2.9 - Solar and Insight Energy Analysis

FormIt comes with built in environmental analysis tools, so you can understand even your earliest design studies from a building performance perspective. These features are only available with a FormIt Pro license, so if you are following along on FormIt Web you may not have access. You will need an internet connection to use the tools discussed in this chapter. Learn more about FormIt Pro here.

In this chapter, we will perform both a Solar Analysis and Insight Energy Analysis on the Encode Campus Sample Model.axm. If you have not already, you can download the file from the FormIt Primer Part 2 Dataset.

Note: Before any of the analysis tools can be used, the location of your project must be set. The Encode Campus Sample Model’s location is already set to a plot in Denver, CO, USA, which you can check by clicking on the Location button from the Standard Toolbar. To learn more about how to set a project’s locations, see the Part I chapter 1.1 - Set the Location.


Once your project’s location is set, you can view accurate shadows by enabling shadows, and adjusting the time of day and date. Below we will add three scenes to the model to record the summer and winter solstices and the spring equinox.

Note: Shadows may cause a decrease in application performance. Two suggestions for mitigating this are: turn shadows off if you notice the model is getting slow; turn off layers unnecessary for analyzing shadows, like layers containing furniture or people.

1 - So that we have a good view of the entire campus, open up the Scenes Palette and go to the Default View and Visibility scene.

2 - To create the first scene with shadows:

  1. Enable them by clicking on the Shadows (DS) checkbox in the Sun + Shadows dropdown, located on the Standard Toolbar.

  2. Update the Day of Year to June 21st (The year does not really matter, so the default of 2000 should be fine).

  3. Update the Time of Day to 12:00pm.

  4. Add a new scene named Shadows – Summer Solstice, and uncheck every scene property except for Sun and Shadows, as shown.

Note: For more information on creating and editing scenes, refer to chapter 1.12 - Visual Styles in Part I of the Primer.

Note: Wondering about the big blue Solar Analysis button? We will cover it in the next section, as it works a bit differently from the shadows.

3 - Create two more scenes in a similar way. The first set to 12:00pm on Dec 21st, and name it Shadows – Winter Solstice. The second on 12:00pm on March 21st, and name that one Shadows – Spring Equinox.

4 – Go to the Eye Level – Plaza scene, and then try toggling between the three shadow scenes we just created and notice how the shadows change. Since these shadow scenes are not tied to a camera position, you can now go to any view or scene in the model, and then toggle between the three shadow scenes to analyze how the shadows will behave.

Collage showing the three different Sun + Shadow settings we just created.

Note: Using Export (Ctrl + E) to save images, and layers to control the visibility of different design options, you can utilize scenes and shadows to export and compare the effects of shadows at different times on various designs.

5 – Instead of making more scenes to study different times of the day, let’s instead try utilizing the Sun Editor tool:

  1. Turn off Pre-selection Highlights (PS) from the Settings dropdown, so the geometry your mouse is hovered over will not turn blue when we are trying to adjust the time in the 3D sun editor.

  2. From the Sun + Shadows dropdown, check the Sun Editor (DR) box. A red sun diagram will appear in the center of the canvas.

  3. Click and drag the circular blue grip across the red arc with time markers to change the time of day of the shadows. While this will immediately change your view’s overall lighting, the new shadows will not render until you release the mouse button.

  4. Orbit your current view. You will see that the Sun Editor (DR) will remain in the middle of the screen, but you can rotate around it and see that it is actually a 3D arch representing that day’s sun path. If you switch between the shadow scenes we made previously, or change the day in the Sun + Shadow dropdown, the red arch will move to match the selected date.

Note: You can customize your toolbar visibility by right-clicking on any toolbar, or selecting the Window dropdown, and toggling which toolbars you would like. In the above image, we have turned off the Standard Toolbar and turned on only the Design Toolbar, which contains the Sun + Shadow tools.

6 – Don’t forget to turn the Sun Editor (DR) off again when you are done, and re-enable Pre-selection Highlights (PS)!

Solar Analysis

This tool allows you to quickly create a heat map of solar exposure for the selected surfaces.

1 – Once the solar analysis tool is started, you will be placed in a special selection mode and will loose access to most other tools, including all of the palettes and toolbars. So before we start, we want to adjust some visibility settings.

Open the premade Solar Analysis Visibility scene, as this scene will hide a lot of layers containing glazing and other detail elements we do not want in the study. The solar analysis does not take transparency into account, so we need to hide the windows so we can select just the floors and walls. Including unnecessary detailed elements (like furniture, railings, or people) can slow down the solar analysis.

Note: Make sure to also turn off any new layers you may have created in other Part II chapters that you do not want to include in the solar analysis (like the penthouse curtain walls from chapter 2.2 – Advanced Modeling Tools: shell and cover, or the stairs and railings from 1.6 – Dynamo FormIt Nodes). After adjusting these settings, we recommend updating the Solar Analysis Visibility to include these visibility changes.

2 - To start the solar analysis, from the Sun + Shadow dropdown, click on the Solar Analysis button. It may take a few moments for FormIt to locate the nearest weather station and gather the required data.

