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In November, the Energy Department’s Building Technologies Office (BTO) published the final version of its Research and Development Opportunities (RDO) document for Building Energy Modeling (BEM). This publication completes a nearly five-year process that included the release of two draft documents—one in 2016 and the other in 2019—and two public comment periods that generated over 800 separate responses totaling nearly 200 pages.

Software is an incredibly fast-moving field. Ten years ago, cloud computing and machine learning were just getting started; today they are ubiquitous. The rapid and unpredictable development of software technology makes it challenging to develop meaningful benchmarks, targets, and goals for an industry or even a single product. Rather than attempting to do that, this RDO uses metrics, benchmarks, and targets for selected use-cases of BEM, primarily those pertaining to integrated design, which is already tracked extensively by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) 2030 Commitment program.

BTO’s current target is for BEM to be used in the design of 70% of new commercial floor area, resulting in 20% reductions in design EUI over floor that is not modeled. BTO is currently developing metrics and targets for other use cases.

The RDO itself is intended as a “statement of purpose” that identifies major barriers to achieving this goal and potential roles for BTO in addressing them. The barriers and initiatives are grouped into six categories that range from the inherent difficulty of using BEM to predict absolute energy use, to focusing and structuring federally funded BEM software for maximum impact, to developing standards that support BEM and its use cases, to supporting BEM professionals and educators, to documenting and promulgating the BEM value proposition writ large.

In all cases, the focus is on working in collaboration with organizations such as IBPSA-USA (the U.S. chapter of the International Building Performance Simulation Association, the BEM professional society) and ASHRAE (the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers) to pursue initiatives that benefit the community as a whole. The RDO is intended to be a living document and a basis for ongoing discussion between BTO and the BEM community.

BTO thanks all of those who contributed to the development of the RDO. From the Navigant (now Guidehouse) team that organized the original workshops, conducted the interviews, and wrote the original draft back in 2015, to those who participated in those original workshops, to the lab employees who contributed to the development of the second draft, to the Peer Reviewers who provided initial feedback on the second draft in 2019, to the IBPSA-USA Advocacy Committee which collected and synthesized comments from its membership and engaged in continuing dialog with BTO to help incorporate them into the final version, to the many individuals and organizations who responded through the public comment process.