While energy modeling has many uses, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Energy modeling is an array of specialized tools in your engineering toolbox. If you needed to hang drywall, you would use a different kind of nail than if you wanted to build a wall frame. Similarly, building owners, architects, and designers need to know which energy modeling service is appropriate for the job.
With the widespread adoption of LEED requirements into the construction industry over the last decade, energy modeling has become a growing necessity on many projects. However, energy modeling has been around for far longer than LEED and has many more uses than simply marking off points on a scorecard. The trick is knowing when to use a model and what kind of services are called for.
The most common use of energy models we as engineers see is for LEED compliance. This is the bread and butter of the energy modeler and does not look to be going away anytime soon. When asking for this service, keep in mind that the modeler's job is only to document and analyze what already exists in your design and to get through LEED submissions.
On a project where the design team can have a greater influence on the overall building vision, an energy model can be used to provide greater benefits. To get more out of the model, the design team needs to take a hard look at analyzing and comparing a wider range of building attributes. Modeling can be used to determine many aspects of building design that go beyond traditional MEP systems, such as building envelope, orientation, and locations of high-occupancy spaces.
When used wisely, energy modeling can be a productive tool to analyze aspects of the building that have room to change and accept that parts that you can't or are unwilling to change. As with any part of the design process, it's best to have open conversations with all parties as early as possible to work towards a more successful project. The entire design team needs to think about energy modeling as more than just LEED red tape to cut through and begin seeing it as a valuable tool to analyze cost-savings strategies and improve overall building functionality.