Home » Climate Action » Digital twins: the climate tech solution driving the decarbonisation of the built environment

Don McLean

CEO & Founder, IES

We all know to tackle the climate crisis we need to protect our green spaces and make our travel, shopping and diet choices greener. But have you paid any thought to decarbonising your buildings?

The built environment represents a key area in which emissions reductions can and must happen to limit global warming within the 1.5℃ threshold.

With recent reports indicating the built environment now accounts for 36% of global emissions, and the world’s building stock anticipated to double in size by 2060, a careful balancing act will be required to ensure such growth can be sustained in a manner consistent with a net zero trajectory.

Add to this that 80% of buildings which already exist today will still be standing in 2050, the task of retrofitting our existing buildings to align with a net zero future will arguably be even more challenging. The Committee for Climate Change calculate that, within the UK alone, we need to retrofit 29 million homes by 2050 (a staggering 1.8 homes per minute) – a task which seems almost incomprehensible.

Built environment specialists, policy makers, asset managers and even homeowners now all face the same question: How can we decide what actions must be taken to decarbonise our buildings and, even then, how do we know the decisions we are making are the right ones?

This is where digital twins are coming into their own as a crucial decision-making tool to de-risk the decarbonisation of buildings and cities. Helping to ensure the optimum solutions are implemented while monitoring that desired energy, carbon and cost savings are achieved over time.

What is a digital twin?

Digital twins are highly accurate 3D virtual models of real-world assets (such as buildings) which behave and respond like their real-world counterparts. In the built environment, these live twins combine real building data with physics-based simulations, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), to create highly accurate models that evolve with the buildings themselves.

This provides a virtual environment to test, monitor and compare which design options, retrofit interventions and proposed operational strategies will return the best outcomes in terms of energy use, CO2 emissions, comfort, health and costs, prior to implementation in the real world. Helping to guide any built environment – whether a single building, community, campus, or city – towards its decarbonisation targets.

Digital twins in action

Digital twins are already being used to great effect in decarbonising buildings and cities around the world, something which IES have witnessed first-hand through the implementation of their own digital twin technology, which looks in-depth at the performance of any single or group of buildings.

From helping the UAE Government identify a 95.4% electricity demand reduction for a new Humanitarian Campus in Sharjah, where the total possible energy savings equated to avoiding the annual emissions of 1,257 cars, to helping Limerick city in Ireland create a group of buildings that actually go beyond net zero into the realm of positive energy (i.e. by generating more clean energy annually than the buildings consume) these projects are already proving that significant energy and carbon reductions are possible.

The benefits do not end there. In the case of Limerick, the digital twin created is simultaneously helping local policy makers ensure the decisions taken to help reach the city’s ambition of zero emissions by 2050 do not compromise other socioeconomic factors such as health, sustainable population growth, regional mobility, job growth and improved GDP.

In the UK, that same technology is helping citizens better understand and take control of their household energy use via a giant interactive touchscreen in Nottingham; supporting universities in their net zero campus ambitions; and even helping a remote island community in Scotland achieve net zero building status.

Proving that digital twins can truly help all built environment stakeholders – whether designers, engineers or architects, policy makers and urban planners, asset managers and even citizens – start to decarbonise their buildings today.

For more information visit www.iesve.com

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