Google SketchUp 'plug-in' offers energy analysis

OpenStudio, a free tool from a Department of Energy lab, has combined software for estimating building energy-use with the search giant's 3D-modeling program.

An updated software tool combines energy-use evaluation with Google's 3D-modeling program to help improve building design in its early stages.

OpenStudio, a free, open-source tool introduced last year, now integrates EnergyPlus building analysis with Google SketchUp, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory announced this week.

"OpenStudio is lauded around our office as one of the most complicated plug-ins ever written for SketchUp," Christopher Cronin, Google's strategist for SketchUp, said in a statement.

While Google may see OpenStudio as a plug-in for SketchUp, OpenStudio's creators may instead see SketchUp as an add-on to its simulation program.

The NREL, which is part of the U.S. Department of Energy, launched the original version of OpenStudio in April 2008. NREL reports an average of 700 OpenStudio downloads per month.

OpenStudio's first version combined a graphical tool with EnergyPlus, a software program for analyzing building energy-use that the DOE began offering in 2001. "EnergyPlus is a standalone simulation program that models whole-building energy consumption from heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, water systems and other energy flows," according to NREL.

For example, the program can simulate the sun's movement around a building at various times of day for an entire year to determine if windows have been effectively shaded.

"Our hope is that by using OpenStudio in design charrettes, users can start throwing away designs at the very beginning of a project, saying: 'This is not a good design because we're going to use too much energy," Nick Long, an NREL engineer who helped develop OpenStudio, said in a statement.

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