Thermal Mapping Could Bring Potential to Light

posted: January 13, 2014 | author: Woolpert Labs

Provided by guest blogger, Nadja Turek, subject-matter expert, Dayton

You see buildings; I see waste. But I also see potential. Out of most building facades eek air and energy, and with it money. There’s no better way to visualize those losses than with thermal imagery. And for many years, thermal pictures have been used to motivate building and home owners to “button up” their buildings, mostly by simply pointing to bright colors on an image and saying, “See! Just look at your losses!” But it’s time to move beyond bright, colorful pictures and motivating words. We need to understand the magnitude of energy losses and be able to quantify both the investments needed and the potential returns hidden in those colors and also in building data. One of the major barriers to improving the energy efficiency of our existing building stock is mobilizing financing. No one argues that egregious energy loss is common in our buildings, with our existing buildings sucking up roughly one-fifth of the world’s delivered energy. No one argues that energy saving retrofits are among the best, least risky investments in the market with extremely rapid rates of return. So why aren’t financiers flocking to building owners, waving money and dotted lines?

Quite simply, finding and quantifying energy projects is the bottleneck. The primary goals of an energy audit is to quantify how a building’s energy systems are performing now, how that performance can be improved and find project improvements for the owner in financial and non-financial terms. The traditional approach to energy auditing is time consuming and expensive, particularly for building owners with large portfolios to tackle, costing on average $0.10-0.15 per square foot and requiring onsite data collection by a qualified auditor, one building at a time. The cost to audit all commercial buildings in the U.S. would be approximately $11 billion, roughly 15% of all total energy expenditures. With a moral imperative (and business opportunity) to reduce energy consumption and emissions in this generation, we don’t have the money and time to wait. We have to innovate.

Soon we’ll embark on a demonstration project with a forward-leaning client to help advance the state-of-the-art in auditing in order to deliver audits more quickly, more cheaply and at a larger scale. At Woolpert, we’re especially interested in expanding on our current capability to acquire thermal infrared imagery and integrate it into an information-based energy audit in support of energy conservation efforts. By rapidly collecting thermal imagery, integrating it with geospatial and building data we often already have and conducting building modeling, we aim to overcome the shortcomings of current audits—high cost and long timelines—at a large geographic scale. I see potential. I see solutions.