By Steve Rizer
For many small buildings, traditional energy audits are not cost-effective, but an energy audit tool that is expected to hit the multi-billion-dollar energy-retrofit industry next year may go a long way toward eliminating this energy-savings stumbling block … if the tool lives up to its hype.
“Traditional audits can be cost prohibitive for small buildings, and with margins thin, ESCOs [energy service companies] have little incentive today to absorb those costs due to lower total savings potential; Simuwatt Energy Auditor offers to change this equation,” according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), which created the tool in partnership with Denver-based software developer Concept 3D. Simuwatt will allow ESCO employees to perform audits using mobile tablets, replacing the “clipboard-and-pencil” approach used in most building audits with a package incorporating comprehensive computer modeling.
Simuwatt benefits from existing tools, including the U.S. Department of Energy’s EnergyPlus, which runs simulations to determine energy flow, and NREL’s OpenStudio, which allows users to quickly create a detailed EnergyPlus model of the building, according to the lab. EnergyPlus, which models heating, cooling, lighting, ventilation, and other energy flows, was developed by NREL along with other national labs and research institutions. Concept3D, which pulled together the idea of capturing the geometry of a building by taking photos of the exterior, then layering those on top of a three-dimensional rendering of the building, has an exclusive license from NREL to develop the software tool for the marketplace. When an audit using Simuwatt is finished, it is stored electronically and serves as the baseline for the next audit, which typically is conducted a few years later.
“The hope is that by lowering costs, you can not only get deeper savings but also get into more buildings,” NREL Engineer Andrew Parker said. The lab believes Simuwatt, when compared to traditional audits, “more accurately pinpoints potential energy savings while potentially costing 35-75 percent less.”
But what sizes of buildings could suddenly become eligible for energy audits with the advent of this technology?
“We expect buildings of 50,000 square feet and smaller to become viable for auditing,” Larry Brackney, NREL’s principal investigator for the project, told ConstructionPro Week. “Simuwatt also enables portfolio-scale auditing, which will help ESCOs ‘bundle’ buildings to create economies of scale.”