their impact on comfort parameters and energy demands through mathematical models.[1]


A typical building energy model has inputs for local weather; building geometry; building envelope characteristics; internal heat gains from lighting, people and plug loads; heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) system specifications; operation schedules and control strategies.[1] A building energy simulation then uses mathematical models to represent building systems and their interactions in order to calculate thermal loads, system responses to those loads, and the resulting energy use, along with related metrics such as occupant thermal comfort, energy use and carbon emissions.[2]


The development of building energy simulation represents a combined effort between academia, the government, industry, and professional organizations. The advancement of computing technology in the 1960's replaced manual procedures to calculate transient heat transfer for determining building HVAC loads.[3] In the United States, the 1970's energy crisis intensified these efforts, as reducing the energy consumption of buildings became an urgent domestic policy interest. The energy crisis also initiated development of U.S. building energy standards, beginning with ASHRAE 90-75. Federal and state agencies such as the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA), which is the now the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, and the California Energy Commission collaborated with national laboratories and universities to develop building energy simulation calculation engines such as DOE-2 Building Loads Analysis and System Thermodynamics (BLAST), and TRansient SYstems Simulations (TRNSYS).[4] Since 2001, U.S. federal development for building energy modeling tools consolidated into a new calculation engine called EnergyPlus, which combined features from BLAST and DOE-2. A similar pattern of development of building energy simulation tools is reflected in the United Kingdom, where the UK's Engineering and Physical Science Research Council and the R&D Framework Programmes of the European Commission supported the development of the ESP-r.[1] Codes and standards continue to the drive market demand, as simulation software can be used to demonstrate performance-based compliance. As a result, there is a growing list of software tools for building energy simulations.


Building energy models may be developed for both new or existing buildings. Major use categories of building energy simulation include:[2]

  • Architectural Design: quantitatively compare design or retrofit options in order to inform a more energy-efficient building design
  • HVAC Design: calculate thermal loads for sizing of mechanical equipment and help design and test system control strategies
  • Building Performance Rating: demonstrate performance-based compliance with energy codes, green certification, and financial incentives
  • Building Stock Analysis: support development of energy codes and standards and plan large scale energy efficiency programs


In the context of building energy models, error refers to the discrepancy between simulation results and the actual measured performance of the building.[5] This error can be due to simplifying assumptions by the calculation engine or approximations in model inputs.

The building energy model calculation engine is solving a system of linear differential equations. Given the complexity of building energy flows, it is generally not possible to find an analytical solution, so the simulation software employs other techniques, such as response function methods, or numerical methods in finite differences or finite volume, as an approximation.[1] ASHRAE Standard 140-2011 Standard Method of Test for the Evaluation of Building Energy Analysis Computer Programs provides a method to validate the technical capability and range of applicability of computer programs to calculate thermal performance.[6]

There are normally occurring uncertainties in building design and building energy assessment, which generally stem from approximations in model inputs, such as occupancy behavior. Calibration refers to the process of "tuning" or adjusting assumed energy model inputs to match observed data on observed energy use from the utilities or Building Energy Management System (BEMS).[7][8][9][5] ASHRAE Guideline 14-2002 and 14-2014 provides performance indices criteria for building energy model calibration.[10][11] The performance indices used are normalized mean bias error (NMBE), coefficient of variation (CV) of the root mean square error (RMSE), and R2 (coefficient of determination). ASHARE recommends a R2 greater than 0.75 for calibrated models. The criteria for NMBE and CV RMSE depends on if measured data is available at a monthly or hourly timescale.

Software tools[edit]

There are hundreds of software tools available for simulating the energy performance of buildings and building subsystems, which range in capability from whole-building energy simulations to model input calibration to building energy auditing.[12][13]

Among whole-building energy simulation software tools, it is important to draw a distinction between the calculation engine, which dynamically solves equations rooted in thermodynamics and building science, and the interface, which provides a more user-friendly platform for entering inputs and viewing outputs. For some software packages, the calculation engine and the interface may be the same product. The table below summarizes some commonly used whole-building energy simulation tools.[14]

