Building industry unites to drive digital revolution in performance optimisation

The built environment has a crucial role to play as we work towards the goal of zero-carbon energy. Reports indicate that the buildings and construction sector currently accounts for a significant 37% of energy- and process-related CO2 emissions, and over 34% of energy demand globally.

To limit the impacts of climate change, building industry leaders have stated that, by 2030, 100% of new buildings must be net-zero carbon in operation, embodied carbon must be reduced by at least 40%, and by 2050, all new and existing assets must be net-zero across the whole lifecycle. Emphasising that a whole-life approach to reducing the energy and carbon impact of our buildings will be essential to making the zero carbon goal a reality.

The good news is that tools to enable effective decarbonisation of buildings already exist. However, these are not yet being utilised to their full capability. There is potential to meet global climate goals if we wake up to the importance of embracing technology, such as performance digital twins, to inform better decisions around how we design, build and retrofit zero carbon, energy-efficient buildings; helping to close the performance gap between predicted and actual in-use energy performance.

And while for many organisations and building owners, the idea of having a digital twin of their building (or buildings), may sound like a complex or far-off notion, many may be surprised to learn that their building is most likely already sitting on an invaluable digital asset which could provide the foundations for their very own performance digital twin, to support them in the pursuit of net-zero.

In fact, take a look at the buildings around you and there is a good chance that an existing 3D design, energy compliance or BIM model already exists for almost each and every one of them. While these models are often created during the design or refurbishment phase of a building’s lifecycle, or to show compliance with building regulations, codes, or other voluntary standards, rarely are they utilised to their full potential throughout the building’s remaining lifecycle. This is what we at IES refer to as a ‘Sleeping Digital Twin.’

Last week, IES, together with a group of leading built environment industry experts, announced the launch of a new collaborative whitepaper exploring this exact concept and the practicalities of reusing existing energy models as part of a whole-life building performance approach. Our aim in releasing this paper is to foster improved collaboration between AEC practitioners, building owners and operators to bridge the performance gap and decarbonise our buildings.

The whitepaper advocates for a more open utilisation of digital assets and new mechanisms to overcome legal hurdles which currently impair their use as methods to accelerate the decarbonisation of buildings.

Titled Sleeping Digital Twins: Exploring the appetite, benefits, and challenges of whole-life building performance modelling’, the whitepaper brings together influential voices from the UKGBC, CIBSE, Introba, Sweco, Gafcon Digital, HOK, HLM Architects, Perth & Kinross Council, the University of Birmingham, and the University of Glasgow, together with the results of an industry-wide survey of more than 240 AEC professionals, building owners and occupiers.

Considering the importance of whole-life performance modelling and the challenges and barriers associated with industry adoption of this approach, it is the process of unlocking existing energy models for new use where a spirit of collaboration and openness is required. Significant questions relating to intellectual property, ownership and legal ramifications were cited as reasons for models not currently being shared, with 58% of AEC consultants surveyed selecting legal implications as the main barrier to model sharing.

With the sector overtly committed to driving down carbon emissions in both new build and retrofit projects, the use of these ‘sleeping’ models would unlock vast carbon savings and enable the delivery of better outcomes for building owners, occupiers and designers.

Key themes discussed within the whitepaper include: the current uptake of whole life performance modelling and the appetite for change; challenges and barriers to progress; benefits of adopting this approach; and ownership and accessibility of models. It concludes with a series of next steps that can help towards industry-wide uptake of whole-life performance modelling to move away from a culture of compliance and optimise building performance.

So, whilst the government is backtracking on net-zero policies, the built environment sector is making strides towards change. As an industry, we are united on the need to decarbonise the world’s buildings as efficiently as possible to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

This paper highlights that the industry is waking up to the benefits of whole-life performance and there is clear appreciation for the need for better use of digital assets. 83% of AEC consultants and 66% of clients agree that better utilisation of energy models in building operation can help us achieve net-zero goals. However, there are still many barriers to overcome. Now, we need to address those and take the first steps towards creating this change.

This whitepaper is just the beginning of an important conversation, and we hope that it will be both informative and instructive for AEC practitioners, building owners and operators. It aims to act as a catalyst for a shift towards better use of digital assets, closing the performance gap and decarbonising our building stock.

If you would like to learn more, you can download the whitepaper here.

You can also watch our launch event, hosted in partnership with The B1M, for further insights from IES and our industry contributors. Watch on demand here.

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