DOE's Scout Tool Estimates the Impacts of Energy Efficiency Measures. Here's How You Can Use it.
The Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Office recently launched scout.energy.gov, a web-based interface that improves the user accessibility of its Scout software program. Since Scout is all about estimating energy savings, we wanted to take a closer look, so we asked the tool’s co-creators Jared Langevin and Chioke Harris, researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, to walk us through it.
Ben Somberg: Let’s start with the big picture – what is Scout and what does it do?
Jared Langevin: Scout is an open-source software program that can estimate the long-term energy and operating cost savings potential of emerging energy efficiency measures in U.S. residential and commercial buildings on national and climate zone-specific scales. It provides a common platform for quickly defining and screening diverse portfolios of building efficiency measures, using a rich set of evaluation criteria that span both savings impacts and cost-effectiveness metrics.
Ben: How is it generating the results?
Jared: Scout relies on a simple and flexible impact evaluation framework that is regularly updated with new data to reflect important changes to the building energy use landscape. This allows the tool to keep pace with the diverse and rapidly expanding set of efficiency opportunities in the buildings sector. Users benefit from the ability to conduct on-the-fly analyses of efficiency measures that are of greatest interest to them, and measures are always applied to a consistent energy use baseline that reflects the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook. The goal is to encourage easily adjusted, regularly updated assessments of emerging building efficiency R&D opportunities and impact potential that build from publicly available datasets. This reduces the need for high-effort, one-off efficiency potential studies that quickly become outdated.
Ben: Can you give me an example of how someone might use Scout, and the kind of information it could provide regarding energy savings?
Chioke Harris: We believe that Scout will be useful to anyone interested in exploring the broader impacts of energy efficiency measures on U.S. building energy use. For example, companies that own or manage large building portfolios can use Scout to learn about the financial performance of various technologies using metrics that can help them with the business justification for investing in energy efficiency. Clean energy startups can use Scout to communicate to potential investors the total size of the buildings market for their product. Energy and policy organizations can tailor Scout measures and baseline data to support custom calculations that reveal the role that building efficiency could play in achieving national or regional energy use reduction targets. Researchers interested in developing next-generation energy-efficient building technologies can use Scout’s baseline energy use projections and standard measure definitions to better understand where their work will have the greatest impact. We look forward to testing these new uses in the coming months as more people become familiar with what Scout can do for their organizations.
Ben: We love talking about the benefits of energy efficiency measures. What kind of information does Scout generate that people didn’t have access to before?
Jared: Often the benefits of energy efficiency are assessed in a piecemeal fashion: the energy savings of a specific technology type are reported for a niche application, the impacts of an efficiency portfolio are estimated relative to current – but not future -- baseline energy use intensities, or a focus is placed on component-level efficiency improvements without giving equal consideration to system-level efficiency measures.
Scout pulls together all the information needed to construct a complete picture of the building efficiency opportunity in the U.S. People can use Scout to holistically frame the impact of one or more efficiency measures on multiple evaluation metrics, across a complete set of climate zones, building types, end uses, and technology types, for the present year or across future years of interest, and for measures representing component-level improvements or systems-level strategies.
Ben: There hasn’t been a tool like this for the public previously, right?
Jared: Right. Users can now construct this high-level picture we’re describing in a matter of minutes and can easily refine key inputs later as baseline energy use data and their priorities evolve. Such capabilities will help inform discussions about the benefits of efficiency by making it easier to broadly assess the effects of specific efficiency measures on building energy use at a national scale.
Ben: What data do I need to be able to start?
Chioke: Anyone can start using Scout out-of-the-box with the data that are already built-in. We’ve provided a set of efficiency measures across most major end uses and have prepared results for those measures as well. Those results show savings impacts from the portfolio by end use and climate zone, and users can filter the results for a specific year or range of years between today and 2050. The results also include financial metrics like internal rate of return and simple payback that can be useful in evaluating the capital cost implications of different measures. People can customize the existing efficiency measures or write new measures for the technologies that interest them, run them using the Scout engine, and upload custom results to scout.energy.gov for further visualization. Folks who are interested in smaller-scale studies, such as at the state, county, utility service territory, or municipality scale should reach out to us for more information.