Joint Centers of Excellence Program

Urban Energy Modeling


Saudi Arabia’s rapid development has been fueled by cheap energy. While successful in modernizing the country, this policy of low energy prices has also resulted in wasteful consumption and deterred investments in both energy efficiency and alternative energy supplies.

As such, the Kingdom’s annual energy consumption has grown at a rate double that of GDP, with electricity generation capacity doubling over the past decade to meet the countries massive demand for air-condition in the summer.

As energy use intensity has grown, the corresponding decline in energy efficiency has been dramatic. It is estimated that 70% of the buildings in the Kingdom have no thermal insulation with HVAC, lighting, and transportation energy efficiency all performing below international standards.

The wastefulness of this domestic energy consumption presents an existential crises. Annual energy subsidies now measure SAR 50 Billion a year, representing 9% of total government expenditure. Should Saudi Arabia continue on this trajectory it could find itself a net oil importer in 2040, a disastrous scenario.


This project aims to develop models and tools that will aid and inform Saudi stakeholders in improving the Kingdom’s energy efficiency. This will be achieved via the creation of an urban energy model of Riyadh city. Urban Energy Modeling is an engineering-based bottom-up approach to simulate individual energy flows in an urban environment. These simulations will aim to identify the causes of energy loads in Riyadh and thus allow for the development and evaluation of various energy strategies for the causal reduction of Saudi Arabia’s domestic demand. The methodologies and lessons learned in the Riyadh application will act as a guide to quickly enable similar applications at other cities throughout the Kingdom.

Data-driven analysis will also be utilized to compliment and validate the urban energy models. The use of anonymized mobile phone records to track building occupancy, and also of historical energy consumption patterns will aim to empirically discover insights to guide energy solutions involving distributed generation and storage.


The development of the urban energy model will require three main inputs Weather, Geometry, and Building Archetypes.

Riyadh. The Geometry of the city is to be created via the usage of LIDAR scans, and the Building Archetypes are to be developed by leveraging housing statistics and field surveys of Riyadh.

The urban energy model will be calibrated via comparison with actual energy consumption and its simulations will be used to test a plethora of scenarios and domestic energy strategies. Chief among these strategies will be the microgrid concept with specific attention paid to the economic feasibility of incorporating energy storage.

Finally, an interface in the form of a dashboard viewer is also created to allow stakeholders to rapidly prototype and evaluate their own energy solutions; including: retrofitting, distributed generation, and other forms of demand side management.