Microsoft Research Connections and the Royal Danish Academy, one of the world’s oldest schools of architecture, are working with an Italian start-up company called Green Prefab to develop a set of cloud-based architectural design tools that will simulate a future building’s energy consumption.
The energy efficiency of buildings is coming under increasing focus, both for private housing and businesses. Around the world – including the EU, Australia, China and US cities and states – there are various regulations making it mandatory to assess and disclose the energy performance of homes or commercial buildings. Even when not mandated, rating systems, such as LEED in the US, BREEAM in the UK and Nabers in Australia are widely used to demonstrate a building’s energy efficiency.
In order to construct buildings that reach the targeted levels of energy efficiency, it’s important to be able to predict how a building design will perform. That level of simulation is a tall order for most architecture firms at the moment, but that’s the challenge that Microsoft’s working on.
Green Prefab already has a library of pre-assembled green building components that will be at the heart of the cloud-based service. Architects will be able to access services to produce energy efficiency reports, conduct in-depth structural analysis and produce photo-realistic images of the building. The start-up is working with Microsoft to develop some of its first cloud computing tools, using Windows Azure.
The Institute of Architectural Technology of the Royal Danish Academy has been testing a prototype of the system. The institute found that the cloud-based solution achieved about twice the potential energy savings of a traditional PC-based approach (33% compared to 17%). Using the cloud also reduced the computing time. The architect was able to run 220,185 energy consumption simulations in the cloud in only three days – it would have taken an unrealistic 122 days with a PC.
Review: This is a good example of greening by IT. The ability to simulate the energy efficiency of buildings can help produce long-lasting savings in carbon emissions that are likely to be many times greater than the emissions used by the IT systems in doing the work. Also, by using the cloud, greater computing power can be brought to bear to achieve results that are not feasible using in-house resources, and, everything else being equal, the IT running the cloud-based systems can be expected to be more energy efficient.
None of this is certain, of course. There is always the danger that architects might run the system trying to achieve impossible results with bad designs. If simulations are that fast, it doesn’t matter if you do more than you really need. And a cloud-based solution may not necessarily be a greener option. But with sensible architects using a reasonably green IT services company (such as IBM) the environment will gain.