Commissioning Advantages and The Tools to Achieve Them

Commissioning (Cx) is professional specialist service that has grown in popularity over the past decade and a half. The process is similar to what had been happening before commissioning providers were a thing, but it has become developed into its own profession as the need for efficiency and sustainability has come to the forefront of owner’s requirements. Since the beginning, designers, owners, and builders worked through problems that arose through the construction phase, but many issues still went unidentified and unaddressed. The utilization of the service has become a requirement by some certification programs, such as LEED, because of its proven ability to improve overall building efficiency, occupant comfort, and reduce operating costs. The practice has expanded into multiple types of Cx, such as New Building, Re/Retro-commissioning and On-going Cx. Commissioning Providers use a variety of tools and software in order to keep track, verify and the document all the commissioned electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems.

For New Construction Building Commissioning, the Building Owner’s Requirement and the Basis of Design set the stage for what we will be tracking. This determines the direction of the project and the goals we are looking to meet. In order to keep track of the various air, water, gas and electrical systems during the design, submittal, and installation phases, forms and checklists are used to document the steps along the way. Depending on the size of the project, the amount of documentation can become quite the large stack of papers! We are talking about up to hundreds of pieces of equipment and components that need Startup Checklists and Functional Performance Testing. Internet based Commissioning software help us with the organization of the whole process from beginning to end. It is rather important to not lose track of any steps during the process, so the programs help us standardize our forms and checklists, while allowing for easy customization for specialty systems that might have specialized operating procedures. Most of these software providers, such as BlueRithm or Facility Grid, focus on making it easier to follow along the process by having these forms readily available to us and the contractors and easily tracked. This helps reduce the time spent creating the forms and checklists so that more time is spent on commissioning the systems themselves. Any issues that arise during the process are assigned to the respective sub-contractor and are thoroughly documented. These issues are not closed-out until the issue has been resolved and the owner is satisfied with the solution.

For existing buildings, Re-/Retro-Cx and On-going Cx work in the similar manner, in the sense that the goal is ensure the system functionality is per the design and intent of the architects, engineers, and the owner. Through the life of the building, there are always changes to the use of the space and maintenance and repairs don’t always keep up with issues that arise. Systems are neglected, controls are overridden, and efficiency and space comfort suffer as a result. A thorough walkthrough and analysis of the facility and its systems is used to develop a commissioning plan that will prioritize and select operational improvements. Capital projects are highlighted for systems that can no longer be repaired and that have reached the end of their life. For existing building projects, it is very important to be able to gather data from the existing systems so that we can know how they are performing compared to the original facility documentation. This is where data logging, trending, and analytics come into play. It is important for facilities to have Building Management Systems that allow for better control of the systems through scheduling and programming. Older facilities that don’t have these control systems are usually recommended to be upgraded to use these systems. Facilities without BMS are analyzed using data loggers such as Onset Data Loggers, which provides a variety of loggers that track space temperature, occupancy, and energy use. Facilities that do have BMS allow the Cx provider to use trend data to review the operation of the system and find deficiencies in the operation of the systems throughout the building. Many issues are hidden until trends shed light on operational gremlins within the systems. For example, a fan-coil unit might be able to keep a space satisfied, at the expense of running the fan too long or a water-valves that might be stuck open.  BMS usually provide a simpler way to gather this kind of trend data and others go even further and help plot this trend data for easier analysis. On-going commissioning software such as CopperTree and Resolute take this a step further and use the trend data in their software to create charts and reports and analyze them for us. They take baseline readings of the systems’ energy use and use that data to find faults and offer insights about what is happening. While this is an excellent tool for Cx Providers, these programs are even more valuable to the owner and their facilities team because they allow the software to find faults within the system and allow them to solve the issues rather than trying to find them themselves or when it’s too late and the systems are in full disarray.

Like all tools available, it is important to not only have them, but it is more important to know how to use them and putting them to use. Software developers are constantly updating and improving this process that allow us to give more value to our customers by facilitating the tedious work involved and stream-lining the process that used to take a majority of the time, whether it was creating checklists and tests, or gathering trend data and “cleaning it up.”  At the end of the day, gathering information and data from our projects is only as good as how it is used. The goal is to ensure that the Owner’s Project Requirements are met, and that the building project is delivered with all the systems operating efficiently and performing as designed.

  • Victor Ceballos, CEM

Our New Engineer!

Theresa Lujan has been an integral member of Vibrantcy’s design team for almost three years, and Vibrantcy is proud to announce that she recently graduated from UNM School of Engineering with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Construction Management/Civil Engineering.  Ms. Lujan’s passion is to learn about the ever-evolving, various building materials and methods, specifically those related to sustainable living and design. This passion is precisely why she decided to pursue a career in construction & engineering. Theresa, a lifelong NM resident, before attending UNM school of engineering, graduated with honors from CNM with an Associate’s Degree in Architectural/Engineering Drafting Technology in 2009. With almost ten years of industry experience in mechanical and plumbing drafting and design, she takes great pride in working for Vibrantcy, a firm that understands the importance of conserving Mother Earth.

We recently sat down with Theresa to ask her more about her interest in engineering and construction management, her balance of work and school, and what she hopes to accomplish in her career.

1. How and when did you decide to become an engineer?

After receiving my Associates Degree in Architectural/Engineering Drafting Technology from CNM, I worked as a drafter for an architect and mechanical engineer, as well as an estimator for a general contractor and subcontractor over the course of almost ten years.  I knew I wanted to further my career in construction with a bachelor’s degree in either Architecture or Construction Management but wasn’t too sure which to pursue.  My passion for the project management, estimating and scheduling side of the construction process along with my variety of work experience ultimately helped me decide to pursue a degree in Construction Management through the Civil, Construction, & Environmental Engineering Department at UNM. 

2. Tell us more about the engineering discipline you decided to go into, and why?

I decided to pursue a degree in Construction Management because it is a very diverse program!  While the Construction Management program resides under the Civil Engineering Department at UNM, it offers a very broad variety of courses from Engineering Economics, Surveying and Geomatics, and Construction Law, Safety, Estimating, and Scheduling courses. 

This program combined with a Minor in Business Management courses such as Financial and Managerial Accounting, Business Law, & Operations and Marketing Management opened my eyes to the variety of businesses that exist, how they’re managed behind the scenes, and the management tools they use to run as efficiently as possible. 

Overall, Construction Management appealed to me because I felt it was a great opportunity for me to learn more about managing a construction project from beginning to end with an engineer’s mindset as well as learn about business management to advance my project and business organization and planning skills.

3. What was your university experience like as an engineering student?

My university experience as an engineering student was great!  While it was the most stressful time of my life, I learned a lot from the faculty and my peers and have a new appreciation for UNM’s beautiful campus, my home away from home for the past few years.

