Review and comparison of web- and disk-based tools for residentialenergy analysis

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There exist hundreds of building energy software tools, both web- and disk-based. These tools exhibit considerable range in approach and creativity, with some being highly specialized and others able to consider the building as a whole. However, users are faced with a dizzying array of choices and, often, conflicting results. The fragmentation of development and deployment efforts has hampered tool quality and market penetration. The purpose of this review is to provide information for defining the desired characteristics of residential energy tools, and to encourage future tool development that improves on current practice. This project entails (1) creating a framework ... continued below

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Mills, Evan August 25, 2002.

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There exist hundreds of building energy software tools, both web- and disk-based. These tools exhibit considerable range in approach and creativity, with some being highly specialized and others able to consider the building as a whole. However, users are faced with a dizzying array of choices and, often, conflicting results. The fragmentation of development and deployment efforts has hampered tool quality and market penetration. The purpose of this review is to provide information for defining the desired characteristics of residential energy tools, and to encourage future tool development that improves on current practice. This project entails (1) creating a framework for describing possible technical and functional characteristics of such tools, (2) mapping existing tools onto this framework, (3) exploring issues of tool accuracy, and (4) identifying ''best practice'' and strategic opportunities for tool design. evaluated 50 web-based residential calculators, 21 of which we regard as ''whole-house'' tools(i.e., covering a range of end uses). Of the whole-house tools, 13 provide open-ended energy calculations, 5 normalize the results to actual costs (a.k.a ''bill-disaggregation tools''), and 3 provide both options. Across the whole-house tools, we found a range of 5 to 58 house-descriptive features (out of 68 identified in our framework) and 2 to 41 analytical and decision-support features (55 possible). We also evaluated 15 disk-based residential calculators, six of which are whole-house tools. Of these tools, 11 provide open-ended calculations, 1 normalizes the results to actual costs, and 3 provide both options. These tools offered ranges of 18 to 58 technical features (70 possible) and 10 to 40 user- and decision-support features (56 possible). The comparison shows that such tools can employ many approaches and levels of detail. Some tools require a relatively small number of well-considered inputs while others ask a myriad of questions and still miss key issues. The value of detail has a lot to do with the type of question(s) being asked by the user (e.g., the availability of dozens of miscellaneous appliances is immaterial for a user attempting to evaluate the potential for space-heating savings by installing a new furnace). More detail does not, according to our evaluation, automatically translate into a ''better'' or ''more accurate'' tool. Efforts to quantify and compare the ''accuracy'' of these tools are difficult at best, and prior tool-comparison studies have not undertaken this in a meaningful way. The ability to evaluate accuracy is inherently limited by the availability of measured data. Furthermore, certain tool outputs can only be measured against ''actual'' values that are themselves calculated (e.g., HVAC sizing), while others are rarely if ever available (e.g., measured energy use or savings for specific measures). Similarly challenging is to understand the sources of inaccuracies. There are many ways in which quantitative errors can occur in tools, ranging from programming errors to problems inherent in a tool's design. Due to hidden assumptions and non-variable ''defaults'', most tools cannot be fully tested across the desirable range of building configurations, operating conditions, weather locations, etc. Many factors conspire to confound performance comparisons among tools. Differences in inputs can range from weather city, to types of HVAC systems, to appliance characteristics, to occupant-driven effects such as thermostat management. Differences in results would thus no doubt emerge from an extensive comparative exercise, but the sources or implications of these differences for the purposes of accuracy evaluation or tool development would remain largely unidentifiable (especially given the paucity of technical documentation available for most tools). For the tools that we tested, the predicted energy bills for a single test building ranged widely (by nearly a factor of three), and far more so at the end-use level. Most tools over-predicted energy bills and all over-predicted consumption. Variability was lower among disk-based tools,but they more significantly over-predicted actual use. The deviations (over-predictions) we observed from actual bills corresponded to up to $1400 per year (approx. 250 percent of the actual bills). For bill-disaggregation tools, wherein the results are forced to equal actual bills, the accuracy issue shifts to whether or not the total is properly attributed to the various end uses and to whether savings calculations are done accurately (a challenge that demands relatively rare end-use data). Here, too, we observed a number of dubious results. Energy savings estimates automatically generated by the web-based tools varied from $46/year (5 percent of predicted use) to $625/year (52 percent of predicted use).

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  • Journal Name: Energy and Buildings; Journal Volume: 36; Journal Issue: 9; Related Information: Journal Publication Date: 09/2004

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  • Report No.: LBNL--50950
  • Grant Number: DE-AC02-05CH11231
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 861160
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc785145

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  • August 25, 2002

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  • Dec. 3, 2015, 9:30 a.m.

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  • April 1, 2016, 7:48 p.m.

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Mills, Evan. Review and comparison of web- and disk-based tools for residentialenergy analysis, article, August 25, 2002; Berkeley, California. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc785145/: accessed September 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.