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The unfolding disaster in Japan has spurred the long-brewing debate over the role nuclear power can or should play in a sustainable energy future. For the here and now, though, even if we decide that the role should be zero, replacing all of our nuclear power plants with less risky forms of energy will be a generations-long endeavor…or will it? The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s new free energy conservation software points the way to a more rapid transition.
Buildings and Energy Conservation
Together, residential and commercial buildings account for about 40 percent of energy used in the U.S. That’s the half-empty glass. The half-full glass is that improving energy conservation in buildings is akin to finding a gigantic new source of energy. President Obama’s new Better Buildings Initiative is aimed at encouraging businesses and research institutions to come up with new, innovative technologies that take energy conservation to the next level. That’s where NREL’s new software comes in.
NREL’s OpenStudio Energy Modeling Software
The idea behind energy modeling is that it gives you a picture of a building’s energy use while it’s still in the design phase. The Department of Energy already has a free energy use simulator called EnergyPlus, and the free OpenStudio software adds more user-friendly applications. The original OpenStudio was released in 2008. The new version is even friendlier, including a plug-in for Google SketchUp, a simple model-editing tool, and a graphic format for viewing results from EnergyPlus.
More Free Energy-Saving Software
Meanwhile, the U.S. Forestry Service has just released a new version of its urban tree valuation software. The latest version, i-Tree v. 4, enables urban planners, organizations and individuals to put a dollar value on urban trees in terms of environmental benefits and other impacts including public health and safety, and economic activity. Tree canopies can be an important energy saving factor for buildings by reducing summer heat, so it will be interesting to see how EnergyPlus, OpenStudio and i-Tree interact.
Image: OpenStudio sample graphic courtesy of NREL, by Roger Hedrick, Architectural Energy Corporation and David Goldwasser of NREL.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.