4. How has working at Vibrantcy during your college years affected your studies?

Working at Vibrantcy during my college years affect my studies very minimally.  If a crucial deadline was upcoming, I would work evenings or weekends, but this wasn’t too often.  When the workload began to increase more than usual, we brought on two more drafters to our team to accommodate the increased workload.    I will forever be grateful and appreciative of the entire Vibrantcy staff for all their support while I worked on finishing my degree!

5. What has been your most challenging experience working as an engineer thus far?

My most challenging experience working as an engineer so far has been learning the variety of different systems involved within the construction process.  As a Construction Manager, we are responsible for the coordination of many different disciplines to achieve project completion.  Working at Vibrantcy as mechanical designer/drafter has taught me a lot about mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and photovoltaic systems.  While I know a lot about every system, I don’t know everything, which only pushes me to learn more.  I’ve learned that the construction industry is a forever evolving process making it an endless learning industry which is one of the main reasons why I chose this career path. 

6. What do you want to accomplish in your career and what do you want to be remembered for?

I plan to work towards a master’s degree in Business Administration further down the road, continue my training and certifications to advance as a Construction Management professional, and obtain a GB-98 New Mexico General Building Contractor’s License.  Owning or co-owning a business is also something I hope to accomplish.  I hope to be remembered as a role model for other young women considering a career in engineering and most importantly, someone who always followed through on what they say or promise. 

Resourceful Residential Recycling/Sustainability

I would like to approach the topic of “Resourceful Residential Recycling/Sustainability” by sharing the personal story of a down-to-earth man (Gene) and his supportive wife (Geraldine) starting out their newly married life together in the early to mid 1960’s.

“It hurts me to see a building with all those good materials just bulldozed down,” says Gene as he recalls the early years when building his own home was just a dream.  The year was 1965. Gene and Geraldine had been married for four years.  They were young and enthused to build a life together.  On a fireman’s salary of $1.34 an hour, his paycheck was just enough to maintain a humble life and feed his family; his wife and 2 kids (and counting). He had just purchased an acre of land and he and his wife lived in a mobile home on the land. Gene picked up the trade of house painter and began to paint houses to earn extra money on his days off from the fire department.  After much contemplation, discussion, and research, he and his wife decided they were going to build a house for themselves made of adobe. They got to work on the blueprints. They decided they were not going to take any loans or put anything on credit so they had to be creatively resourceful.

Gene acquired all the dirt he needed for the adobes from a woman who lived at the foothills.  She told Gene to take as much dirt as he wanted for $5 per truck load, which this also helped to level out her backyard. He would shovel loads of dirt onto his pickup truck and then unload the dirt into a mud pit he dug on his land. He would transport and unload several truckloads in a day and would then drive to the ditch and fill 55 gallon buckets with ditch water using a 5 gallon bucket. Once the mixture was to the desired consistency Gene and Geraldine would shovel the mixture into 10” x 14” wooden adobe frames which resembled a long ladder.  The adobe dirt from the foothills was perfect. The adobe bricks held together perfectly and did not break.

What Gene and Geraldine may have not fully realized at the time is that living in a hot, dry climate like New Mexico lends itself to homes built from mud. Researchers at the National Association of Home Builders mention that “earthen walls provide excellent thermal mass, and the material comes from the ultimate in renewable sources.” (How Stuff Works) The bricks can be made on-site and they offer natural insulation making the house more energy efficient. “The walls of mud-houses are capable enough to restrict less intense sun rays and prohibit them to penetrate in to warm their inner side and begin to transfer heat to the living space. Soon after the sun is set, the temperature tends to drop in these particular areas, and then the warm wall will continue to transfer the heat to inner side for next several hours, having an influence from time lag effect… the fact is that these mud walls can act as a better heat reservoir due to the thermal properties inherent in the massive walls typical in adobe construction.” (Earth Homes Now) The adobes, if made directly, are literally “cheap as dirt”, so it turns out that the eco-consciousness of building an adobe home is beneficial not only for the environment but also the bottom line.

Around the time that Gene and Geraldine completed making 6000 adobe bricks, Gene noticed a demolition site downtown and one day after work approached the site. He struck up a conversation with the superintendent on site and explained to the superintendent that he was building a house for his family and asked if he would be able to take any materials that were marked for demolition. The superintendent informed Gene that the entire building was going to be demolished in 60 days and said there would be a few materials that could be discounted and sold. The superintendent told Gene to come back in a few days, so Gene came back and he would bring a case of beer from time to time to the demolition site around 4:30pm right before the construction workers would call it a day and he would talk with the superintendent and the crew.

It was in this “down time” that the business deals began.  Boards (2”x 8”s) were agreed upon at a price of $1.50 per full board as long as Gene agreed to remove and transport the 2-bys himself.  The only problem was that these boards were 18 feet long so Gene had to make a custom ‘storage transporter’ which allowed the boards to hang over the front of the truck and also extend off the bed of the truck. When Gene took the many loads of boards to his land, he and his wife would remove the numerous nails that were attached to the boards.  A 5-gallon bucket of nails was accumulated and the nails were then straightened for reuse in the building process of their house. “We had more time than money,” Geraldine said with a smile as she recalled the seemingly delightful memory.

Gene was also able to bargain several windows, as well.  The windows were 9’ wide by 5’ tall and a true ¼” thick that cost him $5 a window, again, if Gene agreed to remove the windows from the building himself and transport them away.  Gene gladly agreed and he and his brother had quite an experience trying to transport the windows in his pickup truck without breaking them.  The superintendent also threw in some long railroad ties that would be used as part of the foundation for Gene’s house. All locks and other materials were purchased from Sedillo’s Salvage Yard (Gene’s kids called it a ‘junk yard’). As the proverbial saying goes, “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure” and that was truly the case with Gene.

As it came time for some of the finishing touches, Gene would barter work with others. For example, Corbin Draperies at the time was the high-end window covering shop in Albuquerque.  Gene was now a proficient painter and he painted the Corbin warehouse, main office, and their home in exchange for high-quality drapes for all the windows. 

After 5 long years of no vacations, two more kids, bartering work, utilizing good salvaged materials and making adobe bricks, and then building, building, building on his days off from the fire department, in the early mornings before work, and the late evenings after work, Gene and Geraldine constructed a 2100 square foot adobe home: 4-bedrooms with large closets, 2 large bathrooms, a large kitchen, a utility room, a large den and dining room, a living room, and a 2-car garage for a total of approximately $9,000! Gene and Geraldine and their now 4 kids (and counting) moved into the home of their dreams, built with their hands, in May of 1970 and to this day have never had a single house payment! This is an extraordinary example that the use of recycled (as well as sustainable) materials can be very economical and in this case energy efficient as well.  

