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Planning a City, Virtually

May 31, 2018

To help stakeholders and developers prepare for Peña Station NEXT, Denver’s forthcoming, airport-abutting smart community, engineers and computer scientists at NREL have created an immersive planning environment at the laboratory’s Insight Center. Like the community itself, NREL’s visualization tool is a revolution in how we interact with tomorrow’s power systems.

“Peña Station NEXT presents a new opportunity for power systems design and optimization,” said Laboratory Program Manager Martha Symko-Davies. “With on-site solar, storage, mobility and building technologies all operating in concert with the power grid, we need an innovative design solution to visualizing the system dynamics.”

The Peña Station NEXT visualization was prepared as an alternative planning tool to bring to life the charts and diagrams that are less friendly to intuition.

“It’s hard to display the complex nature of this power system using more traditional visualization tools,” said Bri-Mathias Hodge, co-principal investigator of the Peña Station NEXT visualization tool. “This tool is well suited for the Peña Station NEXT project because there is data coming from a number of different interacting systems—interactions between the power systems side and the buildings side.”

The development of Peña Station NEXT is balanced among several ambitious goals—the Internet of Things technology from Panasonic Enterprise Solutions must function inside buildings developed by L.C. Fulenwider, Inc., which are expected to set new standards for livability while ultimately harnessing renewable and energy storage technologies to remain carbon neutral. NREL’s visualization captures the trade-offs that will affect Peña Station NEXT’s development and expresses them in an intuitive 3-D setting.

“It’s been fantastic for enabling the different stakeholders to quickly understand all of the system components so that they can understand the broader implications of the choices they’re making,” said Hodge.

The visualization environment, housed in the ESIF and powered by NREL’s high-performance computer, allows users to virtually fly through Peña Station NEXT. With wearable technology and user-friendly controls, developers and energy planners can enter the virtual city and modify parameters to explore alternative design scenarios in real time. “The ability to change things on the fly is the great part; it’s not just one static solution,” said Hodge.

Peña Station NEXT is a transit-oriented, mixed-use development that embraces smart technology. To learn more about NREL’s support of this first-of-its-kind project, visit the Pena Station NEXT partner page.