By Steve Rizer
New Buildings Institute (NBI) has released a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) automation tool that the Vancouver, Wash.-based nonprofit believes can help users save a significant amount of time and reduce errors in LEED submittals. The COMNET Energy Modeling Portal is an online platform used to collect energy modeling simulation results, perform quality-assurance checks, and submit the results to LEED Online for Energy & Atmosphere Prerequisite 2 and Energy & Atmosphere Credit 1. The portal can be used for New Construction, Core and Shell, and Schools projects.
“Until now, energy modelers have had to sift through pages of output reports, locate the appropriate data, convert units, and then manually type this information into the LEED Online Templates,” COMNET Business Manager Jared Silliker said.
“From the portal, users can review the official LEED Online template to ensure that it has been filled out appropriately,” according to NBI.
Added Roger Chang, principal and director of sustainability at Westlake Reed Leskosky, a building design firm based in Washington, D.C.: “The COMNET portal will allow design teams to spend more time focusing on optimization of proposed designs rather than non-value-adding tasks. I envision at least a day’s worth of time saved from not having to manually fill out forms (for EAp2 and EAc1).”
The portal supports exports from eQUEST, Trane TRACE 700 and EnergySoft’s EnergyPro. Trane and EnergySoft use the COMNET XML Schema, which is publicly available for vendors to incorporate into their building energy modeling software to export standard data. COMNET is working with other modeling software vendors that are adding a COMNET XML output option.
The new COMNET portal is currently free to use, but payment for the service will be required after Oct. 1. The introductory fee per project will range from $500 to $1,000, depending on project size.
“This is a non-profit initiative to improve and streamline the modeling process. We want to keep the fee low to maximize the use of the tool,” Silliker said. “We anticipate that the time modelers will save on submissions will make the nominal fee well worth it."
The COMNET Energy Modeling Portal can be accessed at www.comnet.org/portal.
In an interview with ConstructionPro Week (CPW), Silliker provided the following additional information:
CPW: You said, ‘We anticipate that the time modelers will save on submissions will make the nominal fee well worth it.’ About how much money is expected to be saved on the average project through the COMNET Energy Modeling Portal?
Silliker: Although the amount of time saved is variable from design firm to design firm, we anticipate that use of the COMNET portal will save anywhere from 8-25 hours of billable time. This range is based on pre-launch testing of the tool and feedback from practitioners. By identifying problems before submission, the COMNET Energy Modeling Portal will also save time on the certification process by reducing the number of items flagged by GBCI [Green Building Certification Institute] reviewers.
CPW: In which ways does the COMNET Energy Modeling Portal differ from other LEED automation tools?
Silliker: COMNET is one of the first LEED Automation tools available to design teams, and we are not currently aware of any other energy modeling-based tools.
CPW: How will your organization be promoting the availability of this energy modeling tool? Will you be promoting it at trade shows?
Silliker: The LEED Online portal is now available due to the collaborative efforts of numerous industry players. As a result, the portal will be promoted by a variety of organizations through newsletters and other communications as well as conferences and events such as Greenbuild 2012. We also anticipate reaching out to the energy modeling community directly to raise awareness about the availability of the tool.
CPW: What predictions, if any, are you willing to make regarding the number of professionals/teams who are expected to use the Energy Modeling Portal, the number of projects the portal may be used for, the extra number of people who may be willing to pursue LEED certification because of the availability of this tool, etc.?
Silliker: In addition to streamlining the submission process to GBCI, and offering quality-assurance checks, the portal has the potential to facilitate better communication between designers, modelers, clients, and others throughout the design phase. We anticipate that once practitioners experience just how many hours the portal will save them in sifting through data reports and filling templates, it will become standard practice. Because of the cost and time savings associated with using the portal, we hope that eventually all eligible projects submitting to LEED Online will use the portal.
CPW: The COMNET Energy Modeling Portal can be used for LEED New Construction, Core & Shell, and Schools projects (LEED Online for Energy & Atmosphere Prerequisite 2 and Energy & Atmosphere Credit 1). What plans, if any, are there for introducing new tools to cover other rating systems and other credits? When may those tools be introduced?
Silliker: The COMNET portal will continue to be focused on these energy-modeling-based credits within LEED. However, we are currently in the process of enhancing the tool to cover LEED-Retail projects. Also, the portal currently supports exports from three software vendors -- eQUEST, Trane TRACE 700 and EnergyPro 5.1 -- and we hope to expand this list over time.
CPW: Other comments?
Silliker: While the current portal applies to LEED Online submissions, the portal could also be used for verification of any building energy model. We are currently working with local jurisdictions and energy-efficiency program administrators to develop connections to the portal to help them verify models for energy-code compliance and utility-incentive programs.
LEED Portal Factsheet: http://www.comnet.org/mgp/sites/default/files/COMNET%20portal%20fact%20sheet_LEEDonline.pdf
COMNET Overview Factsheet: http://www.comnet.org/sites/default/files/COMNET%20overview%20fact%20sheet.pdf