The story of Gene and Geraldine is near and dear to my heart because they are my grandparents, with whom I am very close. I have been helping my grandfather Gene with remodeling projects, paint jobs, and an assortment of other building related work since I was a kid. I have learned so much from him and he is one of the most resourceful people I know. My grandparents may not say directly that they are sustainable thinkers but their life story their life styles say it for them.  My grandfather and grandmother have an extremely deep and subtle appreciation for the Earth and all of the beautiful things that nature has to offer.  They have taught me the importance of re-use leading to less waste and I have incorporated this mentality with building projects as well as well as art that I have made.  They are the ultimate definition of sustainability.

"Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment.

Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.

Sustainability is important to making sure that we have and will continue to have, the water, materials, and resources to protect human health and our environment."      



: to make something new from (something that has been used before);

: to send (used newspapers, bottles, cans, etc.) to a place where they are made into something new;

: to use (something) again."


Building with recycled materials is beneficial to both the environment as well as money savings.  Many people may think of a home built from recycled materials as looking like a patchwork of materials thrown together in a very “obviously recycled” type of way.  Although this is true in some cases, there are many buildings that appear in every way to be new.  Below are two examples of each.  The first pair of exterior/interior visuals pictured is from a Brazilian home at the peak of a hilltop which was built entirely from the scrap (recycled materials) of local demolished  houses to include wood, glass bottles, ceramic tiles, mirrors, and various other ‘trash found’  items.  It may have an aesthetic that reflects its recycled qualities yet there is a certain charm that seems to embrace a tropical climate.

The townhouse is built mostly from 15 tons of bricks made from trashed ceramics, glass, clay, and rubble.  The products were gathered from around the Netherlands and ground up to make the bricks by a company called Stone Cycling.  This building is great example of materials being “creatively recycled” and repurposed and not standing out like a sore thumb. 


Lastly, is a home with aesthetic qualities incorporated from both of the examples above.  Shown below is a Taos ‘Earthship’ home which in my opinion, does a very nice job in integrating local aesthetics alongside a more artistic look of recycled materials.  This home also incorporates sustainable qualities to include utilization of natural materials, a greenhouse along the entire length of the house, a fish pond that helps to water a vegetable garden, as well as a garage equipped to charge an electric car.

Advances in technology along with collaboration in the recycling process can be a very powerful combination to help decrease the overall waste in the world on a large scale.  On a smaller scale, the story of Gene and Geraldine is a perfect example of how one household can contribute to sustaining an ecological balance. I think an important lesson learned from Gene and Geraldine in regard to residential recycling and sustainability is that the ultimate reward as a home builder is to construct a home that is cost-effective, energy and materials resourceful, nontoxic, eco-friendly, uplifting to the soul, and a place to call home in every sense of the word.



·        The average person generates over 4 pounds of trash a day.

·        In a lifetime, an average American will leave behind 90,000 pounds of trash

·        The U.S produces enough trash to fill 63,000 garbage trucks a day.

                      -  Nearly 1/3 or waste generated annually is from product packaging.

                      -  Anywhere from 8,000 – 10,000 diapers are thrown away before an average child is potty-trained. 18 billion disposable diapers are thrown annually.

                      -  2 billion razor blades are thrown a year in the U.S.

                      -  1.6 billion pens a year are thrown in the U.S.


·        On an annual basis approximately 14 billion pounds of garbage is dumped in the world’s oceans.

·        The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, (aka the Pacific trash vortex) is a collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean. According to estimates, the patch can be as large as twice the size of the U.S. and would take 67 ships one year to clean up less than 1% of the garbage mass.


Trash is a huge issue on a global scale.  Recycling is so important because it can greatly reduce the amount of trash that accumulates. 



·        The EPA has estimated that about 75% of items thrown away by Americans can be recycled however only about 30% of it is actually recycled.

·        A glass container can go from a recycling bin to a store shelf in as little as a 30-day time frame.

·        Recycling ONE aluminum can, can save enough energy to listen to a full album on your iPod.  Recycling 100 cans could save the energy required to light your bedroom for 2 straight weeks.

·        21 million tons of food is wasted annually.  If this waste were composted, it would reduce the amount of greenhouse gas equivalent to taking 2 million cars off the road.

·        The Container recycling institute estimates that there are 36 billion aluminum cans thrown away in landfills last year that had a total scrap value of $600 million dollars.

·        According to the EPA, only about 12.5% of the 50 million tons of electronic waste (e-waste) is recycled in the U.S.

·        If the 140 million cell phones that end up in landfills a year were recycled, it would save enough energy to power approximately 25,000 households for an entire year.


If every household, especially globally, were ecologically conscience and exercised care toward the resources of the earth, whether it be building materials, water, food, trash, etc., that would help protect the planet and would benefit humankind. Now is the time to use the science, technology, and resourceful methods of recycling to help strengthen the future relationship of nature and humankind.


- Joshua Silva



Project Management: The Efficiency of the Process

Vibrantcy is passionate about energy efficiency and innovative design to optimize the efficiency of the building envelope.  In fact, on Vibrantcy’s website, there is a page that explains our holistic approach to innovative and efficient design: Mechatecture.  “It is an engineering design process to reduce building loads and resultant energy use, through site-specific architectural systems, which act as supplementary or primary HVAC.   Mechatecture relies on creative expertise among thermodynamics, mechanical engineering, and thermal comfort design while understanding seasonal and diurnal climatic conditions. No two Mechatecuture solutions are exactly the same, many of which incorporate renewable energy sources, but in whole require diligent communication among all affected project team members.”

You may ask, what does project management have to do with energy and efficiency? Vibrantcy believes that well-executed project management is the efficient and effective process to providing efficient and effective energy-saving design solutions.

 According to PMI, Project Management Institute, “Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to a broad range of activities in order to meet the requirements of a particular project.”

 Effective project management bridges science and common sense in that it provides a structured, very standardized approach to running and making a project successful.  But while budgeting and planning are needed, the focus for a successful project depends on the project manager’s ability to focus on the relationships, communication and guiding people to do things in a collaborative setting.


The five phases of project management include:

1.     Project Initiation:  This phase is when the project is defined at a broad level.  This is when Vibrantcy staff would assess the project to see if it is feasible and if the project should be undertaken.  If our staff determines feasibility,  the purpose and requirements of the project will be created. It includes our business needs, stakeholders, and the business case.

2.     Project Planning: This phase is key to successful project management and focuses on developing a roadmap that everyone will follow. This phase typically begins with setting goals. Vibrantcy sets CLEAR goals, a method for setting goals that takes into consideration the environment of today’s fast-paced and economy focused businesses. We strive to make our goals Collaborative – The goal should encourage employees to work together. Limited – They should be limited in scope and time to keep it manageable. Emotional – Goals should tap into the passion of employees and be something they can form an emotional connection to. This can optimize the quality of work. Appreciable – Break larger goals into smaller tasks that can be quickly achieved. Refinable – As new situations arise, be flexible and refine goals as needed.

