How new BIM training can deliver better energy management

Paul McCormack, innovation manager at Belfast Metropolitan College, explains how the European training and qualification project he is involved with can support the implementation of BIM across the European construction chain and improve energy efficiency.

There are increasing requirements for energy-efficiency competencies and applicable skills, resulting from European decarbonisation and sustainable energy long-term strategies in the construction industry.

BIM and sustainable buildings go hand in hand, therefore solving the problem of development of skills for sustainable energy, required by the construction sector, and stimulating demand for sustainable construction and a skilled energy workforce, is closely connected to the upgrading of the BIM skills of construction professionals.

Digitisation and the use of BIM in the construction sector are in its infancy in some regions. The digital journey utilising BIM will generate usages and breakthroughs in the knowledge, use, and results achieved through the deployment of sustainable energy skills.

Now is the time for the implementation of digitisation in the construction sector in order to proactively and effectively reduce the carbon footprint and environmental impact of construction. BIM provides the data for a building’s energy consumption. This data can then be used as information to make informed decisions on how best to manage the entire energy circle of a building.

BIM’s contribution within the four segments of the energy life cycle in construction

There are four segments within the energy life cycle in construction: Potential, Embedded, Operational, and Sustainable energy. These four segments together account for all of the energy used in the complete construction life cycle and are mutually dependent and, therefore, cannot be considered separately. Decisions and actions are not mutually exclusive – decisions made within one segment have significant impacts across the entire energy circle.

Using BIM to manage the energy cycle in construction

BIM-based energy modelling provides several benefits including more accurate and complete energy performance analysis in early design stages, improved lifecycle cost analysis, and more opportunities for monitoring actual building performance during the operation phase.

Potential energy – targeted during the design stage


Energy savings are planned and targeted during the design phase. It is about utilising BIM tools to possibly reduce the gap between predicted and actual building performance proactively. BIM can be used to model buildings and sequentially perform multiple analysis, enabling energy performance prediction that can be applied to compare design alternatives, allowing for an improved final decision.

This involves:

Using BIM as an enabler of effective collaboration between design disciplines. Reducing performance disparity from conception.

The BIM collaboration method and tools allow for a more efficient coordination, avoiding errors and therefore leading to a more efficient construction phase, avoiding wastage and contributing to decarbonisation in the construction phase.

Utilising BIM tools for fast and accurate processing and comparison of a large number of design alternatives.

BIM software, based on the 3D model data enriched model, allows for simulations as solar paths, solar gains, thermal behaviour, testing M&E systems. Those, allied to other digital technologies such as cloud computing, and AI and machine learning, are already and will increasingly allow testing and evaluating of several design options until we find the best solution.

The design stage will improve as BIM allows for a better-informed decision by cataloguing and predicting more accurately with a data based process, the future behaviour of the building.

Visualisation of energy loads and performance as a specific advantage of BIM.

The BIM tools allows you  to analyse the model, enriched with the correct input of data, to calculate and graphically visualise/ represent the loads and performance of the building, allow an easier, clear and more direct interpretation and understanding of design choice and changes on the impact of building performance.

Selection of cost and energy for the most effective design alternative.

Multi-criteria optimization in terms of energy, environment and economy.

BIM tools also facilitate quantification (5D) which allied with simulation tools, permit a better informed cost vs performance ratio comparison. That helps make an informed decision about feasibility of design options, as well as compare the predictable energy savings and linked cost saving during the operation phase against the investment required in construction phase. This is of key importance to illustrate that sustainability and energy efficiency are not only environmentally necessary but it can be profitable too.

Tracing the route for the future decades of a building’s optimal service and operational life.

BIM involves a full lifecycle approach in the AEC industry, and the model is a digital twin of the build asset, and BIM simulation tools allow you to establish  since the inception/ design phase, a roadmap for the most efficient way to run the building in the future

Embedded energy – targeted during the construction stage


BIM is recognised as a tool to support the visualisation of a building’s energy performance, sequence and schedule of construction aimed towards the application of sustainable construction materials and techniques, with minimum waste of energy and materials.

Using the BIM 4D tools (time scheduling simulation) and 5D (quantification), these enhanced digital tools allow a more efficient project management in the construction phase, coordinating the works better, reducing construction time, avoiding clashes, planning of delivery of materials to site.

BIM allows you to have a clear idea of the site, how to approach and plan the construction before any work even starts commencing.

Using the 3D BIM model integrated with VR and AR technologies, site work can become more efficient and faster.

BIM-based digital design and visualisation permit a better use, planning and site delivery of pre fabrication. In addition, data-rich BIM product catalogues can justify and enable an increased use of local materials.

