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API for RL algorithm design & testing of BCA (Building Control Agent) HVAC on EnergyPlus building energy simulator by wrapping their EMS Python API


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RL - EmsPy (UNFinished, UNMaintained :/ )

The EmsPy Python package was made to facilitate Reinforcement Learning (RL) algorithm research for developing and testing Building Control Agents (BCAs) for intelligent building and HVAC automation using EnergyPlus's (E+) building energy simulator and wrapping their Energy Management System (EMS) Python API.

This repo was constructed by someone with little experience with EnergyPlus and software/programming, but wanted to assist in creating a simplistic but flexible building 'environment' interface for RL building control research. Any feedback or improvements to the repo is welcomed.


The RL-centered wrapper, EmsPy, is meant to simplify and somewhat constrain the EnergyPlus (E+) Energy Management System API (EMS). The popular/intended use of the EMS API is to interface with a running E+ building simulation and/or inject custom code, which is not so easily done otherwise. EMS exposes E+ real-time simulation data such as variables, internal variables, meters, actuators, and weather.

Recently, a Python API was created for EMS so users aren't limited by the E+ Runtime Language (ERL) and can more naturally interact with a running building simulation to gather state information and implement custom control and simulation modifications at runtime (subhourly timesteps). EMS can be used to create Python plugins or call E+ as a library and run simulations directly from Python - EmsPy utilizes the latter. Please see the documentation hyperlinks to learn more about EnergyPlus EMS, Using EnergyPlus as a library, and its Python API.

Note: Although this repo is meant to wrap EMS and simplify interfacing with E+ for RL purposes - making this research space more readily accessible to AI and controls researchers and hobbyiest - a good understanding of E+ and building modeling may still be necessary, especially if you intend to create, link, and control your own building models, or, need more advanced EMS features. EMS offers many entry points into the simulation during runtime through calling points, each with their own utility, and this API does not limit that functionality. With this API, observations and actuation functions can be enacted on none, one, to all calling points - whatever fits your specific control and BEM needs. This flexibility naturally leads to more complexity.

Eventually, some standard building models and template scripts will be created so that user's can simply experiment with them through Python with no E+ experience needed. A natural formfactor would be to resemble OpenAI's Gym Environment API. This standardization building models and interaction may also help institute performance benchmarks for the research community.

Regardless of your use case, you will need to have the proper versioned (9.5.0) E+ simulation engine downloaded onto your system.

Further Documentation:

Major Dependencies:

  • EnergyPlus 9.5 (building energy simulation engine)
  • EnergyPlus EMS Python API 0.2 (included in E+ 9.5 download)
  • Python >= 3.8
  • pyenergyplus Python package (included in E+ download)
  • openstudio Python package (not currently used, but plan to add functionality)

Other Helpful E+ Software Tools:


The diagram below depicts the RL-interaction-loop within a timestep at simulation runtime. Because of the unchangeable technicalities of the interaction between EMS and the E+ simulator - through the use of callback function(s) and the many calling points available per timestep - the underlying RL interface and algorithm must be implemented in a very specific manner. This was done in a way as to provide maximal flexibility and not constrain usage, but at the inherent cost of some extra complexity and greater learning curve. However, once understood, it is simple to use and fit to your custom needs. This be explained in detail below and in the Wiki pages.

There are likely 4 main use-cases for this repo, if you are hoping to implement RL algorithms on E+ building simulationss at runtime.

