New version of RETScreen adds critical energy efficiency tools and more
The fourth version of RETScreen, the web-based energy management tool, was released in December 2007 with a whole host of upgrades that make it that much more useful for facility owners and managers considering the adoption of energy efficiency measures.
Originally developed by Natural Resources Canada’s CANMET Energy Technology Centre, to determine the feasibility of renewable energy projects, the tool has gone through several iterations in the past 10 years.
“About four years ago, we added information about cogeneration,” notes Greg Leng, director of RETScreen International. “Probably the main difference in the newest version is the addition of a whole series of energy efficiency tools, for all building types – from residential buildings to commercial institutions, right up to large industrial facilities.”
The purpose of RETScreen, a free web-based evaluation system, is to help engineers, architects and facilities managers to evaluate whether it makes sense to introduce renewable energy installations, cogeneration, and now any number of energy efficiency measures. It’s not meant to replace the use of an energy audit or energy professionals, but it provides a robust tool with which to calculate possible scenarios for energy efficiency projects.
The new version of RETScreen also includes critical weather data.
“We’ve had an ongoing collaboration with NASA in the U.S.,” says Leng. “When you do an analysis of a building, you need climate data – temperatures, design temperatures, etc. With NASA, using their satellites, we’ve actually been able to create a climate database for the entire surface of the planet, so there basically isn’t anywhere in the world now for which you don’t have data. That’s quite important, because the data up until now has been limited to airport weather stations. That database is now right within the RETScreen tool itself, at your fingertips.”
The third major item added in the new version is that the software has been translated into 26 different languages that cover two thirds of the world’s population.
“This means that if you are working in English, you can send your data to, say, your engineer working in French in Quebec, and he can switch it to French. You might then have an apartment building complex you’re developing in China. You can switch the file to Chinese for your Chinese partner to review. This is really huge, because it turns RETScreen from an analysis tool into a project development tool. It dramatically increases the speed at which projects are done, and facilitates communications between different project developers.”
A fourth major development on the site is access to fully-integrated case studies.
“In the past, we’ve had a series of case studies of real projects that have been built, telling you what the real numbers were and the lessons learned” explains Leng. “What we’ve done now is to actually integrate all of those case studies right into the software. This means when you are discussing a specific project – say, the installation of more efficient lighting systems for your schools – you are able to call up an example, and the model switches to that technology, that application, so you have a starting point.”
Leng considers the technology a tool that can truly make a difference for the successful implementation of energy efficiency projects.
“All of these tools dramatically reduce the cost and the time of doing these studies because, really, the costs of the studies themselves can be a major barrier to both efficiency and renewable energy. The idea behind RETScreen is that by dramatically reducing these costs, that money can be spent on actually implementing projects or studying more projects to expand markets.”
In late January, the program passed the 137,000-user mark. The technology is used in 222 countries and is growing by over 900 users a week at the moment.
“We have a real critical mass of users right now,” says Leng. “In Canada alone, the number is up around 36,000, and it has grown strictly by word of mouth and the use of search engines. We’ve put all of our money in the developing the tool, as well as providing training and other support.”
At this point, many of the improvements have actually come from user comments and feedback.
“What’s interesting is that we’re also getting many users who are developing their own improvements to the tool and sending them to us,” Leng notes. “So we’re actually integrating through the user community. There are also 140 universities worldwide that train on RETScreen.”
The big difference from the early days of the program is that, by considering energy efficiency in general rather than simply the introduction of higher-cost solutions like renewables and cogeneration, the site is applicable to every building, every factory, every municipality in the world.
“Our whole focus has been on cost-effectiveness,” says Leng. “Environmental benefits are just a spin-off. Most people don’t realize how cost-effective efficiency and renewables are, so really these tools were developed to make the business case – you are going to save or make money.”
Using RETScreen is completely free of charge. “The point, for us, is to expand markets and have a real impact,” says Leng.