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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Automatic generation and simulation of urban building energy models based on city datasets for city-scale building retrofit analysis


Buildings in cities consume 30–70% of total primary energy, and improving building energy efficiency is one of the key strategies towards sustainable urbanization. Urban building energy models (UBEM) can support city managers to evaluate and prioritize energy conservation measures (ECMs) for investment and the design of incentive and rebate programs. This paper presents the retrofit analysis feature of City Building Energy Saver (CityBES) to automatically generate and simulate UBEM using EnergyPlus based on cities’ building datasets and user-selected ECMs. CityBES is a new open web-based tool to support city-scale building energy efficiency strategic plans and programs. The technical details of using CityBES for UBEM generation and simulation are introduced, including the workflow, key assumptions, and major databases. Also presented is a case study that analyzes the potential retrofit energy use and energy cost savings of five individual ECMs and two measure packages for 940 office and retail buildings in six city districts in northeast San Francisco, United States. The results show that: (1) all five measures together can save 23–38% of site energy per building; (2) replacing lighting with light-emitting diode lamps and adding air economizers to existing heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems are most cost-effective with an average payback of 2.0 and 4.3 years, respectively; and (3) it is not economical to upgrade HVAC systems or replace windows in San Francisco due to the city's mild climate and minimal cooling and heating loads. The CityBES retrofit analysis feature does not require users to have deep knowledge of building systems or technologies for the generation and simulation of building energy models, which helps overcome major technical barriers for city managers and their consultants to adopt UBEM.

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