The evolution of data tools that are used to improve the energy performance of buildings follows the broader development of data management and processing, a field which has expanded rapidly in recent years. This article reviews the various types of software applications currently available.
It is today possible for an ordinary consumer to install an application to their smartphone, aim the phone at a product's bar code, and immediately receive additional information on that product, including input by other consumers on the product's quality and value for money. This seemingly simple procedure has a number of prerequisites which have only been made possible relatively recently, such as:
- 'Always connected': the ubiquity of fast wireless internet connections, either local (wi-fi), or wide-area (3G and above), allowing literally instant access to huge amounts of data, including the downloadable applications themselves.
- Integration of advanced technologies: a modern smartphone has many thousand times the power of the Apollo 11 on-board computer, in addition to an ultra-high definition camera, accelerometer, Geographic Positioning System, high resolution screen, etc., most of which are employed in the above example.
- Crowdsourcing: millions of consumers around the world contribute their experiences, opinions and helpful tips on products and services, in relevant online communities and resources.
- Interconnection of reference databases: access to official project data alongside consumer reviews is made possible by the openness of such resources, and by the 'cleverness' of online search engines able to associate related information irrespective of source.
All of these trends have been influencing contemporary markets for some time, and the energy performance of buildings is no exception. Though IT tools have been used in the building industry for decades –from computer aided design (CAD) and simulations to construction itself– there is a growing availability of data-intensive tools aimed at estimating and further improving energy performance in particular.
A first such category includes the tools used for the standardised issuance of Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) in Member States, e.g. SBEM in the UK. Next to these, dedicated tools exist for calculating the energy properties of specific building elements, such as WINDAT WIS for window systems. In addition, reliable EPC input data is provided by product performance databases. Given the multitude of such databases, it is useful to have them available via a centralised resource, such as the Belgian www.EPBD.BE, which may also include approved measurement/calculation procedures, and certified software.
As such tools are usually aimed at engineers and other professional auditors, they may not be particularly user-friendly. Alternative tools have thus appeared to help streamline the procedure and provide additional functions, such as the Greek web-based easykenak, which integrates all relevant reference databases, thus automating most of the EPC data entry. In order to ensure valid results, such tools either need to interact with the official EPC calculation software, or are themselves certified accordingly, e.g. the IES Display Energy Certificate (DEC) application.
The use of online tools for EPC calculation, combined with related activities such as inspections, has the added benefit of gradually aggregating relevant building stock data into centralised databases. The German CO2-online heating atlas illustrates the possibilities: it aggregates data from 50.000 buildings, presents it in a graphical interface, and allows users to access data from selected federal states and regions. It is worth noting that CO2-online has data on one million buildings, but has only published the data for which it was explicitly granted the right by owners/tenants.
Such large scale databases can in turn facilitate:
- calculation of statistics and benchmarks on energy performance;
- development and fine-tuning of models of the existing building stock;
- highlighting of possible issues, e.g. widespread ineffective insulation, for which new policies should be developed;
- better planning of top-level actions, including energy supply management; such planning usually relies on simulation tools, e.g. CASSANDRA, but these can now be based on the plentiful real data provided by EPC-related activities.
At the EU level, the Built Environment Analysis Model (BEAM²) has been used to produce an impact assessment to support the European Commission in the revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD recast). Another modelling tool is the SEMANCO EECITIES analysis platform for the urban environment and energy efficient cities, which was developed under the EU's 7th Framework Programme.
Modelling is not useful only for the top level of decision making. Provided that the data sample is representative of the various segments, it is possible to develop valuable guidance for specific kinds of buildings or dwellings.
Of particular interest are tools which empower the end users and building occupants. These constitute the 'managers' for the majority of residential buildings; thus, improvement of their home energy consumption patterns can make a big difference in their own bills and lead to major aggregate savings. This is the objective of ControlaEnergia, an application which allows users to register their gas and electricity consumption and receive personalised energy advice, as well as comparison with their past consumption and that of other users under similar conditions. Social Electricity takes this approach one step further by integrating it with users' social networks and gamification in order to increase the incentives for behavioural change. Similarly, the Energy Saving Trust's Home Energy Check provides users with a report on their home's energy use and the savings that are possible by following specific steps, such as improving the insulation and installing new heating equipment.
ADEME's Mon projet rénovation provides personalised advice for refurbishment, including the various financial options available. NL Agency's Energy Explorer Utility also focuses on refurbishment, but covers non-residential buildings, including offices, warehouses and various shops. Even more focused, the Responsible Retrofit Guidance Wheel specifically covers traditional buildings.
Such applications demonstrate the deep level of expertise and detailed reference data sets that are available on building energy performance. However, compatibility for interconnection of all these sources is problematic; in fact, it represents one of the major constraints in moving to higher levels of integration. Another challenge is the often commercial ownership of specific data sets or entire databases, or even the non-licensing of the data for uses other than those originally intended by their collection–for example, the remainder of the one million CO2-online buildings which are not included in the heating atlas.
Nevertheless, initiatives are ongoing to better integrate building energy performance related data. Such is the case of the CONCERTO Premium Technical Monitoring Database, an EU-wide database providing unified access to relevant outcomes of CONCERTO projects. Another interesting and powerful high level application is the Global Buildings Performance Network (GBPN) Policy Comparative Tool which uses 15 specific criteria to compare best practices under 25 building energy efficiency codes from around the world.
It is clear that software tools can contribute to the improvement of building energy performance at many levels. This first part of this article focused on software-only tools, however things get even more interesting when these are integrated with hardware, for example with smart metering. These approaches will be explored in the second part.
You can find many more tools supporting improved energy performance of buildings in the BUILD UP Tools section. The table below lists the tools presented in this article along with their country/ies of application.
|SBEM||Energy calculation tool for non-resident buildings||UK (all countries), Ireland, Cyprus, Malta, Gibraltar|
|WinDat WIS||Calculation of thermal and solar properties of window systems||Europe|
|easykenak||Web front-end for issuing compliant energy certificates||Greece|
|IES Display Energy Certificate (DEC) web-based application||Produce EPCs for display and related advisory reports||UK (England and Wales)|
|CO2-online heating atlas||Graphical presentation of nation-wide energy consumption||Germany|
|Cassandra||Demand-side modelling for electric power grids||Italy, Sweden|
|Built-Environment-Analysis-Model BEAM²||Energy modelling for building stock, from local to global scale||Europe, Internationally|
|SEMANCO EECities||Energy analysis platform for urban areas, from local to regional scale||Denmark, Spain, UK|
|ControlaEnergia||End-user application for reducing household energy consumption||Spain (Catalonia)|
|Social Electricity||‘Social’ application for managing electricity consumption||Cyprus, Europe|
|Home Energy Check||End-user application for estimating and reducing energy consumption||UK (all countries)|
|Mon projet rénovation||End-user advice for home energy renovation||France|
|Energy Explorer Utility for buildings (EBVU)||Advice to building owners and managers for energy efficiency measures in non-residential buildings||The Netherlands|
|Responsible Retrofit Guidance Wheel||Support for traditional buildings’ retrofit design, application and use||UK|
|CONCERTO Premium Technical Monitoring Database||
Overview of building energy efficiency measures and technologies from CONCERTO projects
|GBPN||Policy Comparative ToolUse specific criteria to compare energy efficiency codes for new buildings||Internationally|