Toward a Virtual Building Laboratory

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Buildings account for about one-third of all energy used in the US and about two-thirds of all electricity, with associated environmental impacts.(EIA 1996) After more than 20 years of DOE-supported research universities and national laboratories, a great deal is known about the energy performance of buildings and especially their components and subsystems. The development and market introduction of improved energy efficient technology, such as low-E windows and electronic ballasts, have helped reduce energy use, and the resultant savings will increase, as use of the new technologies becomes more widespread. A variety of approaches to speed market penetration have been and are being pursued, including information dissemination, research to evaluate performance and development of computer tools for making energy performance simulations available to architects and engineers at the earliest design stages. Public-domain computer building energy simulation models, (BLAST_Support_Office 1992; Winkelmann, Birdsall et al. 1993) a controversial idea 20 years ago, have been extremely successful in facilitating the design of more energy-efficient buildings and providing the technical basis for improved state building codes, federal guidelines, and voluntary standards. But the full potential of savings, estimated at 50% of current consumption or $100 billion/year, (Bevington and Rosenfeld 1990; Todesco 1996; Holdren 1997; Kolderup and Syphers 1997; ORNL, LBNL et al. 1997) will require that architects and engineers take an integrated look at buildings beginning in the early design phase, with increasing use of sophisticated, complex and interrelated building systems. This puts a greater burden on the designer and engineer to make accurate engineering decisions.

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