 This is the phase where Vibrantcy identifies the cost, quality, available resources, and a realistic timetable. Our plan also includes establishing baselines or performance measures. These are generated using the scope, schedule and cost of a project. A baseline is essential to determine if a project is on track.

 This is when we also define roles and responsibilities, so everyone involved knows what they are accountable for. During the Project Planning Phase, our project team will develop the scope statement, the work breakdown schedule, the milestones, a visual timeline, communication plan and a risk management plan.  All of these elements are a combined statement that Vibrantcy understands the project and plans to deliver a top-notch project to our client. We always work together to visualize all foreseeable risks. Common risks include unrealistic time and cost estimates, customer review cycle, information technology hiccups, budget cuts, changing requirements, and lack of committed resources.

3.        Project Execution: This is the phase where deliverables are developed and completed. This often feels like the meat of the project since a lot is happening during this time, like status reports and meetings, development updates, and performance reports. A “kick-off” meeting usually marks the start of the Project Execution phase where the teams involved are informed of their responsibilities. Tasks completed during the Execution Phase include: team development, assignment of resources, execution of project management plans, procurement management if needed, our project manager directs and manages project execution, sets up tracking systems, task assignments are executed, status meetings are conducted, the schedule is updated, and the project plan is modified as needed

4.     Project Performance/Monitoring: This is all about measuring project progression and performance and ensuring that everything happening aligns with the project management plan. Vibrantcy measure project performance by measuring if a project is on schedule and budget, that specific task deliverables are being met, by accounting for the effort and cost of resources to see if the budget is on track. We also monitor changes in the project occurring from unforeseen hurdles and scope changes.  This is the phase of the project where our project manager may need to adjust the schedule and/or resources to make sure our project completion is on track.

5.     Project Closure: This phase represents the completed project. This is the phase where we recognize valuable team members and their work well-done. Once a project is complete, we usually hold a meeting to evaluate what went well in a project and identify project failures. This is especially helpful to understand lessons learned so that improvements can be made for future projects.

 We ask ourselves with each project: “are we managing our project efficiently, effectively, or both? Are we doing things right, doing right things, or doing both?” Vibrantcy strives to focus on effective and efficient project management throughout the entire lifecycle of each of our projects.

- Amy C’de Baca

Internal Combustion Engines: The End is Near

When we first heard of the first hybrids and all-electric vehicles, I don’t think many of us thought of what that meant for our loveable, loud, smoke-spewing vehicles that we all grew up with. While the modern cars that we know today are only just over a century old, the technology has already started meeting its demise. With things like the Paris Climate Accord requiring countries to take steps to combat the ever-increasing greenhouse emissions, we are starting to see governments and car manufacturers make plans for the future. As I mentioned in my previous posts, many forms of racing have already adopted the hybrid concept and have made tremendous strides in the efficiency of these systems. This has opened up a large competition amongst car manufacturers, which ultimately ends up in their car fleets for the general public.

The increase in interest in battery technologies is leading the way for the future of car manufacturing. Formula E just ended their fourth season and are ready to begin their fifth with their new Gen2 car, which finally offers teams the ability to run a full race distance without having to change cars halfway through the race. The goal of this racing series is to help speed up the development of battery and energy deployment technology, and in only four years we are seeing that the development rate really is tremendous. When the series first started, the cars used 190kW batteries. The power has now increased to 250kW which is approximately a 30% increase. While it is understood that these cars are not the fastest in the world, the series offers good competition but more importantly, a good look at the future of the auto industry and how quickly manufacturers are tackling those shortcomings.

I think the biggest reason for the change, however, is being dictated by what governments are doing to meet their goals with respect to the Paris agreement. With the idea that this agreement will help reduce global emissions to 56 gigatons, rather than staying on the current trend that would increase emissions to 69 gigatons by 2030. The most ambitious efforts are being put forth by India and Norway, who will end gas and diesel car sales by 2030 and 2025, respectively. Norway seems to be well on its way to change how it’s citizens think about buying new cars, with about 40% of all cars sold last year in the country were electric or hybrids. This is a huge undertaking for other countries, considering that countries like France only have about 4% share of electric vehicles on its roads today. Another example is China saying that by 2020 it wants to have 5 million electric cars on their roads, except that only 1% (753,000) of the 28 million cars sold last year were electric, showing that it has some work to do.

If countries really want to influence the market and help that shift, they will likely need to use some tax incentives and/or regulations (free parking, carpool lane use, etc.) that encourage the citizens to make the switch to electric cars, not to mention that it needs the infrastructure (charging stations) to be able to make the switch to electric vehicles worth the move. It has been shown that when governments take away incentives, customers are less likely to purchase electric vehicles. It is understandable to think that if someone wants a specific type of car, then why should they be helped by the government to make that purchase? But that’s another discussion alone and I believe that if the market is to be transformed, then it needs to be helped along by the governments that are looking for this change. I’ve already accepted the fact that my next vehicle purchase is likely to be in that direction, so how do you feel about the changes that are to come regarding which vehicle you decide to purchase next? Wouldn’t you agree that government incentives would help you make that transition a little easier? Or do you feel that you’re better off sticking to gas vehicles until there is no other choice?

- Victor Ceballos

The Reality of Wind Energy at Home

The sun is constantly bombarding the Earth with energy.  Even from 93,000,000 million miles away, we acutely feel its dense radiation bringing warmth and life to our planet.  That energy is the mother source of all the permutations and manifestations of energy we see on Earth.  Plants use the sun’s energy to grow, then transfer their energy to animals.  When plants and animals die the energy contained in their physical bodies is released by fire or decomposition in the form of heat.  There is sun energy stored deep in the Earth’s molten core, released through volcanos, hot springs, and geysers.  The sun’s warmth creates kinetic energy in the movement of our massive oceans.  That matter movement transports warmth all around the planet, from east to west, north to south.  Earth’s atmosphere attains kinetic energy as well, matching the movement of the watery currents.  The air is constantly shifting across the globe, spreading entropy from continent to continent in the form of wind. 

As humanity continuously develops our ability to live on this planet, we have learned to harness the energy available on our planet through many means.  We unleash the sun’s energy stored in the organic matter transformed to oil and coal within Earth’s crust.  We create electricity from the endless undulation of ocean waves, directly from the sunlight itself, and from the ceaseless wind that roams the surface, across ocean, plains, and tundra. Zooming in our focus specifically to Albuquerque, we have an abundance of energy.  Most obviously, the sunlight we feel here is intense and persistent, soaking into the city and keeping us nice and warm.  We also have a significant amount of wind.  Anyone who has lived here across the course of our four seasons knows that wind is especially strong in the spring.  We even know of some areas like the Sandia Crest where the wind blows hard, all year round. 