In order of increasing complexity:

  • You want to use an existing EMS interface template and linked building model to only implement RL control
  • You have an existing E+ building model (with no model or .idf modification needed) that you want to link and implement RL control on
  • You have an existing E+ building model (with some amount of model or .idf modification needed) that you want to link and implement RL control on
  • You want to create a new E+ building model to integrate and implement RL control on (another project in itself)

EmsPy's usage for these use-cases is all the same - the difference is what must be done beforehand. Creating building models, understanding their file makeup, configuring HVAC systems, modifying .idf files, and adding/linking EMS variables and actuators brings extra challenges. This guide will focus on utilizing EmsPy (EMS-RL wrapper). The former components, before utilizing EmsPy, will be discussed elsewhere, with basic guidance to get you started in the right direction if you are new to EnergyPlus and/or EMS

At the very least, even if solely using EmsPy for a given model, it is important to understand the types EMS metrics of a given model: variables, internal variables, meters, actuators, and weather. These represent specific types of simulation data exposed through EMS that can be used to build the state and action space of your control framework. For each type, there are many specific entities within the building model whose data can be looked up throughout the simulation. For instance, at each timestep for a specific calling point, I may use a meter to track all HVAC energy use, variables to track zone temperatures and occupancy schedules, and thermostat actuator to control the heating and cooling setpoints of a zone. The calling point I choose, say callback_after_predictor_before_hvac_managers determines exactly when in the flow of the simulation-solver that my callback function will be called.

See the 9.5 EMS Application Guide and 9.5 Input Output Reference documents for detailed documentation on these topics at either EnergyPlus Documentation or Big Ladder Software.

How to use EmsPy with an E+ Model

This guide provides a very brief overview of how to use EmsPy. Please see the Wiki, code documentation, and example scripts for more detailed information. The integration of the control (RL) algorithm and the flow of the calling points and callback functions at runtime is depicted in the image above. The image below loosely represents the logic of the EmsPy API.

1. First, you will create an BcaEnv object (Building Control Agent + Environment) from proper inputs. BcaEnv is a simplified UI that wraps EmsPy that should provide all necessary functionallity. Using EmsPy, this object encapsulates your building simulation environment and helps manage all your specificed EMS data produced and recorded during runtime. The inputs include paths to the E+ directory and the building model .idf file to be simulated, information about all types of desired EMS metrics, and the simulation timestep. Specifying the callback functions (organized by Observation and Actuation functions) with their linked calling points will come later.

sim_environment = BcaEnv(ep_path: str, ep_idf_to_run: str, timesteps: int, tc_var: dict, tc_intvar: dict, tc_meter: dict, tc_actuator: dict, tc_weather: dict)
  • ep_path sets the path to your EnergyPlus 9.5 installation directory
  • ep_idf_to_run sets the path to your EnergyPlus building model, likely .idf file
  • timesteps the number of timesteps per hour of the simulation. This must match the timestep detailed in your model .idf
  • Define all EMS metrics you want to call or interact with in your model:
    • Build the Table of Contents (ToC) dictionaries for EMS variables, internal variables, meters, actuators, and weather
    • Note: this requires an understanding of EnergyPlus model input and output files, especially for actuators
    • Each EMS category's ToC should be a dictionary with each EMS metric's user-defined name (key) and its required arguments (value) for fetching the 'handle' or data from the model. See Data Transfer API documentation for more info on this process.
      • Variables: 'user_var_name': ['variable_name', 'variable_key'] elements of tc_vars dict
      • Internal Variables: 'user_intvar_name': ['variable_type', 'variable_key'] elements of tc_intvars dict
      • Meters: 'user_meter_name': ['meter_name'] element of tc_meter dict
      • Weather: 'user_weather_name': ['weather_name'] elements of tc_weather dict
      • Actuators: 'user_actuator_name': ['component_type', 'control_type', 'actuator_key'] elements of tc_actuator dict

Once this has been completed, your BcaEnv object has all it needs to manage your runtime EMS needs - implementing various data collection/organization and dataframes attributes, as well as finding the EMS handles from the ToCs, etc.

Note: At this point, the simulation can be ran but nothing useful will happen (in terms of control or data collection) as no calling points, callback functions, or actuation functions have been defined and linked. It may be helpful to run the simulation with only this 'environment' object initialization and then review its contents to see all that the class has created.

