How digital twins can help building and infrastructure owners make a contribution to reducing climate change

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If you live in London or have watched the news in the past month, you’ll be familiar with a particular international movement known as “Extinction Rebellion.” Using non-violent protests, they occupied parts of London for 10 days, putting pressure on the UK government to implement drastic changes to their current targets in reducing climate change.

All of this started just seven days after the Mayor of London introduced the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) for London as an initiative to improve health and clean up the air. Claimed to be one of the toughest in the world, it is a move that sees the UK as being one of the world leaders in tackling climate change.

All within four weeks, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which offers independent advice to government on building a low-carbon economy and preparing for climate change, published a 277-page report titled “Net Zero – The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming”. The report recommends changes to the current UK emissions targets.

The CCC places resource and energy efficiency high on the agenda in advising the UK on reaching net-zero greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 2050. In achieving a net-zero target, almost all heating of buildings must be low carbon. The government must establish a new approach that will lead to full decarbonisation of buildings by 2050. Currently, less than 5% of energy used to heat homes and buildings comes from low carbon sources. To achieve this target, the government will need to implement and enforce more effective policies.

The CCC estimates that an extra £15-20 billion will need to be invested in buildings by 2050 than would have without decarbonisation. In an ever-competitive market with low margins, this presents a challenge to the construction industry. There is a need to take up new tools and technologies to soften the burden and distribute costs via ways of making efficiencies and savings in other areas such as optimised design, construction, and operation.

The day prior to the publication of the CCC report, the UK parliament declared a climate change emergency, with the leader of the Scottish National Party declaring a climate emergency three days prior to this.

Large companies such as Siemens have committed to carbon neutrality. Unilever has declared their ambition to eliminate fossil fuels from their operations. Both companies intend to achieve this by 2030. Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, one of the largest developers and asset owners in Europe, has made commitments to reduce the carbon footprint of both new developments and emissions of existing assets by up to 70%.

Part of the execution of these targets is to implement processes for measuring their carbon footprint. These are done via energy analysis using telemetry from mainly mechanical and electrical assets linked to either a Building Management System (BMS) or directly to the cloud. Through machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), the results of energy analysis allow for better decision making in energy use by producing actionable insights into reducing consumption.

At Willow, we are already working with some of the most innovative building and infrastructure owners in delivering these actionable insights as well as providing a platform whereby they can efficiently manage all of the individual assets across their entire portfolio. We do this by integrating static, geospatial, and live data into a single software platform called WillowTwinTM, whereby owners and managers can monitor and control their buildings and infrastructure networks with greater efficiency.

In the maintenance of buildings and infrastructure networks, decision making is led by the intelligent management of live and static information, which can prolong the life of particular assets and optimise their performance. With WillowTwinTM, owners and operators now have more control over their buildings and infrastructure networks, with the ability to implement and measure against specific targets.

Should the UK government introduce new legislation calling for building and infrastructure owners to report specific performance and usage, as well as report against the targeted implementation of reducing carbon emissions, it is the owners who manage their assets via a digital twin who will have the advantage.

The new breed of smart buildings enabled by a digital twin also contributes to climate change reduction through better management of the building’s occupants. By intelligently managing the occupancy space, a smart building can service more people who travel less, reducing the carbon footprint of both the building and its occupants.

The UK has already established itself on the world stage, being the first government to mandate the use of digital technologies in construction to reduce waste via the introduction of Building Information Modelling (BIM). We are now in the new age of digital twins where the resulting, better-managed information from BIM enabled processes is put to use within the entire asset lifecycle, matched with live data. The Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB) has recently published their information management framework for developing a national digital twin. The CDBB estimates that large companies who use digital twins can expect a 10% improvement in effectiveness of running their assets, establishing a sound argument for their value and return on investment.

In leading the charge for climate change, is the UK likely to implement new legislation for building and infrastructure owners? Will they set new, more challenging targets for the reduction of their carbon footprint? With the recent introduction of the ULEZ in London, pressure from Extinction Rebellion, the declaration of a climate emergency by the UK government and the recent publication by the CCC, it could be very likely. It is the building and infrastructure owners who have invested in digital twins who have the upper hand. They are best equipped with knowledge and insight into reporting their current emissions and energy consumption. They are also best prepared for using these insights to adapt and implement new legislation across their portfolio while remaining prosperous and profitable.

Lucas Cusack is the UK and European Digital Lead at Willow.

About Willow

Willow is the digital twin for the built world.

Our mission is to empower every person and organisation to connect with the built world in a whole new way.  

For more, visit

For media enquiries, contact Michelle Zamora, Global Chief Marketing Officer at [email protected]
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