During our most recent windy season, I distinctly felt the energy of the air movement all around me, everywhere I went in the city, bending cottonwoods, breaking elms branches, and funneling dirt and pollen statewide into our streets and homes.  During this time I hiked the Sandia Crest and was reminding the wind in the city was nothing compared to the incessant boom roar of the crest wind. 

While standing out over the edge of the Tree Springs tail crest overlook, with the intense, cool breeze steadily pushing against my weight, I found myself highly aware of the wind resource we have here.  I wondered small rooftop wind turbines or little windmill sized generation systems are not everywhere around town.  The more I thought about it, I realized I had never seen any small scale wind turbines in Albuquerque, in New Mexico, or anywhere I have every been and I decided it would such a cool renewable application to look more into.

While we do not always have wind here in Albuquerque, I figure we have a strong enough wind, often enough to justify at least some residential wind turbines in prime locations, to better offset our non-renewable energy reliance.  However, after doing some research online, I learned the most practical modern applications of wind turbines for residential power is not in the middle of a sprawling city, but rather is in rural and/or remote locations.  In the city, physical obstacles like trees and buildings are too abundant, preventing wind from sustaining high and steady speeds.  But out in our mesas and farming regions, there are significantly less obstacles, allowing for more consistent, faster wind speeds and therefore a greater amount of energy to harness.  I learned 30 feet over the top of nearby obstacles is where the main, unimpeded body of air movement can be found. 

In order to get a wind turbine into the air stream, towers have become a common part of most installations.  However, in the densely packed city, where we commonly see 50 foot tall ponderosas and equally large mulberry trees, not to mention tall building and billboards, building the 80-foot-tall towers needed becomes a complicated and expensive endeavor.  If built, they are also noisy and intrusive to the skyline, blocking our beautiful views of the mountains.  On the other hand, in the remote parts of the state, the complications and expenses are reduced.  Zoning permits for building towers are significantly more lenient and compared to the cost of tying a new home into the nearest electrical grid, the cost of building independent wind power systems is often less expensive. 

Even though rural areas are the prime candidates right now for these types of small wind generating systems, there still reasons for looking at urban applications.  Approximately 7% of generated electrical energy is lost when electricity is transmitted through transformers, booster and transfer stations, thousands of feet of wire, etc. to point-of-use locations like homes and businesses.  If we can shift or electrical generation to the point-of-use locations, there are certain losses that can be avoided by only traveling 20 feet to your circuit, instead of 20,000 feet.

Regardless of the ethereal concepts of urban versus rural areas, there are actually metrics that can be used to look at the difference between one location to another, certain cut off points that determine if your specific property is a good candidate for a wind powered system or not.  The Wind Energy Foundation recommends the following bare minimum conditions be met before considering a small wind turbine generating system.  In order to be worth consideration, your location needs to have: 1) an average of 10 mph (4.5 m/s) per year, 2) a high cost for utility provided power (10-15 cents per kWh), 3) low fees for tying your renewable generation into the grid, and 4) good incentives from your utility for generating power back to the grid.  Going over each recommendation one by one for Albuquerque at large: 1) the National Renewable Energy Lab’s average yearly wind speed map for New Mexico shows Albuquerque gets about 4.5 m/s average wind and a second source, the Windfinder app, shows data for Albuquerque from 2010 through 2018 with an average windspeed of 9 mph putting our city at the minimum value recommended; 2) our city’s electrical rates from PNM average about 12 cents per kWh which falls right within the recommended range for high utility cost; 3) the local cost for renewable tie-in is about $1,000 and often can be wrapped into the overall cost of installation for convenience o the consumer, and 4) PNM offers a cash value rate for generating electricity and putting it back on the grid,  but it is not very high, at about 3 cents for kWh right now and it is decreasing as more and more renewable systems are tied into the grid.  Then, after looking at your specific location in Albuquerque more closely, if you determine it is a good candidate for a wind installation, you can apply for a 30% rebate from the federal government to help offset the cost.  That rebate can be applied to the overall cost of material and installation and is still valid through the end of 2019, but then reduces to 26% after that until 2021.  There are other factors besides these four to consider when looking into a system like this, such as the actual cost of installation before rebates.  Less than 1% of currently installed wind turbine systems are in urban environments, so most statistics are based on rural and remote setups, and while they still generally apply there will be some difference between the two areas.  A typical rural home installation costs approximately $30,000 total, but can range from $10,000 to $70,000.  This cost incorporates tower, battery pack, and inverter installation.  On the bright side, there are some ways to reduce this cost.  While towers are responsible for a great portion of the overall expense, they are not always necessary.  In some areas with few obstacles, roof mounted wind turbines can produce enough power to meet the demand.  If a rooftop installation is not possible, some companies have started testing and manufacturing inflatable, helium elevated wind turbines.  They are significantly less expensive than tower installations and can easily be moved to different locations.  The battery and inverter installation is also a big part of the overall expense, but they can be designed to be a one-time cost.  If they are intentionally sized for future capacity, they can handle additional renewable power from extra wind turbines or solar panels, making the cost of a full size functioning system less expensive for each subsequent installation. 

Another factor to be considered is the reliability of wind generating equipment.  Given small wind turbines are only recently coming into high demand, the market has historically allowed for less regulation and products that have been known to fail quickly.  To appease this concern, there is now an organization called the Small Wind Certification Council that certifies wind turbines based on reliability, quality of manufacturing, and value of product testing. 

After system installation is complete, a new factor to considered is maintenance.  There are not many certified technicians right now, but as more systems are installed, that number will increase. 

Also, wind powered generating systems can balance out some of the downsides to solar powered systems.  Neither system produces electricity all the time, but they each tend to produce the most energy at different times.  While solar production might drop off in the winter, wind production tends to pick up.  During times when neither system is generating (like on a still night), grid tie-in or preferably a battery system can provide your buildings power needs. 

For those concerned with the noise generated by wind turbines, scientists and engineers are working on different systems that are as less noisy as they are more efficient.  There is a new design shaped like a snail’s or nautilus’ shell and it has proven to be very efficient, quiet, and quite frankly beautiful.  More options will continue to present themselves as the scientific and engineering communities continue to research and test new designs.

