As emission reduction targets loom, Entuitive designs buildings to work with the environment, rather than against it

Written on Aug 23, 2019

Advanced Performance Analysis (APA) allows us to consider all the potential ways in which a building’s environment will impact performance so that we can maximize energy efficiency and reduce design and development costs. As a result, simulating building performance has rapidly moved from being a good idea to an essential part of the design process.

By asking key questions of a building’s design at early stages, we can influence the environmental impact of a completed project in a way that is impossible when simulation is only considered for validating compliance. By providing feedback on performance indicators, such as thermal comfort, access to daylight, indoor air quality, and overall energy consumption at all stages of design, we enable design teams to push the boundaries of architecture and engineering with confidence that sustainability targets will be achieved.

We spoke with Entuitive’s new Building Performance Analysis Lead, Tristan Truyens, about this service and its future in the industry.

Q: For those not familiar with this service, can you start by telling us what Advanced Performance Analysis entails?

Tristan: APA is a service that assists design teams in achieving high-performance results by providing targeted analysis at key stages of the design process. High performance in buildings tends to be defined by their low energy usage as well as exceptional internal thermal comfort, ventilation effectiveness, and other wellness factors for building occupants.

APA goes beyond traditional energy modelling, which buttonholes you into analyzing the energy consumption of an entire building. While this has some value, we can also target specific aspects of design. Optimizing the ideal placement of windows for daylighting against increased glare and solar heat gain, for example.

Q: Why is this kind of detailed analysis important during the design process?

Tristan: It’s important because as a society we now have objectives for lowering the energy intensity of, well, everything. The Canada Green Building Council has done some research and determined that in order to meet Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, we’d need to be building all new construction to a net zero energy standard by 2030. In addition, we’d have to have retrofitted all existing buildings to a net zero energy performance level by 2050. Those dates aren’t so far away anymore.

From a more pragmatic standpoint, having a high-performance facility enhances internal environmental quality, which is a differentiator, particularly in the commercial industry. If you are a high-end firm that’s actively looking to attract and retain the best talent, having an office space that has been intentionally designed to meet certain high standards is an attractor.

Q: How does Entuitive leverage APA for its clients?

Tristan: Advanced Performance Analysis fits hand-in-glove with our Building Envelope services. The cornerstone of modern low energy design is a highly effective building envelope. For example, having to oversize mechanical systems to respond to a poor envelope won’t reach the energy and sustainability results you’re after. Many iterative conversations must happen with the architectural team, who must consider how the building envelope is going to integrate into full building performance. That’s where APA fits in and that’s what we offer our clients: early, informed decision-making regarding the performance of their design.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about APA’s history and how we got here?

Tristan: As best as I know, energy modelling was born out of the energy crisis of the mid ’70s during the OPEC embargo and developed slowly and linearly from there as computing technology improved.

With the introduction of the LEED rating system, energy modelling became standard practice. However, the software was still designed around that full building energy picture, specifically tailored to assessing compliance.

In the last five to 10 years, there’s been a shift to moving energy analysis to the earlier stages of design, rather than leaving it to the end of the process to document compliance. Software has started to move alongside that by increasing flexibility to different stages of design. Then, even more recently than that, in the last three years, there’s been an increase in innovation in coding and scripting that has driven some really, really fascinating custom ways of analyzing building systems.

Platforms like Honeybee and Ladybug, in the Grasshopper insect ecosystem, are essentially completely open-ended, object-oriented coding platforms that are wide open to analysts to define how they’re going to try and find an answer to a specific question. People are only just starting to unlock the power that’s available there. I’m excited to have joined a firm that continually pushes the limits of technology to deliver better performance results.

Q: How can we get to carbon neutral, or net zero buildings?

Tristan: In some cases, it can be tricky. In general, the definition of net zero is that over the course of a year, a building doesn’t consume more energy from the grid than it puts back into it via on-site renewables. This isn’t always possible, particularly in the commercial buildings space. A 60-storey office tower with limited roof space and a whole lot of office to cover won’t be able to produce enough solar power to cover the entire building’s needs. That’s where the concept of purchasing offsets comes in.

Offsetting usually means paying a certain amount for electricity, but your provider, for example Bullfrog, charges you a little bit more, and that extra fee gets put towards funding renewable infrastructure.

The ideal way to do this is to first make sure your building consumes as little energy as possible, then offset the rest. Renewable energy systems are still expensive, so it makes more sense to work with what you have. That’s really where the performance modelling piece comes in, to try and get that total energy consumption as low as possible, and to minimize any peak loads to a point where, in theory, you meet your entire energy budget with on-site renewables, depending on typology.

Q: Where do you see APA going in the future?

Tristan: I think you’ll see the adoption of this service growing almost exponentially with time. There’s been, in the past two or three years, at least in the Toronto market, a dearth of talent and experience to meet the need that’s rising right now. We’re seeing many of the cities in which Entuitive has offices, New York for example, beginning to take action by legislating building-specific emissions reductions, and I think energy analysis teams will start getting involved earlier and earlier in the design process.

Traditionally, design and building construction has been a brute force mastery of the environment, but with passive design we can work with the environment rather than dominate it.

To learn more about Advanced Performance Analysis, contact Tristan at tristan.truyens@entuitive.com.