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digital twin building

Why You Should Care About Digital Twins

Creating a digital twin of a building may be an exercise in technical expertise, but understanding their value isn’t. Digital twins are helping building owners and managers better understand their buildings, allowing for more control and testing to reduce the friction of optimization. With enough scale, digital twins can help to transform the urban environment. Las Vegas is hoping to do just that. 

Cityzenith is deploying its digital twin technology across 7 square kilometers surrounding Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport, using 5G networks and IoT to optimize mobility, air quality, noise pollution, water management, and emissions from major buildings in the area. Project partner Terbine will help to contextualize the IoT data from local government agencies, building operators, transportation systems, vehicle manufacturers. Las Vegas hopes to use the data to improve operations to reduce carbon emissions. If successful the project could be expanded to cover more of Sin City. 

“Digital Twins are rapidly becoming vital to how cities are run. Now in Las Vegas, we will have a city-scale digital twin that is driven by the physical environment, and ultimately letting us control key systems through it,” Las Vegas CIO (Chief Innovation Officer) Michael Sherwood said. “This will give us new levels of insights and control to benefit city planners, residents, and businesses. We’re setting the benchmark for cities around the world to become smarter, efficient, safer, and more sustainable.” 

Built byte by byte

A digital twin is almost exactly what it sounds like, a digital recreation of a building built with data from smart sensors throughout the structure. Digital twins bring IT, OT, IoT, and third-party data into one model that can contextualize a physical structure with data regarding people and processes using the space, creating digital replicas that owners, managers, and engineers can use to identify and solve a wide variety of problems. A digital twin isn’t just a 3D blueprint of a building, but a working model capable of showing how the space is being used and how people are interacting with the building. 

Data is the backbone of any digital twin. Occupancy sensors, air quality monitors, lighting systems, connected devices, and other IoT hardware feed data into a central location, often known as a data lake, used to model the structure. The more data, the more in-depth the model can be. Basic amounts of information can be used to create stand-alone twins, typically modeling only a few core systems like HVAC or lighting. Even smaller stand-alone digital twins can offer value by optimizing key metrics in energy-intensive systems. More data from a wider array of sensors create full digital duplicates with building information modeling (BIM), allowing owners to test sensor settings and other operational components without disturbing tenants. Fully enchanced digital twins bring everything together with context, adding in weather, traffic, and other forms of environmental data from external sources. Enhanced twins go a step further by using powerful analysis and AI-driven algorithms to further optimize operational efficiencies. 

The end result is like a digital ant-farm constantly improving itself. That’s where the value comes from. When a building is filled with technology, more control is required to optimize each component, but in the real world those changes can’t happen in a vacuum. In the digital world, however, they very much can. How much could a building save by ramping up just 18 minutes later in the morning? A digital twin can tell you without jeopardizing tenant comfort. Insight and control lead to optimization. Digital twins highlight all the ways a building could be working harder and smarter. With enough digital twins across a whole city, an entire urban landscape could be working harder and smarter. 

Physical learning, digitally

“We are confident that this seminal project will demonstrate the combined power of Digital Twin and IoT technology working together to transform mobility, walkability, and emissions/air pollution,” Cityzenith CEO Michael Jansen said of his work in Las Vegas. “Among our many goals, we are keen to demonstrate how the Las Vegas Digital Twin project will help local building owners of any scale dramatically reduce operating costs and emissions for little to no investment.”

While still in the relative natal stages, digital twins could quickly become a crucial tool for battling climate change. A basic digital twin can show owners and managers what metrics need to be hit for a building to be carbon neutral. Getting our buildings to carbon neutral will be a major factor in ensuring we hit net-zero targets by 2050. Digital twins may just be taking off in the United States, but the UK government is already betting big on them. The Center for a Digital Built Britain is collaborating with the University of Cambridge to launch a National Digital Twin program to map emissions of buildings, one of Britain’s largest polluters. 

“If we’d had digital twins 20 or 30 years ago, would we be facing such a climate crisis now?” Sarah Hayes, outreach lead for the program, told Dezeen. “Would we have invested in oil and gas in the way we did, if we’d had all the information about the consequences back then? It’s about putting that information together, to be able to better understand the big picture, I think digital twins is the route to doing that.”

Environment impact and progress towards sustainability initiatives are just one part of the overall value digital twins offer. Digital twins also make building maintenance and operations better with real-time fault detection and analysis, they improve the health and wellness of occupants through air quality monitoring and modeling, and improve the overall occupant experience through mapping and occupancy sensors. In just five years the global digital twin markets are expected to grow by leaps and bounds, hitting $48.2 billion by 2026, according to Ernst & Young. 

Digitally connected buildings optimized through the use of digital twins are set to significantly impact sectors like construction, real estate, and city planning. With digital twins, we’re on the brink of understanding the built environment better than ever before. That understanding will unlock a new set of value propositions for both owners and occupiers.

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