While wind powered generation systems might not seem viable or practical in most urban environments, there are many locations that do not yet have wind generation that could greatly benefit from it.  Local areas that have constant wind, like the Sandia Crest, could greatly benefit from wind generation.  Facilities on the crest like the High Finance restaurant, Sandia Ski resort, and radio tower cluster all require electricity and could benefit from the great power of the wind.  A study produced by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) shows that New Mexico also has great potential for remote wind generating facilities, if built in certain parts of the state (see image below).  Projects like the Sun Zia above-ground power line are working hard to extend power grids into those highly windy locations and facilitate new wind generation facilities, bringing jobs and money to New Mexico and increasing our potential to reduce reliance on fuel burned power.  At the end of the day, (no pun intended) while solar is the most cost effective renewable resource available right now, wind has potential to work along side solar and continue to transition our communities to a renewable, clean future.  For anyone interested in looking into the viability of small wind turbine installations, please feel free to contact me here at Vibrantcy; I would be happy to work with you!

-Trevor Keegan

Microgrids - Incorporating Sustainability and Resilience in Power Systems

Do you ever wonder what happens when you turn on a light? Where did that electricity come from? How far did it travel to get to you? What was used to generate it? Most of us don’t know the answer to this which is a pretty daunting thought. It is a commonly accepted fact that humans are contributing to climate change by producing excess amounts of carbon byproduct from our use of fossil fuels. Energy production in the form of electricity is a major proponent of the use of fossil fuels but, as many of us don’t directly interact with this industry, it is hard to understand why this is the case and how we can help to change it. On top of that, power demands are increasing worldwide, and the race for upkeep of our power generation, transmission, and distribution systems (the grid) has become a greater challenge. Most of the operating transmission lines in the U.S. today were built in the 1950’s and 1960’s and were given a 50 year life-expectancy. This means that the vast majority of transmission lines are outdated and have a much greater chance of failing. In addition to operating past life-expectancy, over 640,000 miles of those lines are at full capacity. In the event of an outage, transmission lines often need to be taken down and repaired or replaced which requires that their power load be re-routed through other lines. Since most of these lines are at full capacity this leaves the grid in a vulnerable situation.

It has been seen time and time again how easily a power grid can be taken offline for days, weeks, and even months. This can be due to natural disasters, failing infrastructure, and even cyber attacks. The Ukraine experienced this first hand in December 2015 when Russia led a cyber attack on their power grid effectively gaining access to their control system and shutting down breakers for power distribution. This left 230,000 in the dark for about 2 to 6 days and required manually switching breakers to get the system back up. The control system however, took two months to get back online as the hackers had re-written firmware which made access almost impossible. This is concerning for the U.S. because most of our grid has no manual capabilities and if a cyber attack were to occur there would be no way to restore power without access to the control system.

Natural disasters are another major concern as climate change has been making storms, earthquakes, and fires much more extreme. It has been painfully clear for Puerto Ricans who, after hurricanes Urma and Maria, were left without power for months. Even today, more than 6 months later, over 150,000 homes still have no power. This has been a direct result of an extremely vulnerable power system with single points of failure and no infrastructure set in place as redundancies in the event of this type of disaster. While this may been seen as a worst case scenario, in reality it is a very real possibility for the U.S. and other countries around the world.


So how can we change our power systems to be resilient to these types of disasters, failures, and attacks?

Microgrids, or local area power and energy systems (LAPES), are an integrative approach for adding reliability and resistance to a power system without taking it offline. Microgrids are just as they sound - micro-sized grids - and can be implemented anywhere. They utilize a combination of power generation technologies to meet energy demand and can operate in conjunction with the main grid or in ‘island mode’, essentially providing power to only their local area and operating autonomously. A typical microgrid uses photovoltaic panels, fuel cells, batteries, and generators to achieve the availability of power required for undisturbed distribution.

While the term ‘microgrid’ is relatively new, first used in 1997, the use of them can be found as early as the 1880s. All isolated grids are considered microgrids which can be found on large electric ships, remote areas and even the space station. The concept is not new but incorporating these into the main grid certainly is. After the 2011 earthquake in Eastern Japan many of the affected towns decided to increase their resilience by using microgrids. While this was just an afterthought for most towns in the area, there was one microgrid which endured the 2011 earthquake. In Sendai, Japan a campus microgrid provided power through the earthquake with only a couple of hours of down time. This system used battery stored power and gas engine generators to make up the difference while the main grid was out and proved to be a key addition to increasing availability during the outage.


What other benefits can we reap from the use of microgrids?

Demand for renewable energy has increased on a global basis and with this there has come an inherent difficulty for incorporating these types of generation into the grid on a large scale. The difficulty stems from renewable sources providing power during their optimal times, such as solar only providing power while the sun is up and wind turbines only providing power while the wind is blowing. What problem does this create for the grid? Energy demand is an instantaneous occurrence which requires supply to meet demand exactly equally. Conventional power generation, such as coal plants, will use rotating turbines to ramp up or down energy to meet the needs of the consumer. Solar and wind on the other hand cannot be changed instantaneously to keep up with this demand. Storage systems such as batteries are critical for providing this aspect with renewable energy but incorporating this on a large scale for the main grid would require an immense amount of storage. By incorporating renewable energy into microgrids the availability of a system can be maintained without relying so heavily on storage because a variety of power generation features can be dispatched when it is optimal for that particular source. The microgrid can be controlled in such a way that the fuel cells and generators only turn on when the wind and solar cannot provide enough power to meet demand. This makes way for renewable energy to be the primary source and nonrenewable energy to be the back-up. As storage systems become more efficient and smaller in scale there will be the opportunity for renewables to take over power generation in full capacity. By using renewables in microgrids it not only provides for an easier transition long term, but also for better access to areas where these sources will achieve greatest output. It is typically not feasible to erect large power generation facilities where ever ones sees fit which makes it difficult to choose the optimal location for large scale solar and wind. By utilizing a microgrid the options for placement become much greater as they have a much smaller footprint.

Another appealing aspect of microgrid conversion is their adaptability to smart grid technology. Smart grids are still a relatively new concept but have been gaining popularity. The idea behind a smart grid is to provide more control to the customer and/or consumer on how and what they use their energy for. It is mainly economically driven but also environmentally driven. There are two schools of thought behind this: one being the customer (the utility companies) and the other being the consumer (households and businesses). The first advent of smart grid technology was smart meters which provided for power usage feedback for the customers and consumers. This enabled people to be more aware of how they use their energy which has inherent benefits for improving energy usage. The next step would be to provide control systems with real time feedback and interfaces for consumers to choose how and when they would like to use the energy they pay for. With a large conventional grid providing power to tens of thousands of households and businesses it is challenging to give each individual any control over how power is produced and managed. Microgrids are inherently local which enables the local community to make decisions which will better suit their needs and provides a level of control which is not necessarily attainable with mass distribution.

Having access to electricity is an often overlooked privilege and the mechanisms that make it possible can be somewhat daunting and mysterious, but they don’t have to be. By using renewable energy such as solar, which can be incorporated in your home, and converting to microgrids with smart technology, any person can take part in how we power our world. With more people involved, the road towards sustainability and efficiency will become easier to travel.

