Digital Twin Q and A - Part 2

Last week, we shared part one of our Digital Twin Q&A taken from our online panel discussion “Here’s the Key to Net-Zero Buildings”. Hosted by the B1M and featuring experts from across the built environment, the session was a great opportunity for attendees to put their Digital Twin questions to our panel.

We had some really interesting questions around the application of Digital Twins, the benefits and payback of this technology and Digital Twin ownership. You can find these questions and answers below and you can access the full Q&A document from the session here.

What are Digital Twins used for? (i.e. net zero, close performance gap, identify performance drift etc.)

Q: What’s the best strategies for creating Net-Zero Buildings?
A: Building owners can employ lots of renewable energy technologies to displace grid-supplied energy, however, this is not the most efficient or cost-effective method.

To achieve net-zero carbon, the building owner (or designers/contractors acting on their behalf) should always follow the fabric-first approach to minimise the energy demand from the building (considering insulation, air-tightness etc.) before reducing energy consumption through the use of high-performing and efficient building services equipment. Only once the previous two steps have been complete should renewable technologies then be applied. Following this, other solutions that optimise energy use through demand response and flexibility should also be deployed.

As a simple step-by-step guide, the following steps could be used:

  1. Understand your baseline energy use
  2. Identify savings to be achieved using simple low-cost operational measures
  3. Investigate different shallow retrofit or renovation strategies typically to be linked with other building renovation activities; these can be linked to both envelope and systems
  4. Integrate potential renewable energy sources
  5. Investigate potential for demand response and self-sufficiency optimisation

Investigate the possibility to couple with neighbouring buildings and engage with local energy system solutions

Q: Micro climates change around the Digital Twin building... Won’t this change affect your Digital Twin technology efficiency? There is a need for agreement on energy use between neighbourhood stakeholders… how can this be?
A: Our Virtual Environment software allows external air flow and thermal studies to be performed through the MicroFlo application. We also now have city modelling software called the iCD and network analysis software called the iVN to allow us to analyse not only the single building but how the building interacts with its community buildings and infrastructure. This enables not only microclimate analysis but also demand response, flexibility, local energy system analysis etc.

Q: Presumably the useful aspect of being able to build a Digital Twin is to be used as a planning tool (pre-permission being given) and then monitoring? Could there be a scenario in which new builds have conditions attached to ensure they adhere to their promises?
A: The Digital Twin can be created at any stage of the building lifecycle, from design, construction, commissioning, operation and end-of-life. The ultimate aim is to eliminate the performance gap and ensure that buildings actually operate as per their original Design Intent. Within the eDigit2Life project, we are working with the consortium to develop new ways of informing all stages of the building lifecycle to ensure that the building can avail of a performance Digital Twin in operation. This is being fed back through the ‘transforming the construction sector’ theme within InnovateUK. But that doesn’t mean you can’t also create the same performance Digital Twin for an existing building, either utilising old compliance models or building a new model of the building from scratch.

Q: Does IES cover the economic value for isolation materials? Does IES contain the suitable insolation materials for optimum energy performance in different climates?
A: Our Virtual Environment software allows capital costs for constructions and systems to be assessed through the CostPlan application.
The performance of your modelled building can be simulated against any climate, providing weather data is available for your chosen location.

Q: What is the difference between a Project Digital Twin, a Performance Digital Twin and an Asset Digital Twin?
A: The Project Digital Twin is focussed on combining all the information, data and documents with a 3D model to have a single point of access for all the information belonging to the building across the design, construction and handover phases. It is basically a snapshot in time of the building in its lifecycle, which enables information that are usually siloed to be available to all the project team in a unified data model. BIM is an example of this for buildings. IES is interoperable with Project Digital Twins.

The Asset Digital Twin is now more focussed on the operational phase of the building, providing a bidirectional link to sensors, actuators and data from the real-world counterpart. Specific ontologies and data models like BRICK and Project Haystack help provide the context and relationship across existing sensors, actuators, spaces and equipment, ensuring a universal mapping between the virtual and the real assets. iSCAN can be used as a platform for the Asset Digital Twin.

The Performance Digital Twin is totally focussed on the building in operation, unlocking value from the existing asset twin. IES are one of the few companies that have a performance Digital Twin that has physics based principles embedded in it, which combines with the data streams available in the asset Digital Twin to create an exact virtual replica of the building, which behaves like the real-world counterpart at any moment in time. It can be used as an accurate and reliable virtual 3D model to optimise the performance of the building in real time, predict performance degradation and evaluate future ‘what-if’ scenarios. The IES performance Digital Twin enables a variety of analyses related to energy, health and well-being, comfort, cost savings, decarbonisation and many more.
It can also be used as test bed for evaluating the building technologies ahead of their deployment.