The use of digital scanning combined with the BIM process, the beauty of the 4th revolution of which BIM is an integral part: digitalisation integrates different digital data inputs and outputs into new digital workflows applied to construction.

For example, in the case of existing building, digital surveying allows you to measure key hotspots requiring energy-efficient improvements. BIM design can help to simulate and predict how to improve these, and how to implement them during the construction phase.

During and after construction this can be re-measured re-using the digital scanning techniques and comparing the BIM model data to verify and reduce the gap between predicted design performance and built performance.

If we analyse this, it becomes evident that reduction of waste, for example carbon footprint of material transport and extra material required in case of clashes and amendment, and reduction of surplus energy spent in installation and construction, is better achieved using BIM tools, as well as improving construction quality, and bringing closer predicted and actual energy performance in buildings.

Operational energy – targeted during the operation / service stage


Energy savings achieved through the building operation stage are monitored and managed continually with lessons learned fed back to design teams for future projects. The practicality of implementing BIM is evident as it assists performance management through effective data management in building operations by supporting the interlinking of data environments (BIM-supported Energy Management System of Buildings). 

Effective energy management reduces energy consumed while maintaining occupants’ health, safety, and comfort conditions. BIM is utilised to improve existing processes aimed towards sustainable usage of energy. Smart buildings and smart buildings’ usage are combined. Digital sensors and the meters platform is compiled to the building’s BIM digital model. The engagement of wider public stakeholders (occupants and users) into a standard action of improving buildings’ energy performance is essential.

Sustainable energy – targeted during the end-of-life

Connected with the three phases above, BIM is a potential method to enable an easier way of achieving energy savings through the lifetime of the building.

Smart decisions made in the early design stage of construction, including the selection of materials with high recyclability and least carbon footprint when demolished, are part of not only reducing the embedded energy content of a building (construction), but makes buildings more sustainable (re-use of materials).

BIM as a tool closing the loop of energy and materials in a building life-cycle is the target.

Energy for demolition or recycle/reuse is a constitutive part of the life cycle energy of a building and, although in less amount, can still have a significant contribution to the overall environmental performance.

All materials and products especially those with high insulation properties may require substantial energy and carbon effects for recycling or disposal. EPDs (environmental product declarations) of building envelope materials are incorporated as non-graphic information in the BIM model and used by various stakeholders and professionals in the supply chain.

In the near future, BIM models with help of AI prediction can integrate in design future use and re use of building, allowing easier changes of use and refurbishment processes, reducing the energy requirements for demolition and material use connected with new builds.

There is a huge amount of building stock available already, so BIM can be used to analyse and find effective and feasible ways to re-use those building without the need of new builds.

Simulation of energy performance using digital technology – BIM models and simulation – can further help justify via data facts, the use of renewable energy systems, convincing the most sceptical, and enable further its implementation.


As we move forward, there is a need for construction techniques, policy formulation and policy implementation to be integrated into a balanced and coherent system delivering sustainability across the entire construction supply chain.

In the EU, Energy Roadmap 2050 BIM is the most effective supportive technology for: sustainable energy, reducing carbon footprint and increasing the energy efficiency in the construction sector.

However, BIM is a tool. BIM is only an enabler. Digital environment is a medium. It’s people, professionals, that can make and implement the change. A tool is only as good as its operator.

Considering the importance of digitalisation, and within it, the role of BIM, as the new modus operandi of the AEC industry, and as it is the key method to help the industry achieve the energy efficiency and decarbonisation targets required to tackle the existing crisis and threat of climate change, upskilling industry professionals operating in this new reality is paramount.

But how to facilitate this upskilling and qualification? What else is needed in addition to the current offering and beyond the traditional academic offering (which most of the time is not a suitable pathway for existing professionals)?

The H2020 BIMcert Project is working towards offering a suitable solution.

The BIMcert project is developing a learning framework and associated material based upon a system thinking approach which will deliver better results in energy efficiency than traditional methods.

This is a holistic methodological approach, based in training the industry from the ground up:

  • starting with BIM awareness and impact on AEC industry efficiency and benefits;
  • principles of BIM collaboration to help the various stakeholders to become less fragmented;
  • essential IT and digital skills to integrate professional in this digital framework (especially blue collars);
  • covering more specific subjects aimed at specific construction roles, pairing BIM skills with role requirements (for example 3D modelling, 3D authoring for designers and 6D BIM simulation for designers, 4D BIM for contractors, project managers etc);
  • all the training and subjects are encompassed and interlinked within a sustainable environmental approach and context.

Training is broken down into bite-sized chunks of information to facilitate progressive upskilling of the industry that is suitable for blue collar workers through to white collar and management. It is planned to be delivered via blended methods, further facilitating the adoption by professional and SMEs that operate in an already time and budget tight context.

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