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Sensitivity analysis and evolutionary optimization for building design

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posted on 19.11.2014, 16:21 by Mengchao Wang
In order to achieve global carbon reduction targets, buildings must be designed to be energy efficient. Building performance simulation methods, together with sensitivity analysis and evolutionary optimization methods, can be used to generate design solution and performance information that can be used in identifying energy and cost efficient design solutions. Sensitivity analysis is used to identify the design variables that have the greatest impacts on the design objectives and constraints. Multi-objective evolutionary optimization is used to find a Pareto set of design solutions that optimize the conflicting design objectives while satisfying the design constraints; building design being an inherently multi-objective process. For instance, there is commonly a desire to minimise both the building energy demand and capital cost while maintaining thermal comfort. Sensitivity analysis has previously been coupled with a model-based optimization in order to reduce the computational effort of running a robust optimization and in order to provide an insight into the solution sensitivities in the neighbourhood of each optimum solution. However, there has been little research conducted to explore the extent to which the solutions found from a building design optimization can be used for a global or local sensitivity analysis, or the extent to which the local sensitivities differ from the global sensitivities. It has also been common for the sensitivity analysis to be conducted using continuous variables, whereas building optimization problems are more typically formulated using a mixture of discretized-continuous variables (with physical meaning) and categorical variables (without physical meaning). This thesis investigates three main questions; the form of global sensitivity analysis most appropriate for use with problems having mixed discretised-continuous and categorical variables; the extent to which samples taken from an optimization run can be used in a global sensitivity analysis, the optimization process causing these solutions to be biased; and the extent to which global and local sensitivities are different. The experiments conducted in this research are based on the mid-floor of a commercial office building having 5 zones, and which is located in Birmingham, UK. The optimization and sensitivity analysis problems are formulated with 16 design variables, including orientation, heating and cooling setpoints, window-to-wall ratios, start and stop time, and construction types. The design objectives are the minimisation of both energy demand and capital cost, with solution infeasibility being a function of occupant thermal comfort. It is concluded that a robust global sensitivity analysis can be achieved using stepwise regression with the use of bidirectional elimination, rank transformation of the variables and BIC (Bayesian information criterion). It is concluded that, when the optimization is based on a genetic algorithm, that solutions taken from the start of the optimization process can be reliably used in a global sensitivity analysis, and therefore, there is no need to generate a separate set of random samples for use in the sensitivity analysis. The extent to which the convergence of the variables during the optimization can be used as a proxy for the variable sensitivities has also been investigated. It is concluded that it is not possible to identify the relative importance of variables through the optimization, even though the most important variable exhibited fast and stable convergence. Finally, it is concluded that differences exist in the variable rankings resulting from the global and local sensitivity methods, although the top-ranked solutions from each approach tend to be the same. It also concluded that the sensitivity of the objectives and constraints to all variables is obtainable through a local sensitivity analysis, but that a global sensitivity analysis is only likely to identify the most important variables. The repeatability of these conclusions has been investigated and confirmed by applying the methods to the example design problem with the building being located in four different climates (Birmingham, UK; San Francisco, US; and Chicago, US).


Graduate school



  • Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering


© Mengchao Wang

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This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at:

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

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