Member Spotlight: Sagar Rao

Now and then we highlight one of our members and ask them to share with our community insights about themselves, their careers and the present and future state of energy simulation as they see it.

This month's Member Spotlight is Sagar Rao, Building Performance Consultant at Affiliated Engineers, Inc. in Madison, WI. Sagar Rao is a Mechanical Engineer with a background in Building Physics and Building Performance Modeling. He provides guidance to design teams wanting to establish and accomplish energy, water, occupant experience, and resiliency performance goals. His experience includes developing analysis methods, workflows, and tools to evaluate design strategies for large and complex high-performance buildings. He also has extensive knowledge of building codes and standards, equipment standards, building rating systems, and federal energy policymaking.

Affiliated Engineers is a collaborative community of 650 resourceful, creative professionals who plan, design, and deliver high-performance systems for organizations that improve lives and contribute to a sustainable future. Their success is built on relationships — with their clients, their partners, and each other.

Connect with Sagar by visiting his profile on our Modeler Map

What about BEM is exciting to you and matters?

My primary areas of interest broadly include physics, math, and computer science. I experience a child-like thrill once I have solved a problem that affects people beyond just myself. As a contributor to the BEM community actively engaged in solving some of these longstanding issues, I find the prospect of someday being able to cost-effectively develop higher-fidelity simulation models to inform the design and operation of superior built environments particularly exciting. 

On a day-to-day basis, I work with a fun, supportive, and truly ingenious group of individuals at AEI who are focused on delivering high-quality projects that include some of the most innovative design concepts in the industry. The sheer scale and complexity of these projects ensures that there is seldom a dull day at work.  

BEM matters. It is a very powerful tool but is vastly under-utilized. A distressingly tiny fraction of building projects use simulation models to inform design. This trend is projected to get even worse as budgets and timelines shrink further. Research shows that we need more modeling to replace design rules of thumb to ensure that occupants are comfortable, healthy, and productive; building operations are resilient to extreme weather; the carbon footprint is minimal; water use is judicious; and, other project goals are met.   

What do you think the biggest areas of growth of BEM will be in the near future and what are you doing about it?

The average analyst uses too many legacy simulation engines, tools, and platforms that limit her effectiveness. The absence of a truly connected analysis environment limits cross-team collaboration and not only permits, but encourages repetition when performing certain modeling tasks. Consequently, the industry suffers from a tremendous degree of workflow inefficiencies and high overall costs. However, recent advances in the fields of building information modeling -- computer vision, cloud computing, and a general open source and community-focused development mindset -- lead me to believe that the industry is ripe for a major disruption. An “iPhone moment” for the BEM industry seems well within reach.  

Soon, I see the average modeler getting much quicker at running whole-building and component models through the real automation of everyday modeling tasks such as information gathering, output reporting and the like. We may also see a greater push to rid our models of modeler bias, thus allowing us to successfully make a transition to an information-rich BEM environment. This may finally usher in an era where we fully embrace web technologies, data-driven modeling techniques, and the use of real-time VR/AR in our consulting practice. At that point, the industry may need to expand to include individuals with experience in data analytics, advanced computing, 3D modeling, etc. There is already quite a bit of movement in this direction. Eventually, as stochastic models become more prevalent, I believe that we may see greater collaboration with statisticians as well.

What is your expertise and give some examples of how you have helped your customers in the past.

I am a building physicist with a strong background in building performance modeling. I also volunteer with professional organizations like IBPSA, ASHRAE and IES to help author our handbooks, codes, and standards, and still have strong ties to academia and the research world. My deep understanding of our tools and the intent behind why our codes and rating systems are the way they are, has enabled me to bring great value to project teams as a Building Performance Consultant. 

AEI is most active in markets that deal with large, complex, and extremely energy- and water-intense buildings. In the past year or so, I have been contributing to a larger effort currently underway within the organization to improve our modeling workflows. As part of this, I was able to successfully develop an enormous healthcare model in EnergyPlus. Building a stable 1,200-zone EnergyPlus model within a 10-day timeframe to inform the selection of complex mechanical systems was indeed very fulfilling. 

Our Building Performance Practice includes some of the brightest minds in the industry. The fact that I was able to devise, implement, and share a modeling workflow that has enabled many of us to rapidly develop large and complex energy models is very satisfying. Through this effort I can indirectly contribute to many more projects and clients, and I consider this to be one of my most significant accomplishments. 

Tell us about how you came to work in BEM.

Aha! My first foray into BEM was almost a decade ago. The work I did in grad school dealt with developing a faster daylighting simulation engine for façades with complex and dynamic shading systems, and it quickly grew into a full façade analysis tool. Once I realized that BEM gave me the power to predict the position of the sun in the sky for any given location, day, and time, and that I could use it to determine the illuminance on my desk, I felt all-powerful! There has been no looking back since...