October 2008

Volume 17, Number 10

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Free Energy Modeling in Google SketchUp

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A model from Google SketchUp overlaid on a wind rose with airflow analysis results from Integrated Environmental Solutions’ Virtual Environment.

Photo: Courtesy Integrated Environmental Solutions

Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES) has launched a plug-in for Google SketchUp that delivers energy and carbon footprint simulations to inform early-stage design decisions. The free plug-in provides results without any additional software, although owners of IES’s Virtual Environment package or its VE-Toolkits can perform additional analyses, such as daylight or airflow modeling. The plug-in provides functionality from SketchUp that IES previously offered only from Autodesk’s Revit Architecture and Revit MEP, including documentation for the LEED daylighting credit.

Beginning with a SketchUp model, the plug-in prompts a user to define the building’s location (if it isn’t already linked to a location in Google Earth). Using a series of pull-down menus, the user assigns the building’s function, the type of mechanical system, how the building envelope is constructed, and, optionally, the uses of specific spaces within the building. Based on these definitions, the software assigns default values for typical occupancy schedules and internal energy loads.

The plug-in color-codes the SketchUp model based on which volumes are properly enclosed to avoid errors in volume definitions. It then uses IES’s simulation engine as packaged in the free VE-Ware or in one of IES’s other software packages to perform the simulation and deliver results. The energy performance is compared to an average U.S. building and to 2030 Challenge targets for that building type. “After beginning in SketchUp, users can go to either Autodesk or Bentley products to further develop their model,” notes Don McLean, IES founder and managing director. “The key is that they are getting the sustainable design right first.”

Users who want to review the default assumptions can find them in the documentation, according to McLean. Only users of the full Virtual Environments package can change those assumptions, however, and even then any changes they make won’t be retained if they go back to SketchUp to make changes and rerun the plug-in.

With this plug-in IES delivers on the promise of a similar effort using the U.S. Department of Energy’s EnergyPlus simulation engine. That plug-in has been available for some time, but, at least in its current form, is not accessible to nontechnical users. With the SketchUp connection, IES is challenging Autodesk’s Ecotect and Green Building Studio tools in early-design-phase performance analysis. “We would love to see architects analyze their design as early as possible in the process,” said McLean.

– Nadav Malin

For more information:

Integrated Environmental Solutions (USA), Ltd.

Boston, Massachusetts





Comments (1)

1 I WANT it to work better, but posted by Caleb Crawford on 12/10/2008 at 05:16 pm

Hi, I read about the IES VE software as a free plug-in to SketchUp and Revit. I am an educator, and always looking for simple and straightforward programs for my students to use. Unfortunately, this is not one of them. I used this with SketchUp.

Problems: 1. There is no way to meet the 2030 Challenge with the building envelope and systems choices provided. This is the biggest flaw. I am sure they have to limit in order to get the program to run, but this inhibits innovation, and the kind of building assemblies advocated by Building Science Corporation, among others, are not available. 2. There are no alternative systems available. Only conventional heating and cooling systems are available. For instance, there is no solar HW, nor are there PV panels. There isn’t even an option for a ground source heat pump. 3. Units are ostensibly American, but their u value is obviously different than ours. For instance, the lowest u value for a window is 1.45, which makes no sense. American u value for a triple pane low e window is in the neighborhood of 0.20.

In general, this is my complaint with most building analysis. I tried BEES when it came out, and it hasn’t improved since. There is no room for innovation, and many choices simply aren’t present. In many analyses, there is an assumption of a hermetically sealed box, and it takes on the heating and cooling degree days for the area, without consideration for natural heating and cooling strategies. I suppose this is more complex, but hey!, we live in a complex world.

Perhaps this will improve, or that I will have additional choices when I get the upgrade for the locked tools that I currently do not have access to.

My two cents.

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September 25, 2008