MIT Sustainable Design Lab
Boston Citywide Energy Model

Carlos Cerezo, Jamie Bemis, Tarek Rakha and Christoph Reinhart

MIT project report | BRA Project Web Site

City governments and their partners are increasingly focusing on the development of urban energy efficiency strategies for buildings as a key component to meet policy-driven carbon reduction targets. Similarly, energy utilities and suppliers need to develop long term supply strategies that are cost efficient and resilient against natural and manmade interferences. To support these diverse needs, a new generation of urban building energy models (UBEM) is currently being developed for the estimation of citywide hourly energy demand loads down to the individual building level. However, for cities to apply them, effective modeling workflows adapted to their current urban data structures need to be provided.

Within this context, the authors collaborated with the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and local building experts to develop a citywide UBEM based on the official GIS dataset of the city. The vision for this work was to produce a long term policy support tool that the city could regularly update going forward, and that provides actionable information for local communities to evaluate energy related decisions. The Boston model was developed with support from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC).

The geometric input for Boston’s UBEM tool was extracted from GIS shapefiles, and a total of 76 different building archetypes were then assigned to individual buildings based on land use and building age. Most data manipulation and thermal model generation processes were conducted within the Rhinoceros 3D CAD environment. Individual building models were run using the US Department of Energy’s EnergyPlus energy simulation program. Simulation results were cross checked against reported average energy use from the US Residential and Commercial Building Energy Consumption Surveys (RBECS, CBECS).


Model generation workflow from Boston GIS datasets


Process for building 3D geometry generation


Simulated annual energy use intensity (EUI) in Back Bay and South End


Simulated hourly energy demand for Boston in summer and winter peak days


Simulated hourly energy use in a 200x200 m grid for Boston