3 - Now we want to select the surfaces to include in the analysis. Selecting surfaces for a solar analysis works a bit differently than regular object selection in FormIt, so we recommend:

  1. Switch to the orthographic view mode by clicking on the Orthographic button (the normal keyboard shortcut will not work in this mode, so you have to click the button.

  2. Orbit the view so you are looking down at the Encode Campus from above, with the main building oriented horizontally on your screen, as in the image below.

  3. Create a selection window by clicking and dragging, starting up and left main building, then dragging down and right to create a rectangular selection window that encompasses the entire main building.

  4. If you make a mistake with your selection, you can click on the Reset button to clear the current solar analysis selection.

  5. Click on the Perspective view button and rotate your view back into 3D.

  6. Double-click on the brick facades and roof surfaces (but not windows) of the other two site buildings to add all of their exterior surfaces to the selection.

  7. Back in the Solar Analysis Wizard, click on the Analyze button to run the analysis. This may take a minute or two, as it will calculate the results for each monthly peak as well as the total annual solar loads.

Note: When selecting surfaces for a solar analysis, there is no need to hold Ctrl or Shift to select multiple elements. You can simply click on any element to add or remove it from your current selection.

4 – Once the analysis is complete, we can take a look at the results:

  1. Hover you mouse over any point on an analyzed face to see the radiation values at that point. (Be careful not to click though, or it will alter your selection and you will have to re-run the analysis!)

  2. In the Solay Analysis Wizard, move the slider to change which monthly peak you are looking at. The monthly peak mode can be useful for shading studies. Values are shown in BTU/sq ft. It looks like the louvers on the north façade of the main building are doing a lot of work to block some of the late-afternoon summer sun, but throughout the hotter months the glazing on the south (street facing) sides of the building could use some exterior sun protection!

  3. Try changing the Range/Method dropdown to Year Cumulative, which will show you the total exposures for every selected surface for the entire year; this can be useful for PV Potential studies. With a flat roof and no tall adjacent shadow-casting buildings, some of the flat roofs of the Encode Campus may be well suited to host some solar panels! These calculated values, shown in kWh/sq m, could be shared with a PV panel manufacturer to calculate the potential energy gains from installing PV panels – all at an early design stage!

  4. To exit the solar analysis, click on the small checkbox in the top left corner of the Solar Analysis Wizard.

Note: Similar to the shadow studies, you can also use the Export (Ctrl + E) feature here to save images of solar studies for different design options and then compare them.

Energy Analysis with Insight

FormIt has integrated the same Building Performance analysis tools that Revit uses. Insight provides a dashboard of building system parameters that can be adjusted to reflect potential scenarios without requiring you to re-analyze model geometry. Insight works best with FormIt massing geometry.

1 – Insight works best on massing geometry, so open the Massing Only scene.

2 –We only want to analyze the buildings on the Encode Campus, not all the surrounding site buildings as well, so turn off the Existing – Context Buildings – Massing and Existing – Streets and Paving layers (FormIt will only send visible geometry to Insight).

3 – Insight requires at least one level to be applied to the geometry being analyzed. Although the levels in the Encode Campus Sample File.axm are already applied to these masses, if you have made any changes to the model that affect the building floor heights, you may need to update both the mass geometry and the layer heights. To learn more about adjusting layers and applying them to specific geometry, see the Part I chapter 1.4 - Add Floors with Levels.

4 - To start the analysis, in the Standard Toolbar click on the Energy Analysis dropdown button, and then select the only non-grayed-out option: Generate Insight. This analysis will be done in the cloud. It may take a few minutes or more, but in the meantime, you can continue modeling in FormIt until the results are ready.

5 – Once the analysis is complete, you will be able to select the View Insight button. This will launch a web browser where you can view the results of the analysis. Alternatively, you can log in to http://insight.autodesk.com to see any of the Autodesk Insight Analysis you have done.

6 - Insight Energy Analysis reports energy use intensity numbers based on many factors which can be individually adjusted in real time on the website. Some of these factors include HVAC type, Operating Schedule, Roof Construction, Percent Glazing, and more. Each factor is displayed as a card showing the current setting and how adjusting the setting can impact the energy use intensity of the design. So, even though the FormIt model only represents massing, the Insight Energy Analysis can provide detailed feedback to help inform your design at an early stage. Try clicking on a few cards and adjusting them to seeing how it changes the calculated values.

To learn more about how to read and understand the data provided by Insight, as well as compare your model’s output against benchmarks like Ashrae 90.1 and the Architecture 2030 challenge, visit the Insight Support and Learning page.


  • If your design changes form drastically, then you can re-send the updated mass to the same dashboard, and the existing analysis will be updated. If you want to create a new dashboard for an updated design, make sure to use Save As to save a new copy of your FormIt Model first.

  • If your Energy Analysis is unsuccessful, you may have sent some non-manifold or non-watertight mass geometry to Insight. To learn about how you can identify and repair these issues in FormIt, see the Part II chapter 2.7 - Diagnostics Tools.