Calculation Engine Interface Freeware
DOE-2[15][16] eQuest[17][18] Yes
EnergyPro[19] No
Autodesk Green Building Studio (GBS)[20] No
EnergyPlus[21][22] IDF Editor[23] Yes
DesignBuilder[24][25] No
OpenStudio[26][27] Yes
Simergy[28][29] Yes
Diva for Rhinoceros 3D[30][31] No
Ladybug Tools for Rhinoceros 3D[32][33] Yes
Trane TRACE 700[34] No
Autodesk Insight 360[35] No
TRNSYS[36][37] TRNSYS[36][37] No
ApacheSim[38] Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES)-Virtual Environment (VE)[39] No
Carrier Hourly Analysis Program (HAP)[40] Carrier HAP[40] No
Sefaira[41] Sefaira Architecture[42] No
Sefaira Systems[43] No
WUFI Passive[44] WUFI Passive[44] No
ESP-r[45][1] ESP-r[45][1] Yes

Performance-based compliance[edit]

In a performance-based approach, compliance with building energy codes or standards is based on the predicted energy use from a building energy simulation, rather than a prescriptive approach, which requires adherence to stipulated technologies or design features. Performance-based compliance provides greater flexibility in the building design as it allows designers to miss some prescriptive requirements if the impact on energy performance can be offset by exceeding other prescriptive requirements.[46] The certifying agency provides details on energy model inputs, software specifications, and performance requirements.

The following is a list of U.S. based energy codes and standards that reference building energy simulations to demonstrate compliance:

Professional associations and certifications[edit]