2. Next, you must define the "Calling Point & Callback Function dictionary" with BcaEnv.set_calling_point_and_callback_function() to define and enable your callback functionality at runtime. This dictionary links a calling point(s) to a callback function(s) with optionally 1) Obvservation function, 2) Actuation function, 3) and the arguments dictating at what frequncy (with respect to the simulation timestep) these observation and actuations occur. A given calling point defines when a linked callback function (and optionally an embedded actuation function) will be ran during the simulation timestep calculations. The diagram above represents the simulation flow and RL integration with calling points and callback functions.

A brief word on Observation and Actuation functions:

  • Each callback function (linked with a specific calling point) permits two custom functions to be attached. One is termed the Observation function and the other the Actuation function, and they're meant for capturing the state and taking actions, respectively. Your actual usage and implementation of these functions - if at all since they are optional, and only 1 is necessary for custom control and data tracking - is up to you. The two main differences is that the Observation function is called before the Actuation function in the callback and what each should/can return when called. The Obvservation function can return 'reward(s)' to be automatically tracked. And the Actuation function must return an actuation dictionary, linking an actuator to its new setpoint value. Technically, for control purposes, you could do everything in just the Actuation function; but the Observation function grants extra flexibility to accessing the state and helpful automatic reward tracking. Also, since each calling point can have its own callback function, many seperate Observation and Actuation functions could be used across a single timestep, however, these usage is more advanced and may only be needed is special circumstances.

The Calling Point & Actuation Function dictionary should be built one key-value at a time using the method for each desired calling point callback:

   calling_point: str, observation_function, actuation_function, update_state: bool, update_observation_frequency: int = 1, update_actuation_frequency: int = 1)
  • calling_point a single calling point from the available list EmsPy.available_calling_points
  • actuation_function the control algorithm function, which must take no arguments and must return a dictionary (or None if no custom actuation) of actuator name(s) (key) and floating point setpoint value(s) (value) to be implemented at the linked calling point. Be sure to pass the function itself, don't call it.
    • Note: due to the scope and passing of the callback function, please use a custom class and instantiate a global object in your script to encapsulate any custom data for the control algorithm (RL agent parameters) and then utilize the global object in your actuation function. The callback functions can reference object/class data at runtime.
    • Warning: actual actuator setpoint values can be floating point, integer, and boolean values (or None to relinquish control back to E+) and have a variety of input domain spans. Since the API input must be floating point, the setpoint values will be automatically cast to nearest integer (1/2 rounds up) and all but ~1.0 casts to False, respective to the specific actuator's needs. These details are defined in the E+ EMS API Documentation Internal variables may be able to be used to understand an actuators input domain. You must have an understanding of the actuator(s) to control them as intended.
  • update_state T/F to whether or not the entire EMS ToCs' data should be updated from simulation for that calling point, this acts as a complete state update (use BcaEnv.update_ems_data for more selective udpates at specific calling points, if needed)
  • update_observation_frequency the number of simulation timesteps between each time the associated Observation function is called, default is every timestep
  • update_actuation_frequnecy the number of simulation timesteps between each time the associated Actuation function called, default is every timestep

Note: there are multiple calling points per timestep, each signifying the start/end of an event in the process. The majority of calling points occur consistently throughout the simulation, but several occur once before during simulation setup.

The user-defined actuation_function should encapsulate any sort of control algorithm (more than one can be created and linked to unique calling points, but it's likely that only 1 will be used as the entire RL algorithm). Using the methods BcaEnv.get_ems_data and BcaEnv.get_weather_forecast, to collect state information, a control algorithm/function can be created and its actions returned. In emspy using a decorator function, this Actuation function will automatically be attached to the standard callback function and linked to the defined calling point. At that calling point during runtime, the actuation function will be ran and the returned actuator dict will be passed to the simulation to update actuator setpoint values. The rest of the arguments are also automatically passed to the base-callback function to dictate the update frequency of observation and actuation. This means that data collection or actuation updates do not need to happen every timestep or in tandem with each other.

Please refer to the Wiki or EmsPy and BcaEnv code documentation on how to utilize this API.

