Free Energy Modeling for Google Sketchup!

by Bridgette Steffen

Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES) has launched a plug-in for Google SketchUp that delivers energy and carbon footprint simulations to inform early-stage design decisions. The free plug-in provides results without any additional software requirements, although owners of IES’s Virtual Environment package or its VE-Toolkits can perform additional analyses, such as daylight or airflow modeling. The plug-in provides functionality from SketchUp that IES previously offered only from Autodesk’s Revit Architecture and Revit MEP, including documentation for the LEED daylighting credit.

Beginning with a SketchUp model, the plug-in prompts a user to define the building’s location (if it isn’t already linked to a location in Google Earth). Using a series of pull-down menus, the user assigns the building’s function, the type of mechanical system, how the building envelope is constructed, and, optionally, the uses of specific spaces within the building. Based on these definitions, the software assigns default values for typical occupancy schedules and internal energy loads.

The plug-in color-codes the SketchUp model based on which volumes are properly enclosed to avoid errors in volume definitions. It then uses IES’s simulation engine as packaged in the free VE-Ware or in one of IES’s other software packages to perform the simulation and deliver results. The energy performance is compared to an average U.S. building and to 2030 Challenge targets for that building type. “After beginning in SketchUp users can go to either Autodesk or Bentley products to further develop their model,” notes Don McLean, IES founder and managing director. “The key is that they are getting the sustainable design right first.”

Users who want to review the default assumptions can find them in the documentation, according to McLean. Only users of the full Virtual Environments package can change those assumptions, however, and even then any changes they make won’t be retained if they go back to SketchUp to make changes and re-run the plug-in.

With this plug-in IES delivers on the promise of a similar effort using the U.S. Department of Energy’s EnergyPlus simulation engine. That plug-in has been available for some time, but, at least in its current form, is not accessible to non-technical users. With the SketchUp connection, IES is challenging Autodesk’s Ecotect and Green Building Studio tools in early-design-phase performance analysis. Videos demonstrating the plug-in’s use are available on the IES website and on YouTube. “We would love to see architects analyze their design as early as possible in the process,” notes McLean.