Futurebuild 2023 – Digital twins: What are they and what is their value?

16th March 2023

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Futurebuild is an event aimed at building a better future for the built environment. The conference provides a stage for inspiring ideas, innovative solutions and knowledge to drive sustainable construction and help the industry reach net-zero. Soben’s Head of Sustainability, Dr. Bonahis Oko spoke at this year’s event about what digital twins are, and their value to the industry.


According to Dr. Oko, a digital twin is a digital representation of a real-world object. Digital twins have many applications, however in the construction world, Bonahis explained that a digital twin is an exact replica of a construction project or asset e.g., a building or group of buildings, a bridge, a highway, city block, all the way up to an entire city.  

Unsurprisingly, the adoption of digital twins has skyrocketed, and companies believe in the technology. When asked why, Bonahis said, digital twins: 

  • Reduce an organisation’s carbon footprint, or in other words: carbon dioxide emissions from raw material extraction, design, production, operation and service/maintenance.  
  • Minimise the amount of physical material and energy needed to design, develop, produce and service products and processes.  
  • Make it easier and more efficient for organisations to gather information from existing products and processes, that they can use to enhance future designs.  

Digital twin technology can do this because it gives companies the power to design, test and improve products without having to create as many physical prototypes as possible, which typically use huge amounts of materials & physical waste and contribute to carbon emissions.  


Carbon emission accountability

On the topic of emissions, the world’s leading scientific institutions, including the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) have made it clear that global climate change is one of the greatest threats. A challenge that requires businesses, organisations, governments and civilians to collectively fight against. For industries and businesses, particularly those who have previously been responsible for contributing to large amounts of emissions, this means finding innovations and technology that will enable big environmental impacts.  

When asked about possible solutions, Dr Oko went on to say that global industries and organisations are increasingly turning to digital twin technology to develop and implement more sustainable products, processes and workflows. In Altair’s 2022 Digital Twin Report, 69% of respondents said they already leverage digital twin technology, and of those who didn’t 58% thought their organisation would adopt it in the next two years. 

Many companies look to professional bodies for guidance. One of them being the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS); a globally recognised body designed to effect positive change in the built and natural environments.  

The RICS Whole Life Carbon Assessment (WLCA) is set to become the world-leading standard for carbon measurement in the built environment. They are currently consulting on its second editions, which builds on the success of the existing RICS WLCA and aims to establish a global benchmark for consistent carbon measurement at all project stages. The objective of this updated assessment is to give visibility to the carbon cost of different design choices. The standard aims to help professionals manage carbon budgets, reduce lifetime emissions and build a net-zero future for construction. 


How can digital twins help reach net-zero?

Dr Oko explained that net-zero is the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas that is produced and the amount that is removed from the atmosphere. This can be achieved through a combination of emission reduction and removal.  

So, how can digital twins assist in getting to net-zero? 

  • Energy efficiency optimisation: By creating a digital twin of a building asset, it is possible to simulate various scenarios and identify opportunities for energy savings. This could by optimising lighting, windows and any other building systems that reduce energy consumption. 
  • Predictive maintenance: Digital twin technology can help predict when equipment will require maintenance, which allows for proactive repairs. 
  • Renewable energy systems: Digital twin technology can be used to model and simulate the performance of renewable energy systems. This can help optimise their performance and ensure they are integrated effectively. 
  • Carbon footprint tracking: Digital twin technology can help track carbon emissions across an entire organisation, including direct and indirect emissions from the supply chain. This can help identify areas of high emissions and prioritise efforts to reduce them. 
  • Life cycle analysis: Digital twin technology can be used to model the whole life cycle of a building, from raw material extraction to disposal. This can help identify areas of high embodied carbon and prioritise efforts to lower them. 

The global economy agreed on ambitions to reach net-zero by 2050 alongside 196 other countries by signing the Paris Agreement – a legally binding international treaty on climate change. The aim for this agreement is to ensure that global warming remains within 1.5 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels ending all greenhouse gas emissions or negating unavoidable emissions by offsetting. 


To conclude her talk, Dr Oko stated that 40% of all global emissions are from the built environment, with 25% of those coming from the UK. To achieve the Paris Agreement goals, the global buildings and construction sector must achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and all new buildings must be net-zero carbon starting in 2030. 

Digital twin technology can help achieve net-zero emissions by optimizing energy efficiency, predict maintenance, supply chain optimisation, renewable energy systems simulation, carbon footprint tracking, material selection & optimisation, and life cycle analysis. 

The sustainability potential of digital twins far outweighs concerns around data availability and quality, complexity and cost. The performance of digital twins overrides these limitations, increasing efficiency in energy usage and build confidence as a decision-making tool for decarbonising existing buildings. Digital twins can help address both the two crises of climate change, and the cost of energy crisis.  


About Soben Carbon Cost Management and Digital Twins

Soben’s Carbon Cost Management service is designed to help organisations achieve net zero carbon affordably and sustainably. We combine industry-leading carbon insights with experienced cost management to go beyond carbon accounting and provide practical carbon cost management advice.

Working with our partners, IES, we produce cutting-edge digital twins that accurately model real-world assets. Using our vast bank of cost data, we simulate and accurately cost sustainability measures to ensure affordability and financial viability of sustainability initiatives.

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