'Shadow models' help cities optimize energy consumption

With the help of atmospheric data and several supercomputers, Spanish researchers have created "shadow models" that can help a city optimize energy consumption.

In an effort to find new ways that cities can optimize energy consumption, researchers in Spain have created software that calculates the amount of solar radiation that reaches streets and buildings.

The "shadow models" created by Technical University of Madrid (UPM) are then used in conjunction with supercomputers and an array of data to simulate atmospheric conditions.

In essence, the researchers shine up to 100,000 rays of light for a few seconds in various places in a location -- say, a one-kilometer patch of Madrid. Then they verify the point of collision of those rays.

It's not that simple, of course -- the calculations from the careening beams of light are so complex that the researchers had to solicit the help of the Supercomputing and Visualization Center of Madrid, as well as the Mare Nostrum supercomputer at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center. (It took 72 hours to process six seconds of light.)

By combining that information with global meteorological data from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in the United States, the researchers constructed two complementary "shadow models" -- one that shows radiation behavior; the other that shows exchange of energy.

The point is to understand how the built environment -- buildings, parks, and so forth -- impacts energy in a city. (A very simple example: a shaded building requires more internal heating than a building in the sun; with data quantifying this, we can figure out at what times of day it's most optimal to turn on the heat.)

The study is part of the European BRIDGE Project on "urban metabolism," the concept of the city as a living organism. Their research was published in the Research Journal of Chemistry and Environment.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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