In 2019, Ithaca, New York was the first US city to resolve to eliminate or offset all carbon emissions by 2030. The college town allocated $100 million to fund the effort, but they still needed a plan of how to decarbonize all its buildings.
Two architectural professors from Cornell University had what Ithaca needed. Felix Heisel and Timur Dogan provided software that created a digital clone of Ithaca and showed the energy consumption and carbon emissions of each building.
A digital energy blueprint of a city
The professors reached out to the city with their tech and provided vital guidance for Ithaca’s decarbonization plans. If successful, the tech could be invaluable to future cities with similar goals.
“Which buildings [do you] renovate first? Which buildings consume the most energy? Which ones would be the lowest hanging fruit to renovate?” said Dogan about the insight the software provides. Existing technology can only look at this issue one building at a time, but Dogan’s software looks at the big picture and potential benefits.
“When you’re working at these scales, there are potentially synergies. Like, if you group buildings in a certain way, or if building owners team up to share investment costs of something like geothermal boreholes.”
Buildings in Ithaca go back as far as the early 1800s, and it is difficult to create a unifying decarbonization plan with so many different types of buildings. The “digital twin” model enables thousands of plans to match building types and cluster similar spaces.
“We’re kind of slicing and dicing the city into pieces,” Dogan said.
Using municipal energy consumption information from Ithaca, the program can also factor in each building’s average energy usage, but they’re going a step further.
Heisel’s Circular Construction Lab is examining the materials of each building down to the walls and foundations to measure the carbon implications of different materials. They will also factor in the geometry of each building to assess the optimal resources like solar panels.
Dogan and Heisel hope to use their tech on Ithaca as a proof of concept and bring this tool to the rest of the country, inspiring them to take on green ambitions like Ithaca’s.
“We now have to convince politicians, we have to convince communities, the people that live in the buildings. So we need a way to communicate this data in a much easier way,” Dogan said.