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DATA | Why architects embrace energy modelling to slash emissions

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Karl Tomusk

More than three-quarters of projects tracked by the American Institute of Architects have used building simulations to cut predicted energy use.

As part of the AIA’s 2030 Commitment, which calls for all new developments and major renovations to reach carbon neutrality by 2030, architects around the world submit their portfolios with emissions-related metrics.

These include predicted energy use intensity (pEUI), or the expected energy a building will consume once complete.

Figures in the AIA’s progress report show that 77.4% of projects, by whole-building square footage, were energy modelled in 2020.

AIA 2030 Commitment Energy Modelling

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Buildings that were modelled saw sharper declines in pEUI than those that were not (53% v 44%), the AIA found.

In total, 378 companies reported 3.8bn sq ft of designs across 22,002 projects in 102 countries.

What is energy modelling?

Energy modelling uses software to simulate the energy use of a building. As these tools become more sophisticated, they allow architects to compare the energy impacts of different designs ever more accurately.

The AIA urges architects to undertake modelling during the design phase to predict energy use more accurately and make better decisions about features like material use and daylighting.

Energy modelling tools

  • Cove.tool: an automated design platform for building performance, the tool includes features such as 3D visualisation for daylight, glare, shadow and radiation; automated energy modelling; and carbon emissions and embodied carbon calculator
  • IES Virtual Environment: a suite of tools for sub-hourly thermal building simulations and compliance with regulations around the world
  • DOE-2: a freeware energy analysis program that combines user provided information about the building with weather data to perform hourly simulations of the building and estimate utility bills

Update on progress

Signed by more than 1,000 architecture and design firms, the 2030 Commitment is a pledge to reach carbon neutrality by 2030.

All new developments and major renovations should be designed to consume 70% less fossil fuel than the regional or national average for that type of building. That target rose to 80% in 2020 and will go up to 90% in 2025.

So far, submitted buildings have hit a 51.3% reduction – up from 49% the year before.

AIA 2030 Commitment PEUI

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Given that the AIA calls energy modelling “one of the best design tools we have to help move us toward zero carbon”, the fact that 77.4% of buildings have been modelled is a step in the right direction.

However, only 15 out of 378 companies have met the 80% pEUI reduction target.

Where real estate needs to step up

The AIA has called for a “deeper energy transformation”, including complete electrification of buildings. As the grid decarbonises, operating real estate will be increasingly green if it runs on electricity.

However, progress is a little murky. Only 5% of projects have been energy modelled with fuel sources. Of these, two-thirds are at least 75% electric.

AIA 2030 Commitment Electrification

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Integrating renewable energy – such as solar PV or wind power – can also help reduce emissions and even play a role in cleaning up the grid. But so far only 4% of reported projects have renewable energy options.

Is this the whole story?

The downside to these figures is that they rely on figures from companies that choose to submit their data. Of the more than 1,000 firms that have now signed the pledge, just 378 reported data for the latest report covering 2020.

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