Created in Scotland, a ‘digital twin’ simulation of built environments is boosting decarbonisation initiatives of many major firms and organisations notes Don McLean, CEO and Founder, IES

SCOTLAND is renowned for its longstanding tradition of innovation. From the steam engine to the telephone, the discovery of penicillin to the television, Scottish innovation touches almost every part of our daily lives. And our ability, as a nation, to innovate remains strong to this day.

Now, as Glasgow gears up to host COP26 – a generation defining event that will draw together global leaders to tackle one of the greatest threats to humanity – severe climate change – can Scottish innovation provide the solution? Don believes the answer is yes.

Scotland has some of the most ambitious decarbonisation targets in the world. Going beyond what the IPCC has said is required to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, the aim is to reduce emissions by 75% by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2045, five years ahead of the rest of the UK.

However, to successfully decarbonise within these timeframes, the question which urgently needs addressed is how? 

This is where IES – a global leader in sustainable analytics for the built environment, headquartered in Glasgow – are uniquely positioned to help.

Buildings and cities are currently one of the single greatest contributors to energy use and related carbon emissions worldwide. They therefore present one of the greatest opportunities for decarbonisation.

What’s more, the decarbonisation of our built environment presents significant economic benefits. The International Energy Agency’s flagship Sustainable Recovery Report, published last year, highlighted that building efficiency offers the greatest scope for a sustainable economic recovery from the pandemic; supporting creation of new jobs, reduced energy bills, reduced energy poverty, improvements in health and comfort, and resilience in the face of climate events and price shocks. 

It’s therefore unsurprising that the First Minister announced earlier this month that a share of the £20 million National Transition Training Fund will be focused on upskilling and reskilling individuals in the construction sector, with a focus on energy efficiency measures for older buildings.

However, a decarbonised built environment can only be achieved with the support of appropriate analytical tools.

Otherwise, decisions will be based on ill-informed assumptions, running the risk of making mistakes which will cause irreversible damage, or be too costly to rectify, in the long-term.

Over the last 27 years, IES’ core Virtual Environment (IESVE) software, which facilitates the energy efficient design of individual buildings, has been used to design over 1 million buildings across the globe, helping prevent the need for over 36 power stations to be built (and counting).

However, we now have the ability to make an even greater impact. Our Digital Twin technology suite – the Intelligent Communities Lifecycle (ICL) – has been designed to facilitate decarbonisation across the entire lifecycle of the built environment – supporting citizens, companies, campuses, communities, cities and even whole countries.

Using a unique combination of physics-based simulation, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, the ICL makes it possible to create a digital twin (a 1:1 virtual replica) of any community/group of buildings to simulate their lifecycle and plan the right solutions now and into the future.

Making it possible to:

  • Simulate the energy performance of multiple buildings and their energy networks
  • Assess the energy, carbon, cost and socio-economic impacts of community-wide solutions, renewables and Net Zero strategies, prior to implementation
  • Inform Net Zero policies
  • Monitor energy and carbon performance over time
  • Engage, educate and inspire citizens to make intelligent energy choices

This is exactly the type of innovation the world desperately needs to tackle climate change head on.

However, progress is being hindered by those who continue to rely on outdated spreadsheet approaches and inadequate building regulations, which ultimately exacerbate the issue by resulting in a ‘performance gap’ between energy predictions and actual measured performance.

IES have worked with a whole host of communities; ranging from cities, hospitals, schools, universities, governments & local authorities, and even remote island communities – all over the world – helping them use the technology to identify the best solutions for their community.

Some notable examples of their project successes in Scotland, to date, include:

  • Identifying 26% gas savings, 18% electricity savings and £52.3k annual cost savings for Glasgow’s Riverside Museum.
  • Identifying ways to optimise local wind generation, improve energy efficiency and create a Zero Energy Community on the Orkney Island of Eday, with 76% total energy savings and the elimination of fossil fuel consumption deemed possible, in a payback less than six years.
  • Helping Scottish Universities, including the University of Glasgow and Heriot-Watt University, work towards net-zero campuses, with energy savings of up to 44% already identified.
  • Developing a bespoke command centre for a Scottish council to implement more effective energy and carbon monitoring/management of a portfolio of 35 public buildings.
  • We hope that every building, community and city in Scotland can make use of this technology to make their own contribution to the 2045 ambition and ultimately secure a more healthy, sustainable and resource-efficient future.

Once again, let’s show the world what Scottish Innovation can do.