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Dynamic simulation for Energy Efficiency

The energy efficiency of buildings is a complex problem. It involves the building's external frame (walls, roof, doors, windows etc.) and its insulation, as well as the wiring and the heating and air conditioning facilities. What the building is used for also makes a difference - just think about the heat generated by a room full of computers.

Most importantly, all the elements in the building affect one another: switching on an electric oven means using electricity but, in turn, that heats the house, so a well-functioning automatic heating system will sense it and reduce its activity, so the heat stored up in the batteries of a solar facility can be used for other purposes and so on.

More and more often, in the case of such complex problems, designers use simulation, i.e. they use software that calculates how the building will behave if certain project decisions are made. A fast calculator will be able to simulate what happens in weeks or months in a few seconds (or minutes). It will be able to predict how the heating system will behave and its consumption if different insulators are used and if the heating elements are arranged in one way or another.  

In the Politecnico, and particularly in the Cremona Campus, the use of ICT technology (simulation in this case) to help engineering is considered a very interesting subject. Currently in Cremona an innovative type of dynamic simulation models is being developed - simply put, a "clever" way of calculating how the building will behave - in which precision and great calculation speed are combined, so that the behaviour of the air, the outside frame, the facilities and any control systems (e.g. of temperature and humidity) can be simulated at the same time.

The research is already providing the first encouraging results. Current expectations are that in a couple of years at the most it will be possible to simulate complex buildings as well, including facilities and controlling systems, at a much higher speed than real time and with considerable temporal accuracy in just under a second if necessary.

Models of this kind will allow designers to work even more quickly, which is ultimately the applicative goal of the research. There are more ambitious aims, such as putting the simulators directly into the control systems of the buildings. When this is possible, the home computer will be able to use the simulator's predictions to precisely execute highly complex tasks - if there is more than one energy source it will be able to independently plan which to use, it will be able to decide when to execute a programmed operation before a deadline (e.g. programmed wash "by tomorrow morning") and so on.