Integrated Computer Simulation Environment for Performance-Based Design of Very-Low Energy and High-IEQ Buildings

The US Department of Energy (US DOE) has announced a $560,296 grant to a Syracuse University (SU)-led project to develop a virtual design studio to help building designers evaluate architectural and mechanical options in order to maximize the energy savings of residential and commercial buildings while ensuring healthy, comfortable and productive indoor environments.

The Virtual Design Studio project is led by Jensen Zhang, L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science, and Michael Pelken, SU School of Architecture. The project is being developed in collaboration with Syracuse-based firm and SyracuseCoE building Patron and tenant CDH Energy, the Florida Solar Energy Center and SyracuseCoE, which provided matching funds. This project adds a new capability to SyracuseCoE’s extensive portfolio of research and demonstration assets and projects that are advancing energy-efficient building products and services.

“The Virtual Design Studio will integrate a suite of performance simulation models, a virtual building database and a knowledge base of architectural design principles to achieve fully coordinated, integrated and optimized building design,” says Zhang, Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. “Buildings designed and constructed using a performance-based energy and IEQ design process that optimizes the interaction between the building envelope and a building’s HVAC systems can save between 30 percent and 75 percent of energy costs while providing better indoor environmental quality.”

According to the US DOE, the nation’s 114 million households and more than 74 million square feet of commercial floor space account for about 40 percent of the country’s primary energy consumption, as well as 39 percent of carbon dioxide, 18 percent of nitrogen oxides and 55 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions.

In addition to helping the nation achieve energy independence by reducing its reliance on fossil fuels to heat and cool aging and inefficient buildings, the Virtual Design Studio project is expected to help create high-value jobs in both the supply and demand sides of the energy-efficient building market. Therefore, the project will directly support of the country’s economic recovery and development effort.

In total, the US DOE has awarded more than $76 million for 58 advanced energy-efficient building technologies and commercial building training programs throughout the United States. The Virtual Design Studio project was one of five projects awarded a grant under the rubric of “Analysis, Design and Technical Tools,” which focuses on improving the simulation of complex interactions between building elements, including climate, building envelope heat and moisture transfer, internal heat gains, lighting power, HVAC equipment, controls, thermal and visual comfort, and energy costs.

“These projects will help the US lead the world in advancing energy-efficient technologies,” says US Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “Energy-efficient commercial buildings will help our country cut its carbon emissions and energy costs while the training programs will upgrade the skills of the current workforce and attract the next generation to careers in the emerging clean energy economy.”