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New model maps energy usage of every building in Boston

The model's architects believe other New England cities, like Providence, R.I., can plug in their own housing stock and building data and get a similarly detailed energy usage map.
By Brooks Hays   |   Feb. 23, 2016 at 10:25 AM

BOSTON, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- In an effort to help city officials plan for a more energy-efficient future, researchers at MIT have built a model that simulates the energy usage of the entire city of Boston.

The simulation estimates the electricity and gas demands of more than 100,000 Boston buildings for every day of the year.

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"Nobody has ever modeled a city the size of Boston at this level of detail," Christoph Reinhart, associate professor of architecture at MIT, told MIT News. "It's also the first time that these data are being used by a city to guide energy policy decisions."

There are a number of available solutions for buildings looking to become more energy efficient. Combined heat and power systems, solar paneling, battery storage and ground source heat pumps can all help property owners either use less, waste less or produce cleaner energy -- or all three.

The question city planners and property managers have to answer is: which solution or combination of solutions works best for each building?

The new model developed by researchers at the MIT Sustainable Design Lab and the MIT Lincoln Laboratory -- and supported by the Boston Redevelopment Authority -- can help answer that question.

"If you have a building consuming a lot of electricity at certain hours, you need buildings around them that can use that waste heat," said Carlos Cerezo, a PhD student in MIT's Building Technology Program. "Our model is built for figuring out where those things happen."

Researchers built a series of algorithms designed to predict energy usage based on building size, shape and purpose -- residential, office, hospital, school. City records helped researchers amass a data set. The algorithms accounted for each building's heating and cooling systems, electricity demands, thermostat settings, peak occupancy and wall and roof materials and structure.

The model's architects believe other New England cities, like Providence, R.I., can plug in their own housing stock and building data and get a similarly detailed energy usage map.

Scientists are currently comparing their model's outputs to actual electricity and gas usage data to check for accuracy.

"We'll do this using any building-level energy dataset that we can get our hands on, so the models become more and more accurate," Reinhart said. "Ultimately, our goal is for every city in the world to rely on a citywide energy model to meaningfully manage its future energy supply and carbon emissions."

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