Successful Use of Energy Modeling to Inform Design

Michael Walsh, R.G. Vanderweil Engineers, LLP

This case study will discuss the successful completion of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Phase 1, at the State University of New York at Buffalo that used early concept phase energy modeling to inform design then continued use of energy modeling in the schematic phase to optimize the systems. This 628,000 gsf world class health science complex integrates patient care, medical education, and biomedical research into one location. The first two floors house multipurpose educational and community spaces. The third, fourth and fifth floors feature core modular research facilities and 150,000 sf of state-of-the art research laboratories. The sixth floor houses specialized medical education facilities, including a patient care simulation center and a surgical simulation center to simulate operating rooms. A robotic surgery simulation center will train students and physicians in remote control surgery technologies. The administrative offices and academic departments are located on floors three through seven. The seventh floor houses gross anatomy facilities.

The design team led by the architectural team and the MEP engineers in conjunction with the energy modeling consultant used concept phase energy modeling to compare (13) different air handling system options and 5 different plants in various configurations with highly efficient building envelope options to select the systems most appropriate for the project, balancing energy use and cost with the preferences and concerns of the facilities operations group. Schematic phase energy modeling identified the effect of the various energy conservation measures on the modeled energy use.

The selected system includes 600,000 cfm of air handling unit capacity, high efficiency heating and cooling is provided by (13) condensing boilers and (2) variable speed 1,750 ton water cooled chillers. Air handling units incorporate heat pipe energy recovery for the 150,000 cfm of exhaust needed to serve the research spaces. Overhead radiant heating panels serve occupied perimeter spaces and in-floor radiant heat is provided in floors exposed to the outdoors for occupant comfort. Open laboratory layouts with fume hood alcoves allowed the design to reduce outdoor airflow in laboratories to minimum code rates further reducing energy use. High heat load lab support spaces and utility spaces use fan coil units to extract heat normally exhausted. An internal heat shift chiller captures this heat and rejects it into the heating hot water system.

The design modeling anticipated savings of over 40% energy and 28% of energy cost over a code compliant system. Currently the building is operating within 5% of design energy model results.

Learning Objectives

  • Learn how successful energy modeling in early concept phases can inform system selection;
  • Understand the engineering tasks necessary to produce data needed by energy modeling consultants to perform calculations reflecting design intent;
  • Learn how continuous energy modeling informs and optimizes systems to be installed; and
  • See actual building performance can match energy modeling results.


Michael is a Principal and HVAC Technical Director at Vanderweil promoting innovative and sustainable HVAC system design solutions. Mike has spent 32 years focusing on the design of energy efficient HVAC systems to serve over 7,500,000 SF of space including animal facilities, BSL-2 & BSL-3 labs, biomedical research, public health, interdisciplinary science and forensic laboratories. Mr. Walsh is an ASHRAE, I2SL (formerly Labs 21) and an International Code Council member.


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