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Modeling every building in America starts with Chattanooga

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James Hammond
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Buildings use 40 percent of America's primary energy and 75 percent of its electricity, which can jump to 80 percent when a majority of the population is at home using heating or cooling systems and the seasons reach their extremes.

The US Department of Energy's (DOE)'s Building Technologies Office (BTO), one of eight technology offices within DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, aims to reduce the energy consumption per square foot of American buildings by 30 percent from 2010 to 2030--a massive challenge considering that America is home to 124 million building structures.

Building energy modeling--computer simulation of building energy use given a description of the building, its systems, use patterns, and prevailing weather conditions--is an analytical tool that can be used to identify cost-effective energy efficiency opportunities in existing and new buildings.

As a result, modeling is used in only a fraction of new construction and retrofit projects.

A team led by research and development senior staff member Joshua New at DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is looking to change that, and specifically to make it possible to cost-effectively create a building energy model for every building in America.

To demonstrate their approach, the team recently used the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility's (OLCF's) Cray XK7 Titan supercomputer to model every building serviced by the Electric Power Board (EPB) of Chattanooga--all 178,368 of them--and discovered through more than 2 million simulations that EPB could potentially save $11-$35 million per year by adjusting electricity usage during peak critical times.

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