ConstructionPro Week, Volume: Construction Advisor Today - Issue: 27 - 10/29/2009

Improvements 'In Queue' for Department of Energy's OpenStudio Software Tool

There could be several improvements in store for OpenStudio, a software tool that architects can use to design healthier structures with fewer carbon emissions and lower utility bills, but it is uncertain when the enhancements may be made, Nicholas Long, a research engineer for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), told CPC/BIM.


The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) NREL early last year unveiled OpenStudio to combine, "seamlessly," the building energy simulation of EnergyPlus with the drawing interface of Google's SketchUp. Developed by DOE in 2001, EnergyPlus is a stand-alone simulation program that models whole-building energy consumption from heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, water systems, and other energy flows.  

NREL hopes to provide OpenStudio as a full graphical interface to EnergyPlus that allows users to edit HVAC, plug loads, and lighting loads and the remaining building inputs at the same time. Additional improvements could include integration with a daylighting program, linkage to a construction-cost database, and connection to the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.


NREL has yet to set a timetable for completing these improvements, Long said. "They are just in the queue."

With the current version of OpenStudio, "gone is the tedious and time-consuming task of manually entering building geometry data," according to NREL. "Now users can quickly sketch a computerized 3-D drawing of a building and run a fast simulation during the early design phase to determine if their design is energy efficient. Taking a virtual X-ray of a building's energy use in the conceptual phase helps architects design a structure with fewer carbon emissions, lower utility bills, and a healthier environment."05-10 SR Figure 2 


NREL believes that users can improve a building's energy consumption in a fraction of the time of more-expensive, computer-aided design packages.


"Architects won't go into a text file to edit geometry, changing vertex by vertex," Long said. "They want something graphical, and SketchUp is a quick method to render a building."


In little time, a designer can create a building's geometry from scratch in SketchUp: add zones, draw heat transfer surfaces, draw windows and doors, etc., and then run an energy simulation in EnergyPlus, according to NREL. "OpenStudio offers many practical applications that give users the freedom to explore different design options, such as performing overhang analyses. When a building design has a lot of windows on the south side, the designer needs to know how big and how deep to make the overhangs."


Added Long: "With OpenStudio, you use the capabilities of SketchUp that will show the sun's path and cast shadows on the windows at any time of the day for an entire year. Then you can play a video and watch the sun move over the building for a year to figure out if you have effectively shaded your windows and also validate it using EnergyPlus."


NREL has been working with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) to promote OpenStudio and EnergyPlus at AIA's conferences.  


NREL spent roughly $200,000 over about two years to create OpenStudio.


For information on downloading OpenStudio, call NREL's Heather Lammers at (303) 275-4084.




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