Laser Scanning and BIM Support Energy Efficiency for Residential and Commercial Buildings

In the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook 2013 the reference case, which only takes into account existing legislation and regulations, forecasts U.S. 2020 emissions of 5,455 million tonnes, which is 470 million tonnes of carbon dioxide above the goal of 4,978 million tonnes (17% below 2005 levels) which President Obama committed the United States to at the 2010 Cancun conference.

In the United States about 40% of primary energy production, 72% of electric power production, and 39% of CO2 emissions are related to buildings. In 2010, the National Academy of Sciences found that the United States could cost-effectively reduce its 2020 energy consumption by 17-20 % through expanded use of energy efficiency technologies.

A new energy efficiency bill the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2013 (S. 761) has been reported out of committee in the U.S. Senate. This bill, which was introduced by Senators Shaheen and Portman appears to have broad bipartisan support. It provides goals, incentives, and support for energy efficiency efforts across the U.S. economy, with a focus on the residential and commercial buildings and industrial sectors. This is a very far reaching bill that could have dramatic impact on the energy efficiency of all types of buildings by encouraging more energy efficient building codes and specifically targeting the energy efficiency of commercial buildings through financial incentives.

The bill proposes updating model building energy codes to enable the achievement of aggregate energy savings targets for commercial and residential buildings. The baseline for model building energy codes would be the 2009 IECC for residential buildings and ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2010 for commercial buildings.

Furthermore, the bill proposes to develop and adjust targets in recognition of potential savings and costs relating to efficiency gains made in appliances, lighting, windows, insulation, and building envelope sealing; advancement of distributed generation and on-site renewable power generation technologies; equipment improvements for heating, cooling, and ventilation systems; building management systems and SmartGrid technologies to reduce energy use.

The bill proposes that the Department of Energy undertake studies to assess requiring that in the future buildings be designed, sited, and constructed in a manner that makes the buildings adaptable in the future to become zero-net-energy after initial construction, as advances are achieved in energy-saving technologies. It also recommends investigating code procedures to incorporate measured lifetimes, not just first-year energy use, in trade-offs and performance calculations.

To encourage energy efficiency in the commercial sector, the bill proposes a financial incentive program Commercial Building Energy Efficiency Financing Initiative to provide grants to states to establish or expand programs to promote the financing of energy efficiency retrofit projects for private sector and commercial buildings. The types of programs eligible for this program include revolving loan funds, programs to promote the use of energy savings performance contracts or utility energy service contracts, utility on-bill financing or repayment programs; utility energy efficiency programs for all segments of the utility industry, or a leasing structure that recognizes energy costs and addresses split-incentives.

Key provisions of the Shaheen-Portman bill are voluntary, or leave a large degree of discretion for implementation to the Secretary of Energy, so the bills exact emissions implications are uncertain. But the bill clearly has major implications for energy performance analysis, building information modeling (BIM) and laser scanning tools and services.

The adoption of BIM processes and technologies is a major trend that has been gathering steam over the last decade motivated by the need for better outcomes. According to McGraw-Hill Construction overall adoption of BIM by architects, engineers and contractors n the U.S. has increased from 17% in 2007 to 71% in 2012, 45% growth over the last 3 years, or 400% growth over the last 5 years. There are also signs that interest in BIM by owners is also growing. The survey found that a small but significant percentage of owners are using models for building system operation analysis, maintenance scheduling, asset and space management. About 60% of contractors report medium to high demand from owners for as-built record BIM models.

This means that for a new building an architects, designer’s or contractor’s BIM could provides the key elements that are required for an energy performance analysis including simplified walls and floors, room bounding elements, complete volumes, window frames and curtain walls. Together with the geographical location of the building, surrounding structures and the local historical environmental conditions, an energy performance analysis can reduce annual energy consumption and power bills by about 40%. It is expected that the Shaheen and Portman bill will provide some type of financial incentives. Already in some jurisdictions such as Ontario, energy performance analysis is partially or completely subsidized and reducing the electric power usage of a new building over code generates an immediate financial payback from the Ontario Power Authority’s High Performance New Construction (HPNC) program.

For an existing building laser scanning is increasingly being used to derive a dimensionally accurate BIM. Together with the geographic location of the building and surrounding structures, plus local historical insolation and weather information, a building energy performance analysis and simulation can be performed to compute current energy requirements and assess alternative ways of reducing the building’s energy usage.

According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), energy efficiency improvements in the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors based on the IEA’s High Demand Technology scenario could cover 47 percent of the gap between business-as-usual emissions and the U.S. 2020 target. Furthermore, the WRI compared the potential impact of the Shaheen-Portman with the EIA’s High Demand Technology scenario and concluded that the Shaheen-Portman bill in its current form may need to be bolstered to ensure greater adoption of energy efficiency opportunities. For example, it could further stipulate mandatory building energy codes for new and existing residential and commercial buildings. It could promote improving utility-commercial building collaboration on energy efficiency. At the state level, the legislation could include an already proposed amendment the State Energy Race to the Top Initiative to support and reward progress toward the longer-term goal of doubling energy productivity by 2030.