Below, is a sample sub-script of EmsPy usage: controlling the thermostat setpoints of a single zone of a 5-Zone Office Building based on the time of day.

This is a simple example to show how to set up and simulation and utilize some of emspy's features.
This implements simple rule-based thermostat control based on the time of day, for a single zone of a 5-zone office
building. Other data is tracked and reported just for example.

This is a simplified/cleaned version (no MdpManager, less comments, etc.) of the '' example,
meant for the
import datetime
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

from emspy import EmsPy, BcaEnv

# -- FILE PATHS --
# * E+ Download Path *
ep_path = 'A:/Programs/EnergyPlusV9-5-0/'  # path to E+ on system
# IDF File / Modification Paths
idf_file_name = r'BEM_simple/simple_office_5zone_April.idf'  # building energy model (BEM) IDF file
# Weather Path
ep_weather_path = r'BEM_simple/5B_USA_CO_BOULDER_TMY2.epw'  # EPW weather file

# Output .csv Path (optional)
cvs_output_path = r'dataframes_output_test.csv'

# STATE SPACE (& Auxiliary Simulation Data)

zn0 = 'Core_ZN ZN'

tc_intvars = {}  # empty, don't need any

tc_vars = {
    # Building
    'hvac_operation_sched': ('Schedule Value', 'OfficeSmall HVACOperationSchd'),  # is building 'open'/'close'?
    # -- Zone 0 (Core_Zn) --
    'zn0_temp': ('Zone Air Temperature', zn0),  # deg C
    'zn0_RH': ('Zone Air Relative Humidity', zn0),  # %RH

tc_meters = {
    # Building-wide
    'electricity_facility': ('Electricity:Facility'),  # J
    'electricity_HVAC': ('Electricity:HVAC'),  # J
    'electricity_heating': ('Heating:Electricity'),  # J
    'electricity_cooling': ('Cooling:Electricity'),  # J
    'gas_heating': ('NaturalGas:HVAC')  # J

tc_weather = {
    'oa_rh': ('outdoor_relative_humidity'),  # %RH
    'oa_db': ('outdoor_dry_bulb'),  # deg C
    'oa_pa': ('outdoor_barometric_pressure'),  # Pa
    'sun_up': ('sun_is_up'),  # T/F
    'rain': ('is_raining'),  # T/F
    'snow': ('is_snowing'),  # T/F
    'wind_dir': ('wind_direction'),  # deg
    'wind_speed': ('wind_speed')  # m/s

tc_actuators = {
    # HVAC Control Setpoints
    'zn0_cooling_sp': ('Zone Temperature Control', 'Cooling Setpoint', zn0),  # deg C
    'zn0_heating_sp': ('Zone Temperature Control', 'Heating Setpoint', zn0),  # deg C

# -- Simulation Params --
calling_point_for_callback_fxn = EmsPy.available_calling_points[6]  # 6-16 valid for timestep loop during simulation
sim_timesteps = 6  # every 60 / sim_timestep minutes (e.g 10 minutes per timestep)

# -- Create Building Energy Simulation Instance --
sim = BcaEnv(

class Agent:
    Create agent instance, which is used to create actuation() and observation() functions (both optional) and maintain
    scope throughout the simulation.
    Since EnergyPlus' Python EMS using callback functions at calling points, it is helpful to use a object instance
    (Agent) and use its methods for the callbacks. * That way data from the simulation can be stored with the Agent
    def __init__(self, bca: BcaEnv):
        self.bca = bca

        # simulation data state
        self.zn0_temp = None  # deg C
        self.time = None

    def observation_function(self):
        self.time = self.bca.get_ems_data(['t_datetimes'])

        # Get data from simulation at current timestep (and calling point) using ToC names
        var_data = self.bca.get_ems_data(list(self.bca.tc_var.keys()))
        meter_data = self.bca.get_ems_data(list(self.bca.tc_meter.keys()), return_dict=True)
        weather_data = self.bca.get_ems_data(list(self.bca.tc_weather.keys()), return_dict=True)

