Five Steps in Energy Modeling to Make Your Building More Efficient

This week, we welcome guest bloggers Thulasi Narayan and Andrew Lee from Paladino and Company. Paladino is an industry leading green building and sustainability consulting firm with a team of architects, engineers, building scientists, commissioning agents and business analysts who advise companies on energy efficiency. Stellar often partners with Paladino to estimate energy performance, help develop energy reduction strategies and track estimated performance against the project’s energy goal during the design process.

Energy costs, which typically account for 30 percent of a facility’s operating budget, continue to be a key consideration when companies embark on greenfield projects. Energy modeling, the process of estimating how much energy a building will use before it is built, is one of the most effective methodologies for managing a building’s projected energy costs. Creating an energy model should be one of the first steps in the design process, so necessary adjustments can be made early on to eliminate the potential for costly changes later.

Five key steps in energy modeling:

1. Determine the desired energy usage — What is the specific energy savings target for the building? The target may be dictated by budget, regulatory and LEED requirements and utility incentives.

2. Establish the baseline — How much energy would the building consume if the buildings components were built according to applicable energy code requirements? For process equipment, which usually falls outside the scope of energy codes, we look at the published research or utility incentive standards to establish baseline energy use.

3. Obtain the data — This entails looking at every component of the building from the number of light fixtures and the watts consumed, to the mechanical system and how many pieces of equipment will run at what capacity for how many hours. The local climate, building envelope components, lighting, and cooling and heating systems all impact the energy usage and efficiency of a facility. In manufacturing facilities, process equipment accounts for a large slice of the energy use. Detailed information regarding the process equipment, number of equipment pieces, equipment capacity and run hours is documented.

4. Identify energy conservation measures — Review the energy model and work with the design team to identify where energy conservation measures can be implemented. Solutions include increased daylighting, using high-efficiency motors, and capturing and reusing waste heat.

5. Incorporate the recommended strategies — We run the modeling software again to calculate the cost savings and ROI to determine which strategies most effectively meet the energy savings target. Once this is verified, the design team can amend their plans to incorporate the selected energy-savings measures.

Best Practices

In order to ensure that the energy model is accurate, it’s important to use the following best practices:

  • Centralized data — Rather than each design team member maintaining their own data, information should be managed from a single source to provide a big picture view. This helps identify priorities areas and where savings are possible.
  • Fluid communication — Designers and modelers should work collaboratively to ensure that energy assumptions are based on the most current equipment specs and usage requirements. Because changes happen often, communication must be transparent and continuous.
  • Understand the limitations — Energy modeling is a predictive process so it’s not possible to chase down every detail of the project or arrive at the exact answer. However, this process can be a tool for more informed decision making if model results are used for directional comparisons.
  • Organize data — Appoint a proficient record keeper and data manager who can organize data in an effective manner with easy reference tabs. This is an especially critical step when assumptions need to be shared with third parties who are validating energy savings for incentives or green building certifications.

Thulasi Narayan, LEED® AP and Andrew LEE, LEED® AP are Green Building Consultants in Paladino’s Seattle Office.

To learn more about energy modeling and the benefits it can provide your project, visit




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