Ally Jackman


Kwasinski, A., Weaver, W., & Balog, R. S. (2016). Microgrids and other local area power and energy systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


 While I used to think the best way to have fun driving was to head out to the track, I have been shocked to discover maximizing fuel efficiency can be just as fun!  Yes… FUN.  I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out.  In hopes of sharing what I have learned, I am writing this post to try ad inspire others to follow a similar path and learn how interesting and rewarding efficient driving can be.

     My revelation began about 3 years ago, when I bought my first hybrid.  As a fast-car lover, friends and family were surprised I went with the “efficient choice” instead of the “fast choice”. To be fair, the car was technically a sport-hybrid (Honda CR-Z), but that is beside the point.  The efficiency of the car was pretty good, but nothing amazing.  The true value this car offered was its role as a learning instrument.  It completely changed the way I drive, and has helped both my fuel efficiency and gas savings to sky rocket! 

     By upgrading to 2015 hybrid technology, the newest and most effective tool at my disposal was the mpg display.  This display both gave me an average mpg over a chosen distance AND an instantaneous display of how much gas was being used at the moment.  As monumental as the first speedometer or tachometer, this display grants the driver a deeper awareness into what the car is doing behind this complex machine is doing behind the scenes.  It encouraged me to maximize saving gas by enabling me to test different methods, then measure the efficiency result both in real-time and averaged over a set distance.  When I first bought the car I averaged the same efficiency as the EPA rating: 33/38 mpg in the city/on the highway.  Then, after a couple months of testing various techniques, I consistently produced an average of 42 mpg city and 53 mpg on the highway…. WOW!  Busting out the ol’ calculator, that is an efficiency increase of over 30%!  And I did not without modify the car at all, just my driving habits.  Now, I apply this understanding to ever vehicle I drive, both lowering carbon emissions and saving money simultaneously: WIN WIN. 

     For the first time, I am excited to put what I have learned done in writing and share it.  To put this driving mentality concisely: Maintain Momentum.  Momentum is at the heart of engine efficiency.  In short, engines are most efficient when maintaining a low speed and least efficient when increasing speed to make the car go faster.  Below are 8 Means of Efficiency.  In-depth, yet concise, I have included explanations to go with each one.

1)      ACCELERATE SLOWLY: Watch your engine speed (rpm) on the tachometer and try to keep within 2,000 to 3,000 rpm while accelerating. At mid engine speed the engine gets the most power for the least gas.  At low engine speed there is a lot of friction to overcome and at high engine speed the heat becomes a problem.

2)      BRAKE RARELY:  Braking is the enemy of efficiency.  According to Sir Isaac Newton, “an object in motion stays in motion”, requiring energy to change speed.  All the energy put into moving cars is wasted when we slow ourselves back down.  Luckily hybrids and electric vehicles can capture some of that braking energy through regenerative braking.  This is where an electric generator creates electricity using the wheels’ rotation, then storing it on the battery while slowing down the car.  However, it is not a perfect system and braking should be avoided by everyone, as often as possible.  Just make sure to still put safety first!

3)      BRAKE EARLY: When you do need to slow down, start braking early.  Most events we slow down for are temporary and often clear-up quickly.  For example, when a light turns green and traffic takes time to get moving, it only takes a few seconds for it to get up to speed.  The longer it takes for you to get to that traffic, the faster it will be when you reach it.

4)      COAST OFTEN:  Once you get up to speed, do your best to stay there, gently adding just enough gas to keep you going.  When you might need to stop, start slowing down from a distance by letting off the gas and using air resistance.  Gentle is the key word for maintaining momentum.  Imagine carrying a cup of coffee on your dashboard and trying to not spill a drop.

5)      USE HILLS:  Hills are simultaneously amazing and horrible.  While climbing hills requires a lot of speed and kinetic energy, potential energy is being built up in your vehicle the whole ride up.  Coming down the other side then unleashes the energy again and returns the speed.  To take advantage of this, use the least amount of gas as needed to get up a hill, slowing down as you climb, just like a semi-truck.  This will store your power as potential energy.  Then, use the downhill slope to regain the energy the energy as speed, barely using gas, while allowing gravity to do the work.

6)      WATCH TRAFFIC:  It is a good practice to constantly be aware of the traffic around you.  If you can anticipate future braking, you can act now to avoid it.  For example, someone turning several cars ahead of you, will likely slow you down, but if you are aware, you can change lanes ahead of time.  Another example is on the freeway, when brake lights are visible far ahead of you, brake early and potentially arrive as the braking is clearing up.  If you see traffic is completely stopped, for something like an accident, you could potentially exit early to avoid it.  Being aware of your surroundings will increase your ability to choose.

7)      WORK WITH TRAFFIC LIGHTS:  Many traffic lights are set up to get operate as efficiently as possible.  Most use timers that are programmed match the flow of traffic.  These timers are usually modeled around a car averaging the speed limit.  To try and minimize stops at red lights, drive the speed limit.  You will theoretically get all greens along one street.  Some lights are timed differently than others, so you may need to go slightly slower or faster depending on the street.  Once you learn a street’s system, it should always work as long as the timing doesn’t change.  Some streets with timed lights I use regularly are Montgomery, Wyoming, Lead, and Coal.  If you get with the main flow of traffic on these lights, and generally stay the speed limit, they will consistently have green lights, allowing smooth, steady, and efficient travel.

8)      GREEN INDICATORS:  As you approach a red light, there are indicators that tell you when it will switch to green.  A common one to watch for is what oncoming traffic is doing.  If it is stopped at the light, then your light will likely stay red for a while longer, but if it moves through the intersection, your light will likely get the green soon as well.  Another indicator is surprisingly simple.  Sometimes the perpendicular green light of an intersection is visible as you approach a red light.  Seeing it turn yellow, then red, is a sure way to know your light is about to become green.  Knowing how long your red will last can help you better regulate your driving in time with the light and likely increase your efficiency.

     Each of these methods can be optimized and added to; these are some base ideas.  If anyone reading this has anything to add, has questions, or just wants to geek-out about the joy and reward of efficient driving, feel free to contact me here at Vibrantcy!