        # get specific values from MdpManager based on name
        self.zn0_temp = var_data[1]  # index 1st element to get zone temps, based on EMS Variable ToC
        # OR if using "return_dict=True"
        outdoor_temp = weather_data['oa_db']  # outdoor air dry bulb temp

        # print reporting
        if self.time.hour % 2 == 0 and self.time.minute == 0:  # report every 2 hours
            print(f'\n\nTime: {str(self.time)}')
            print('\n\t* Observation Function:')
            print(f'\t\tVars: {var_data}'  # outputs ordered list
                  f'\n\t\tMeters: {meter_data}'  # outputs dictionary
                  f'\n\t\tWeather:{weather_data}')  # outputs dictionary
            print(f'\t\tZone0 Temp: {round(self.zn0_temp,2)} C')
            print(f'\t\tOutdoor Temp: {round(outdoor_temp, 2)} C')

    def actuation_function(self):
        work_hours_heating_setpoint = 18  # deg C
        work_hours_cooling_setpoint = 22  # deg C

        off_hours_heating_setpoint = 15  # deg C
        off_hours_coolng_setpoint = 30  # deg C

        work_day_start = datetime.time(6, 0)  # day starts 6 am
        work_day_end = datetime.time(20, 0)  # day ends at 8 pm

        # Change thermostat setpoints based on time of day
        if work_day_start < self.time.time() < work_day_end:  #
            # during workday
            heating_setpoint = work_hours_heating_setpoint
            cooling_setpoint = work_hours_cooling_setpoint
            thermostat_settings = 'Work-Hours Thermostat'
            # off work
            heating_setpoint = off_hours_heating_setpoint
            cooling_setpoint = off_hours_coolng_setpoint
            thermostat_settings = 'Off-Hours Thermostat'

        # print reporting
        if self.time.hour % 2 == 0 and self.time.minute == 0:  # report every 2 hours
            print(f'\n\t* Actuation Function:'
                  f'\n\t\tHeating Setpoint: {heating_setpoint}'
                  f'\n\t\tCooling Setpoint: {cooling_setpoint}\n'

        # return actuation dictionary, referring to actuator EMS variables set
        return {
            'zn0_heating_sp': heating_setpoint,
            'zn0_cooling_sp': cooling_setpoint

#  --- Create agent instance ---
my_agent = Agent(sim)

# --- Set your callback function (observation and/or actuation) function for a given calling point ---
    observation_function=my_agent.observation_function,  # optional function
    actuation_function=my_agent.actuation_function,  # optional function
    update_state=True,  # use this callback to update the EMS state
    update_observation_frequency=1,  # linked to observation update
    update_actuation_frequency=1  # linked to actuation update

sim.reset_state()  # reset when done

# -- Sample Output Data --
output_dfs = sim.get_df(to_csv_file=cvs_output_path)  # LOOK at all the data collected here, custom DFs can be made too

# -- Plot Results --
fig, ax = plt.subplots()
output_dfs['var'].plot(y='zn0_temp', use_index=True, ax=ax)
output_dfs['weather'].plot(y='oa_db', use_index=True, ax=ax)
output_dfs['meter'].plot(y='electricity_HVAC', use_index=True, ax=ax, secondary_y=True)
output_dfs['actuator'].plot(y='zn0_heating_sp', use_index=True, ax=ax)
output_dfs['actuator'].plot(y='zn0_cooling_sp', use_index=True, ax=ax)
plt.title('Zn0 Temps and Thermostat Setpoint for Year')

# Analyze results in "out" folder, DView, or directly from your Python variables and Pandas Dataframes

5 Zone Office Building Model

Sample Results for the Month of April


  • (in progress)


API for RL algorithm design & testing of BCA (Building Control Agent) HVAC on EnergyPlus building energy simulator by wrapping their EMS Python API








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