I read an article a few years back about how energy-modeling was inaccurate. I disagreed with a lot of the articles premise, but not the energy-nerd’s conclusion. The article failed to specify that they were talking about residential energy modeling, which I thought was a cheap shot, because it is easier to miss the mark on poorly controlled buildings. My biggest problem with the article was that it blamed the software. I have a saying: If you want to blame the software, please consult a mirror first.
The software packages are not the main problem. Not even close. Barking up that tree is the calling card of someone who just wants to bitch about energy-modeling. I can tell you that if somebody’s primary complaint is the software, they are poorly educated within the building energy model field.
Considering that back story, I decided to add my 2 cents. So here are 5 cold hard truths about energy-modeling, from someone who promotes energy-modeling:
Why are the software packages so limited?
Cold hard truth: Corporate self interest limits the software.
This is a loaded question. The software is not the main problem. Nonetheless, the problems with the software arise from the fact that energy-modeling is extremely proprietary in nature. Remember when every cell phone company had a different charger? Energy-modeling is still like that. It’s impossible to share from software to software. There is no co-operation between vendors. Open-source software also gets very little attention, because the energy-modeling sub-culture lacks a sense of altruism. The bottom line is that the software works pretty well, but cannot do everything. In most markets, a good practitioner can work around the software more than 90% of the time.
Why is it so hard to get help?
Cold hard truth: Experts can make a lot of money and don't want competition.
There are thousands of energy-modeling experts, but if you look at people who publicly contribute, there are maybe a handful. In fact, in a random sample of 1000 posts, I found that 99% of questions asked on a mailing list were answered by less than 1% of users. Now, most experts are extremely busy and don’t have time to work on anything else. Thus, to get real 1-on-1 help requires paying at least $125/hour, and probably more like $200, and even then most companies will only do the entire project - which falls into the category of “A Magician Never tells his tricks”. Many companies have their own tools that they make, maintain (or steal) in order to keep a competitive edge. Since there are so many private databases, one cannot find universal help and most companies will not offer support at all. On top of that, many employees are not allowed to help anyone outside of their company due to strict non-compete agreements. If you want full time support, designate someone to be an in-house expert. Get them trained and retrained. Send them to conferences to make other connections in the field.
Why are energy-models inaccurate?
Cold hard truth: the industry lacks necessary talent and is rife with incompetence.
Energy-modeling itself can be very accurate and many of them are. Sadly, most energy-models are inaccurate. There is headway being made, but why does this problem occur in the first place? The first reason is that there is a lack of talent in the industry (conclusion by the Rocky Mountain Energy-Summit). The second is that the industry is not regulated and anyone can say they are an energy-modeler (note that SOFTWARE is regulated) I will personally say that having worked energy modeling support for 7 years now, that there are many, many “energy-modelers” that could not tell me what operating system they were using, nor could they tell me what internet browser they use. We have too many computer illiterate people running energy-models. The solution would be to test your own employees. In fact, we set up enterprise options because a few clever managers wanted to oversee how their employees do on our quizzes, to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Here's another factoid telling you that its a good idea to keep track of your energy-modelers doings.
See this image (and by the way, that forum page could only be viewed by users who were logged on).
Why do Energy-models take so long?
Cold hard truth: the whole HVAC industry moves slow. Lack of fierce competition in energy-modeling allows it to move even slower
Energy-models can be very complicated and require many pieces from many members of a team. One missing piece can put the whole project on hold, and most people within these teams are salaried. Thus, there’s usually a few people that move slow, and a lot of energy-modelers will take a job that they don’t know how to do, then learn how to do it, then do it. Of course, that is hard to get statistics on. Here’s two to support this theory:
1) Our most popular page on the website by 200% - "Architect Jokes" (working hard or hardly working?)
2) Most technical questions arrive on Friday afternoons. (Having worked in another support center, the reason is so the user can say “Sorry boss, it’s not in my hands anymore, I sent it off and am waiting on support”).
Why does this industry move so much slower than general computer programming?
Cold hard truths: Too many people have ongoing gravy government contracts that prevent 'government funded software' from ever reaching completion. Only 1 or 2 countries fund the energy modeling software while the rest of the world uses it.
If you use the web, you’ll notice that there are tons of high quality free open-source software packages. There is also widespread free support, where it seems people are often fighting over who gets to answer your question first. This is not true of energy-modeling at all. Now, arguably, part of the reason is that so much talent goes to the programming industry, but there is more to it than that. It is largely a cultural and political problem within the building simulation industry. Relative to computer programming, there is a disproportionate amount of government money being poured into the building simulation industry and hencepeople assume that it is the government’s job to make the software, and support it.Subsequently, free market growth of proprietary software would render certain government contracts obsolete. Imagine you came out with a new software package and were trying to get it approved. Then consider that many of the people that do the approval are also being funded directly or indirectly by government funded software. Think about it.... We have to remove nefarious purposes. The energy modeling industry will grow as soon as the culture becomes more like the computer programming industry. I would implore anyone reading this to simply help someone occasionally out of benevolence (for free). Once we break that barrier, this industry will take off like the computer programming industry.
#6, the Energy-modeling industry is self cannibalizing due to a lack of good-will and a few overly-disdainful fellows.
EVERY "good-will" based attempt at providing energy-modeling help has failed. Forums, stack-exchange, help-lines. Our forum is the only remaining pure forum, while the mailing lists remain, but they are mostly used for announcements, advertising, and unanswered questions.
Now, I am an optimist, but I believe these are items that people should know about the industry, and that scapegoating the software will get us nowhere. Consider the bright side: despite these difficulties, energy-modeling is still considered very valuable, and the industry is still doing well. A good energy-modeler can get a job anywhere. This won’t change until the price of gas drops to a dollar a gallon - or in the event that hell freezes over, whichever comes first.
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