Benefits and Payback of Digital Twin Technology

Q: How do we convince clients / developers to include twins within their budgets initially?
A: Clients and developers should be made aware of the benefits that Digital Twins can offer throughout the entire lifecycle of their development. These conversations should not only include the energy, CO2 emissions and cost savings that will be realised during operation, but it will also ensure that the building is built and commissioned to the intended design.

Q: Can you please tell us about any examples of successful use (for cost saving/emission reporting and reduction) of data/ analytics offered by performance Digital Twin in FM / building maintenance in education or other sectors?
A: Please visit the following link for examples of where IES’ Digital Twin technologies have been successfully implemented on real projects: IES Case Studies.

Q: Where payback is unclear or unlikely to be quickly achieved, how can private building owners be incentivised to invest in the process of Digital Twinning and subsequent optimisation?
A: As Digital Twins are a virtual asset that can be used throughout the entire lifecycle of a building, the initial investment will undoubtedly be recuperated (usually within the first 12 months – depending on the age and condition of the building).

Q: What is the impact of digital transformation and design for climate change, and what is the benefit of Digital Twins in reducing CO2 emissions in the AEC industry?
A: Digital Twins have a huge role to play in the AEC sector, enabling built assets to perform at their optimum throughout their entire lifecycle. The Digital Twin also ensures that the building will perform as per its design intent with the aim to eliminate the performance gap completely. Without them, we will have a ‘gold rated’ built environment on paper but we won’t achieve carbon emission reductions in reality.

Q: I think to the vast majority of people, climate change is an immediate issue. My question is, how do we get governments, industrial entities and cities on board to use technologies such as the Digital Twin, IESVE, carbon capture and passivhaus?
A: Education backed up with success stories. Along with a strong track-record in the AEC sector, we have a portfolio of case studies where our Digital Twin technologies have been employed.

Q: With the use of these “twins”, can the university or IES, perhaps indicate in monetary terms how much money can be saved in the energy running costs of the university buildings? All new technology which can help reduce carbon footprints, or emissions etc is great and the right way to go but if the financial figures don’t add up then it could be a hard sell.
A: With respect to energy payback, there are a number of ways in which the Digital Twin can save energy, e.g. operational measures that don’t have any capital cost associated with them to deep energy renovation measures that have high capital cost. All should be considered and evaluated, however there are always other hidden savings that should also be considered. For example, in some cases there might not be any monetary cost saving with respect to your energy bill, however the Digital Twin could help you significantly improve the health and well-being of your building and hence the savings you see are increased productivity and wellness of staff, which in turn means less sick days and ultimately affects the companies output, which can be monetised in other ways.

Predicting cost savings can therefore be difficult, however we have found in general that the cost of creating the initial Digital Twin can usually easily be recuperated within the first year. And once the Digital Twin has been created, it can be used continually to prevent performance drift etc, providing further savings year-on-year as well as better performing buildings with respect to health and well-being.

Q: There’s an energy balance to be struck surely if Digital Twin Technology (great application!) used at scale and the energy needed to power the Data Centres needed to execute the data processing required. We’re potentially talking many GW per country for example. Is this being considered with regards to energy balance?
A: The aim is that the energy savings offered through the use of Digital Twins far outweigh the energy consumed to run them but we can also create Digital Twins of data centres themselves and we are looking at methods to optimise data centres energy use and exploit distributed energy resources and demand response for data centres so it all comes into the balance of what we are looking at within IES.

Digital Twin Ownership

Q: Who would you recommend to hold the Digital Twin for an asset? The building owner? Should it move with the sale of a building or should they be publicly available?
A: There is no right answer for this, however, ideally, the building owner would hold the Digital Twin of their building as a virtual asset, and perhaps include it in the sale of the building.

If, however, a building owner employs a third party to create and manage the Digital Twin on behalf of them, the agreement should outline the owner of the virtual asset. Building owners should give this careful consideration as they could be tied into a single Digital Twin manager if they do not own it.

Q: Who is best placed to be the custodian of Digital Twins? Does it lie with the asset owners, or is this part of a wider societal effort? I’m just thinking about standardisation - once you get to Digital Twin cities, standard data gathering techniques will surely be important?
A: Please refer to the answer above in relation to Digital Twin ownership.

With regards to standardisation, commonality is key to ensure the successful uptake of Digital Twins in the built environment. Organisations like the Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB) are driving standardisation and on the 3rd November 2021 they published
Digital Capabilities: a framework for early career professionals across built environment disciplines’, which sets out six capabilities that are essential for all built environment disciplines:

  1. Data Collection and instrumentation
  2. Information Management
  3. Data interpretation and analysis
  4. Data governance
  5. Data visualisation
  6. Software development