Professional associations
  • BEMP - Building Energy Modeling Professional, administered by ASHRAE[49]
  • BESA - Certified Building Energy Simulation Analyst, administered by AEE[50]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f A.), Clarke, J. A. (Joe (2001). Energy simulation in building design (2nd ed.). Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann. ISBN 0750650826. OCLC 46693334. 
  2. ^ a b Building performance simulation for design and operation. Hensen, Jan., Lamberts, Roberto. Abingdon, Oxon: Spon Press. 2011. ISBN 9780415474146. OCLC 244063540. 
  3. ^ "History of Building Energy Modeling - Bembook". Retrieved 2017-11-09. 
  4. ^ Sukjoon, Oh, (2013-08-19). "Origins of Analysis Methods in Energy Simulation Programs Used for High Performance Commercial Buildings". 
  5. ^ a b Raftery, Paul; Keane, Marcus; O’Donnell, James. "Calibrating whole building energy models: An evidence-based methodology". Energy and Buildings. 43 (9): 2356–2364. doi:10.1016/j.enbuild.2011.05.020. 
  6. ^ ASHRAE (2011). ASHRAE/ANSI Standard 140-2011--Standard Method of Test for the Evaluation of Building Energy Analysis Computer Programs. Atlanta, GA: American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc. 
  7. ^ Reddy, T. Agami (2006). "Literature Review on Calibration of Building Energy Simulation Programs: Uses, Problems, Procedures, Uncertainty, and Tools". ASHRAE Transactions. 112(1): 226–240. 
  8. ^ Heo, Y.; Choudhary, R.; Augenbroe, G.A. "Calibration of building energy models for retrofit analysis under uncertainty". Energy and Buildings. 47: 550–560. doi:10.1016/j.enbuild.2011.12.029. 
  9. ^ Mustafaraj, Giorgio; Marini, Dashamir; Costa, Andrea; Keane, Marcus. "Model calibration for building energy efficiency simulation". Applied Energy. 130: 72–85. doi:10.1016/j.apenergy.2014.05.019. 
  10. ^ ASHRAE (2002). Guideline 14-2002 Measurement of Energy and Demand Savings. Atlanta, GA: American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. 
  11. ^ ASHRAE (2014). Guideline 14-2014 Measurement of Energy Demand Savings; Technical Report. Atlanta, GA: American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. 
  12. ^ "Best Directory | Building Energy Software Tools". Retrieved 2017-11-07. 
  13. ^ Crawley, Drury B.; Hand, Jon W.; Kummert, Michaël; Griffith, Brent T. "Contrasting the capabilities of building energy performance simulation programs". Building and Environment. 43 (4): 661–673. doi:10.1016/j.buildenv.2006.10.027. 
  14. ^ "Architect's guide to integrating energy modeling in the design process". Retrieved 2017-11-07. 
  15. ^ Hirsch, Jeff. " Home Page". Retrieved 2017-11-07. 
  16. ^ Lokmanhekim, M.; et al. (1979). "DOE-2: a new state-of-the-art computer program for the energy utilization analysis of buildings". Lawrence Berkeley Lab. Report CBC-8977. 
  17. ^ Hirsch, Jeff. "eQUEST". Retrieved 2017-11-07. 
  18. ^ Hirsch, James (2004). "eQuest, the QUick Energy Simulation Tool". 
  19. ^ "EnergySoft – World Class Building Energy Analysis Software". Retrieved 2017-11-07. 
  20. ^ "Green Building Studio". Retrieved 2017-11-07. 
  21. ^ "EnergyPlus | EnergyPlus". Retrieved 2017-11-07. 
  22. ^ Crawley, Drury B.; Lawrie, Linda K.; Winkelmann, Frederick C.; Buhl, W.F.; Huang, Y.Joe; Pedersen, Curtis O.; Strand, Richard K.; Liesen, Richard J.; Fisher, Daniel E. "EnergyPlus: creating a new-generation building energy simulation program". Energy and Buildings. 33 (4): 319–331. doi:10.1016/s0378-7788(00)00114-6. 
  23. ^ Big Ladder Software, LLC. "IDF Editor - Brief Introduction: Getting Started — EnergyPlus 8.3". Retrieved 2017-11-07. 
  24. ^ "DesignBuilder Software Ltd - Home". Retrieved 2017-11-07. 
  25. ^ Tindale, A (2005). "Designbuilder Software". Design-Builder Software Ltd. 
  26. ^ "OpenStudio | OpenStudio". Retrieved 2017-11-07. 
  27. ^ Guglielmetti, Rob; et al. (2011). "OpenStudio: An Open Source Integrated Analysis Platform" (PDF). Proceedings of Building Simulation 2011: 12th Conference of International Building Performance Simulation Association: 442–449. 
  28. ^ "Digital Alchemy - Simergy". Retrieved 2017-11-07. 
  29. ^ See, Richard; et al. (2011). "Development of a User Interface for the EnergyPlus Whole Buiding Energy Simulation Program" (PDF). Proceedings of Building Simulation 2011: 12th Conference of International Building Performance Simulation Association: 2919–2926. 
  30. ^ "Solemma LLC". Retrieved 2017-11-09. 
  31. ^ Jakubiec, A; et al. (2011). "DIVA 2.0: Integrating Daylight and Thermal Simulations using Rhinoceros 3D, Daysim, and EnergyPlus" (PDF). Proceedings of Building Simulation 2011: 12th Conference of International Building Performance Simulation Association: 2202–2209. 
  32. ^ "Ladybug Tools | Home Page". Retrieved 2017-11-09. 
  33. ^ Roudsari, MS; et al. (2013). "Ladybug: A Parametric Environmental Plugin for Grasshopper to Help Designers Create an Environmentally-Conscious Design" (PDF). Proceedings of BS2013: 13th Conference of International Building Performance Simulation Association: 3128–3135. 
  34. ^ Trane (2017). "TRACE 700". Retrieved 2017-11-07. 
  35. ^ "Insight - High performance and sustainable building design analysis". Retrieved 2017-11-16. 
  36. ^ a b Resources, e-Media. "Welcome | TRNSYS : Transient System Simulation Tool". Retrieved 2017-11-07. 
  37. ^ a b Beckman, William A.; Broman, Lars; Fiksel, Alex; Klein, Sanford A.; Lindberg, Eva; Schuler, Mattias; Thornton, Jeff. "TRNSYS The most complete solar energy system modeling and simulation software". Renewable Energy. 5 (1-4): 486–488. doi:10.1016/0960-1481(94)90420-0. 
  38. ^ Integrated Environmental Solutions, Ltd (2017). "APACHESIM". Retrieved 2017-11-07. 
  39. ^ Integrated Environmental Solutions, Ltd (2017). "VE 2017". Retrieved 2017-11-07. 
  40. ^ a b "Hourly Analysis Program HVAC System Design Software | Carrier Building Solutions". Building Solutions. Retrieved 2017-11-07. 
  41. ^ "Home". Sefaira. Retrieved 2017-11-07. 
  42. ^ "Sefaira Architecture". Sefaira. Retrieved 2017-11-07. 
  43. ^ "Sefaira Systems". Sefaira. Retrieved 2017-11-07. 
  44. ^ a b "WUFI Passive: Passive House Institute U.S." Retrieved 2017-11-07. 
  45. ^ a b "ESP-r | University of Strathclyde". Retrieved 2017-11-08. 
  46. ^ Senick, Jennifer. "A new paradigm for building codes". Retrieved 2017-11-07. 
  47. ^ "IBPSA-USA". IBPSA-USA. Retrieved 13 June 2014. 
  48. ^ "Home |". Retrieved 2017-11-08. 
  49. ^ "Building Energy Modeling Professional Certification". ASHRAE. Retrieved 13 June 2014. 
  50. ^ "Certified Building Energy Simulation Analyst". Association of Energy Engineers. Retrieved 13 June 2014. 

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