Energy modeling has been used in Canada since the 1990s, but consistent standards that produce credible work remain elusive.
Aware that comprehensive education is lacking, the B.C. Institute of Technology (BCIT) is offering a 15-week course, Energy Modeling for Building Professionals, through its School of Construction and the Environment.
Geared towards engineers, architects and Red Seal professionals, the course will address how to conduct building performance analysis, interpret energy model results and integrate energy modeling (the science of energy-efficient building design) into the design process.
Plenty of hands-on work will allow students to put theory into actual practice.
"Energy modeling has been around for a while but there's never been a strong system to teach it," said Andrea Linsky, head of BCIT's Sustainable Energy Management Program, which is overseeing the course.
Energy modeling is important because the engineer, designer or architect acquires an understanding of the building's energy needs and how it will behave before it is built.
Done via computers, energy modeling allows for experimentation as the building is designed, Linsky said.
An example of online analysis would be the effects on heating and pooling loads if a window is moved from the north to the south.
In the past, buildings were constructed to meet code, often in the most cost-effective way.
Functionality and energy efficiency were typically dealt with post-construction, sometimes at great cost.
Chris Flood, a building analysis specialist for his company Navier, co-developed the course, following five years of lobbying BCIT and BC Hydro about the importance of such instruction.
First, effective energy modeling reduces greenhouse gas emissions, which helps the environment.
Second, well-designed buildings have lower energy costs, a rising expense that is becoming a major concern for projects, said Flood.
The course, taught by Flood and Helen Goodland, will address topics such as building orientation, envelope design, space configurations, massing and how to reduce the need for mechanical equipment.
Before immigrating to Vancouver from Ireland five years ago, Flood, a mechanical engineer, honed his energy modeling skills while working in the European environment, where energy costs are high compared to Canada.
"In Europe, the first thing they ask is, 'How much will it cost me to operate this building?'" said Flood, who's done energy modeling for a decade.
Energy modeling, or as it's referred to in Europe, "energy analysis," is a high priority.
It has been used for many years, yet remains in its infancy in Canada, he said.
But as Canadian energy prices rise, the ability to determine what it will cost to operate a building during the design stage, is rapidly gaining traction on home soil.
That cost factor is even more acute for public projects like schools, hospitals and airports.
Public-private Partnership (P3) projects are even including design-build energy targets in their contracts, Flood said.
The Canadian appetite for more green and LEED buildings is also driving demand for energy modeling, Linsky said.
"The pressure is really on," said Flood, adding that building contracts today include provisions for the accuracy of energy analysis.
"Now, there are very serious fines if a building does not perform as in the contract," he said.
Millions of dollars can be on the line if the building uses more energy than stipulated.
So, the significance of a level, accurate platform to train engineers and architects cannot be understated.
"The hole we have in the industry is that there is no consistency in the work being produced," Flood said.
Energy modeling has often been taught on the job without uniform standards or training.
It was sometimes a case of "garbage in, garbage out," with the end product being a building based on an inaccurate model, said Linsky, a chemical engineer who switched to energy management engineering. One enticement is that BC Hydro and FortisBC are providing funding for large commercial projects that improve energy efficiency, Linsky said.
The key is that funding can only be acquired when energy efficiency is proven with accurate data so an airtight model is required, Linsky said.
Flood likened energy modeling to buying a car and asking about the miles-per-gallon.
In the case of buildings, it's energy-used-per-structure.
The BCIT course, which starts on Sept. 5 and finishes on Dec. 12, will use software programs such as AutoCAD, eQuest, IESVE and Energy Plus.
The course will only accept up to 25 students.
They should have an advanced understanding of mathematics and building systems, Linsky said. The class should be a model course.
"It's designed to produce people with real practical skills, backed up with workshop practice so they can hit the ground running," Flood said.