Software could help optimise energy consumption of cities

Researchers at the Technical University of Madrid have created ‘shadow models’ and a type of software that calculates the amount of solar radiation that reaches streets and buildings.

According to the results published in the Research Journal of Chemistry and Environment, they could help to optimise the energy consumption of cities.

‘Solar radiation that falls on a certain point in the city varies depending on the time of day, the weather conditions, the pollution level and other variables,’ said Roberto San José, lecturer at the Technical University of Madrid.

‘What we have done is calculate radiation using supercomputers that simulate the vast amount of data involved in the entire atmospheric process,’ he added.

The method involves generating up to 100,000 rays of light for just a few seconds from any position and verifying the point of collision upon reaching obstacles.

It is reported that the calculations were so complex that they required the powerful machines of the Supercomputing and Visualization Center of Madrid (CEsViMa-UPM) and the Mare Nostrum supercomputer at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center to work for 72 hours in order to achieve just six seconds of light and shadow evolution for an area of Madrid.

Global meteorological data provided by the US’s National Center for Atmospheric Research was used in the study.

The researchers developed two mathematical ‘shadow’ models in which the first supplies data to the second. One shows highly detailed 3D images of the behaviour of radiation while the other reveals the exchange of energy that occurs in a selected area.

San José said: ‘Depending on urban layout, at a certain time of day there will be rays of light that collide with the tarmac, the pavement and other buildings. They are then successively reflected until they create different degrees of shadow on the surface.’

The team has set up its two models in an IT tool named SHAMO (Shadow Model), which is a software product that allows for shadows and solar radiation in any city to be quantified.

San José added: ‘The results can serve as a tool for sustainability and energy optimisation in cities from both an architectural and urban planning point of view. In this sense, results can be used in the search for harmony between human and natural energy consumption.’