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BCIT's new energy modelling program finds a champion in BC Hydro engineer

Image of design specialist sitting at a desk

New certificate marks a unique opportunity in the energy modelling field

BCIT has long been a destination for engineers and architects looking to gain practical skills after completing their undergraduate studies. The school's Building Science program is known for producing graduates in high demand by engineering and architectural consulting firms, government agencies, and testing and research companies.

In the last two decades, a new discipline called building energy modelling has emerged as an integral part of the building science field. Using simulation software, computerized building models are designed to conceptualize a building as a whole system, with a focus on energy consumption, occupant comfort, and energy lifecycle costs.

"It's probably the most powerful tool to support sustainable designs, and energy-efficient designs," said Rodrigo Mora, a BCIT Building Science faculty member, when reached by phone. "About fifteen years ago, energy modelling was not used much in practice, but then the government recognized the value of energy modelling to help increase sustainability of the building industry."

BCIT has added energy modelling courses as the demand for trained professionals has grown. And in 2015, the school announced a new graduate certificate in building energy modelling. A primary driver of the program was BC Hydro's Bojan Andjelkovic, a former energy modeller who is now the technical lead for BC Hydro's new construction program.

"From my point of view, he was the champion," said Mora. "He saw that professionals were learning energy modelling software on their own, and saw the need for modellers to understand the principles behind the practice, as well as how different systems and technologies operate. It's not just about using software, and Bojan witnessed such misconceptions. This is why he approached BCIT to create a new certificate."

Advocating the need for formal training

Back in 2004, the early days of energy modelling in British Columbia, Andjelkovic was part of a very small group doing it. He was fortunate to work in a big company – Stantec – that allowed him to focus on the field 100% of his time.

"But I still had to use a lot of my own time – evenings and weekends – to do my own research, to do extra training," he said. "There was quite an obvious need for one specialized energy modelling education program which will train the modellers properly."

Andjelkovic said that modellers need to have a good knowledge of multiple engineering fields. It's important to understand the building physics, heating ventilation and air conditioning systems of buildings. But it's also necessary to be skilled with CAD drawing programs, to know how to read architectural and electrical drawings, and to have a very good understanding about things like building standards, codes, and building controls.

In 2012, Andjelkovic met with BCIT's Dean of the School of Construction and the Environment and the head of the Building Science program.

"Eventually, with our help, BCIT developed a syllabus for the certificate program, with a lot of prerequisites – building science courses, building envelope, HVAC courses, building controls courses, and AutoCAD courses," he said.

Shaping a nascent discipline

BCIT's Mora says that Andjelkovic and fellow BC Hydro colleague Michael Travers were particularly focused on new courses that measured outcomes. Mora said that in past, nobody followed up on building efficiency predictions. "It often happens that the alternative with the lowest predicted energy use ends up using more energy than the benchmark. So there is a huge need for learning how to develop models that are realistic and reliable," he said.

Another BC Hydro recommendation was to add a business and communications component.

"A modeller can have technical skills, conduct thorough analyses, and come up with realistic simulation results," Mora said. "But if they don't know how to transmit these results to the owners, to the clients, and to the other engineers – and in general to all the stakeholders in the project – the value of his or her work isn't appreciated."

Recognizing a higher standard

Along with engineering and design firms, Mora explained that there are career opportunities for prospective graduates with municipalities who have come to put a high value on energy modelling analysis.

"Buildings are designed and constructed through the incorporation of many small components, each having their own energy performance characteristics, but it is through computer modelling that designers can begin to assess the energy performance of the whole," attests Greg McCall, an energy policy specialist with the City of Vancouver. "We believe the future of the building industry will see all buildings have an energy model as part of a building's ongoing maintenance and optimization program, and the City of Vancouver would encourage this outcome."

A field with a future

Energy modelling isn't just for complex commercial projects. Even though larger projects might benefit the most from government incentives, the energy modelling practice is now well established for green residential projects as well. As energy models become more powerful and simulation results more reliable, they will become widespread, and governments will require more energy modelling.

The graduate certificate is unique, as far as Mora knows. Associations like ASHRAE offer an energy modelling certification exam, but the rigour of the BCIT graduate certificate program is unparalleled,and the demand for graduates is already high.

"I am satisfied it is going to cover a really broad skill set, and that students who graduate will be able to start working in the energy modelling field right away," said Andjelkovic.