ORNL’s simulation tool creates digital twin of buildings from coast to coast

A new tool that simulates the energy profile of every building in America will give homeowners, utilities and companies a quick way to determine energy use and cost-effective retrofits that can reduce energy and carbon emissions.

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed a modeling program that provides energy details for every one of the 129 million buildings across the United States using publicly available data.

Supported by DOE’s Office of Electricity and Office Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the modeling software suite, known as Automatic Building Energy Modeling, or AutoBEM, was developed to achieve ORNL’s five-year Model America vision: to generate digital twins for all buildings across the country. ORNL’s research team, led by Joshua New, made the models publicly available earlier this year.

“A challenge of this scale is exactly what DOE’s national laboratories were created for, and the tool we’ve developed could be guiding energy-efficient building efforts in this country for decades to come,” said Xin Sun, ORNL associate laboratory director for energy science and technology.

When the project began in 2015, there was no single resource to accurately visualize and quantify energy details for each U.S. building. Such a tool would help the buildings sector contribute to the nation’s goal of spurring an equitable clean energy economy and cement America on a path to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This goal is critical because buildings account for 40% of America’s energy consumption and 75% of its electricity.

“There are a lot of different industries that just don’t have the information they need to make actionable business decisions on how to improve energy efficiency,” New said. “AutoBEM is a free resource that’s meant to grease the skids toward deployment.”

Urban planners and energy justice advocates can use AutoBEM to look at entire blocks and neighborhoods and identify areas that have been historically overlooked in building improvement efforts. Doing so would easily identify communities that could most benefit from building upgrades.