Trevor Keegan

Facade Analysis

One of Vibrantcy’s core offerings during an energy modeling project is façade analysis, which encompasses many different factors, but ultimately aims to find the optimal combination of materials. Our engineers typically evaluate glazing ratios, glass types, window frame types, window setbacks, shading devices, and a multitude of insulation combinations. We like to provide project teams with detailed information when evaluating various combinations of facades, considering the following factors:

·        IECC Climate Zone Requirements

·        Tradeoffs between exterior fins and overhangs

·        Innovative Double Skinning

·        Thermochromic and Electrochromic

·        Thermal Bridging

·        Diminishing Point of Return for Insulation (R-Value/Thickness)

·        Winter-Time Solar Heat Gain

·        Summer-Time Solar Heat Gain

·        Access to Views

·        Infiltration Improvements

Once we arrive at the optimal exterior we like to offer creative ways to bolster building performance while enhancing the project’s aesthetic duty to its users and neighborhood. If you’ve had a chance to check out our Pinterest page online you’ll know that we take precedent studies to project meetings from other creative and successful façade techniques.    

While the southwest is not always a practical region for double-skinned facades or active window-fins, a building’s façade can be its biggest success and biggest downfall. Successes provide intrigue to the passer-by and create a sense belonging, in acknowledgement of the building’s micro-climate and scale relative to its location. I would be lying if I said that a glass-skinned building isn’t elegant and visually striking, but as we continue to experience year-after-year record temperatures the days of irresponsible façade design are ending. There is no obvious silver-bullet for every building’s exterior, and industry is bringing tools to our desktops which will allow us to get close them, but without any effort to mitigate unnecessary energy use we’ll be reminded that hindsight can be a strict teacher.

  Last year we began using IES-VE for façade analysis, by thermally mapping each façade to identify hot and cold-spots. This effort has brought tremendous insight to insulation and glazing studies during design, allowing our teams to understand the benefits of orientation-specific strategies. And this is not a “one-and-done” process, we like to provide an iterative review of concepts in order to refine the building’s life-long thermodynamics.

- Matt Higgins


A Quick Look at Salt Lake City’s Culture & Energy Market

As Vibrantcy’s newest remote employee, I’d like to use this blog post as an opportunity to introduce myself, my interest in energy efficiency research, and hopefully share some perspective on my current home town of Salt Lake City, Utah -- where I expect to be working on Vibrantcy eQuest models in the coming years.

Introducing Myself

My family moved to Utah from Knoxville, Tennessee in 2007 to allow my father to take a position at the Energy Dynamics Laboratory. As may already be evident, I come from a family of engineers. For over 30 years, my father has performed and facilitated energy-related research for a number of national labs and universities; my mother is a Civil Engineer and storm-water control specialist.

At a young age, I often heard my parents discussing workplace challenges and successes. These formative years sparked an interest in science, technology, business and politics that directly influenced my career and academic choices.

Research Interest in Building Energy Modeling (BEM)

As readers may know from exploring the Vibrantcy website, I am pursuing my Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering alongside my work at Vibrantcy. In my coursework, and research, I plan to combine both technical and economic analysis of building management as is commonly done in industry (e.g. cost comparison between different HVAC systems, insulation, renewables etc) via GIS modeling and EnergyPlus.

 In the past 10-15 years, researchers have been improving methods of modeling cost-dependent factors across the entire spectrum of energy-efficiency and renewable technologies. As many of this blog’s readers may well know, building energy consumption can be highly variable with respect to time and location.

Attempting to model multiple buildings, entire campuses, or even entire cities has been a growing field of research in the recent past -- the motivation for this due to increasing urbanization in nearly every country around the world. Some predictions estimate that 75% of the United States will live in urban areas by the year 2050. If researchers and city-planners can accurately perform large-scale modeling of building consumption, generation potential, and even predict consumer behavior inside buildings, the economic benefit to the electricity grid will be tremendous.

There are currently two methods of modeling buildings, and the method you choose depends on what factors you’re trying to look at. For single buildings, modeling is commonly done via open source energy modeling software such as EnergyPlus or eQuest. This type of modeling is referred to as “bottom-up” modeling in the research world, because several archetypes are developed to represent similar buildings, and are altered to match building data of similar buildings.

The second type of energy modeling I’d like to discuss is Geographic Information Systems (GIS) modeling. Many large-scale energy consumption models use GIS technology to model energy consumption or production-potential that is location-dependent. This approach to multi-scale building modeling is known as “top-down” modeling because it does not look at individual buildings, but rather, uses statistics to calculate location-dependent parameters. GIS is used in many other fields of study such as geology, cartography, civil engineering, and was even used by the makers of Google Earth.

The accuracy and usefulness of this type of building modeling is very dependent on the data available for the area in question. One of the biggest issues with this approach currently seems to be in the acquisition of building usage data. Currently lots of researchers are exploring consumer behavior prediction using a method called “Machine Learning”. I see the field of energy data acquisition and behavior predictions becoming a much more relevant field in the next 5-10 years.

An Introduction to Salt Lake City

 Of my 10 years in Utah, I’ve lived in Salt Lake for about six -- 4 years of college, followed by about two years as a solar CAD & technical support engineer. Despite some of the negative perceptions that my non-native friends and extended family seem to have about Salt Lake, I believe that it is a thriving and quickly growing city. I’d like introduce readers to a few of my opinions about Salt Lake City’s infrastructure and recent policy that may be pertinent to readers of this blog.

First, let’s take a look at the advancements that are being made in city infrastructure: specifically, public transportation, access to rideshare services, and alternative modes of transportation. In my opinion, the Salt Lake Valley is way ahead of other Western US cities in this area. For about $2.50, one can board “Trax” and travel to their choice of downtown markets, to the University of Utah, the hospital, and the airport. Places of employment for thousands in the “Silicon Slopes” are all connected by this incredibly affordable train system. For students, the Trax system is included in tuition. For many other demographics (primarily socioeconomic status and age) reduced-fare is available.

I’ve put Salt Lake City’s public transit system to a test recently after a nighttime collision with a moose on the highway. Having fixed up my bike primarily for exercise, I began to also use it for commuting and personal transportation. I fell in love with the ease of hopping on my bike, and getting around town. Biking, walking, other alternative modes of transportation seem to work just fine in day-to-day dealings in Salt Lake City for those who choose to use them.

Similar to these other societal benefits, I’ve read up on Salt Lake City’s efforts for energy efficiency and CO2 reduction. Our primary goals are as follows:

●        Transition the Salt Lake City community to 100% renewable energy sources by 2032,

●       Reduce 80% of Salt Lake City’s carbon emissions by 2040

●       To achieve these goals through energy efficiency as an important cost-effective measure

An ordinance was recently passed that requires municipal facilities and certain large private buildings to be benchmarked annually and for the energy performance rating to be made transparent in the market. Similar policies have been implemented in Denver, Colorado, Minneapolis, MN, Kansas City, MO, and Atlanta, GA.


 I hope you have enjoyed learning a little bit more about Vibrantcy’s newest remote employee. I have just begun to get my feet wet with this company, and am excited to work in a field closely related with my current academic interests. Please reach out at for any follow-up questions or comments.

- John Muhs