Creative digital construction drawing background with buildings and cranes. Engineering and design cocnept. 3D Rendering

EXPLAINER: When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its Code Red report a few weeks ago the message finally started to seep through that we needed to harness all available skills, resources and technologies to turn the tide. A paper released by EY on Digital Twin earlier this year carried some engaging possibilities to get there.

EY’s white paper Digital Twin: The Age of Aquarius in construction and real estate released in May offered some positive prospects for slashing carbon emissions in the built environment – by up to 50 per cent in fact.

The technology, which models virtual representations of real-world assets and processes and is equipped with the smarts to stay up to date in real time, could also cut real estate operating costs by 35 per cent.

The report flagged the slow uptake of digital technologies in the sector, with companies only now starting to adopt the “very basics” of digitalisation, that might hopefully start to change as the reality of climate change takes its toll.

“With global housing crises, consistently overdrawn budgets and schedules, global warming, pandemics, slowing production, demographic changes, more demanding workers and greater globalisation, the world cannot afford to wait for digital enhancements to mature at the traditional pace,” the report stated.

Four different streams of value are identified by the consultancy: Keeping buildings well maintained and operating smoothly, reducing environmental harm, improving human health and wellness, and boosting productivity. 

The environmental benefits are huge

There’s a vast opportunity to reduce the human impact of the built environment using Digital Twin technology, according to the report, which can save companies money and support net zero targets.

Examples include Google’s Nest Learning Thermostat that pairs digital models of building heating and cooling systems with Internet of Things sensors to create a HVAC system that responds to room temperature, humidity and usage patterns, helping to optimise energy use.

On a larger scale, the Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, which aims to be the “greenest campus in the world”, has used Digital Twins and real time data analysis to cut its energy consumption by 21 per cent across its campus of 200 buildings. It expects to reduce energy use by 31 per cent as the technology program progresses.

Productivity and health

Digital Twin technology can also improve human comfort and consequently decrease illness and boost productivity. EY expects a 20 per cent increase in productivity if Digital Twin technologies are adopted.

For example, in engineering firm Arup’s office in Tokyo, occupant health and wellbeing is optimised using a collection of sensors scattered throughout the building, including occupancy sensors, temperature, humidity and CO2 sensors. By using AI to recognise human emotions based on voice data, employee wellness can be optimised accordingly by tweaking environmental conditions and how the space is managed.

Digital Twin technology can also help companies squeeze more value out of their office space by tracking occupancy patterns. The technology can also be used to design efficient roads and entrances/exits as they can be used to map the flow of people in and out of buildings.

This could inform parking diagrams that align with peak traffic flows and help optimise employees’ schedules to avoid high traffic periods.

Hopefully the vast investments that have poured in to this sector to create these possibilities will only continue and only create even bigger environmental impacts.

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