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‘Sleeping’ energy models could enhance building performance

by Mark Cantrell
Data, data everywhere and not a byte to eat

Building owners and operators are unknowingly sitting on valuable assets that could unlock significant energy, carbon, and cost savings, claims a new white paper.

Published by Glasgow-based climate technology firm IES, the collaborative paper suggests that reinstating existing 3D design, energy compliance or BIM models created during a building’s development could be key to reaching net zero goals.

These models are rarely used to their full potential throughout a building’s lifecycle, but the paper aims to raise awareness of their existence and the benefits of ‘awakening’ them.

Bringing together voices from organisations including the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC), HLM Architects, the University of Glasgow, SWECO, and Perth & Kinross Council, the paper argues for putting an existing compliance energy model through further modelling stages, and combining it with actual data from the building itself to create a Performance Digital Twin.

This process has been coined as the Sleeping Digital Twin theory by IES.

Don McLean, chief executive at IES, said: “Building owners spend money getting digital models developed as part of contracting a building design, but when it’s complete these are often shelved and left dormant. Optimising the model to be used in the building’s operational stages means that a building owner is maximising its value to identify where improvements can be made to future-proof the building, drive down costs and meet net-zero goals.”

For building owners and operators, the paper argues that a Performance Digital Twin enables a greater understanding of a building’s in-use performance, helping to identify where improvements can be made to reduce energy consumption, carbon emissions and costs.

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of building owners, occupiers and managers asked in the accompanying survey to the white paper see the benefit of using energy models for more efficient ongoing maintenance, with 66% citing the main benefit as supporting the achievement of net zero goals.

Further savings can be made by using the model to test different retrofit and renovation options, it claims, before the work is undertaken to de-risk investments, and ensure the most effective measures are implemented.

Live performance

Making use of Performance Digital Twins in operation can also help building operators to balance energy use and comfort to understand where efficiencies can be realised in a way that is mindful of occupant needs.

Advancements in technology have now enabled Digital Twins to be linked to live operational data for continuous tracking and improvement of building performance, the paper says. This enables facilities managers to identify where energy savings can be made and ensure that building improvements are delivering expected savings.

As the need to meet climate targets becomes increasingly urgent, and the demand for sustainable buildings grows, it’s argued that a Performance Digital Twin can support the attainment of in-use performance certifications such as NABERS and BREEAM.

Additionally, to aid in closing the gap between the predicted and actual energy performance of a building, it can be used to support post-occupancy evaluation studies to identify ways in which a building’s operational performance can be improved.

With more stringent requirements for ESG reporting, the model can also help to provide the necessary data to illustrate that targets are being met.

Hurdles and barriers

Beyond recognising the benefits of the approach, the white paper also explores the barriers to its uptake. Two-thirds (66%) of building owners, occupiers, and managers, see the biggest hurdle to using energy models in operation as the associated cost. Over half (54%) of building owners and operators feel that there is a lack of required skills to take on the use of models if they are handed over.

Another significant barrier to utilising existing models is gaining access to them. Less than a quarter (23%) of architects, engineers and contractors surveyed said that they currently handover models once a building is complete.

Reasons for this include clients not asking for them in briefs, legal implications, and the belief that clients lack the skills to be able to manage the models.

McLean added: “Once a Performance Digital Twin has been created from an existing model, it can be linked up to a live dashboard through technology such as our new IES Live tool, to enable building managers to monitor, adjust and optimise the operation of a building continuously.

“Despite this, many building owners and operators aren’t aware that an energy model even exists for their building, let alone that it could be transformed into a Performance Digital Twin. As such, the first step in encouraging the uptake of this approach is educating clients on the fact that they have these models and the benefits they can bring.

“Then, there is a job to do to upskill building management teams to be able to use these digital assets effectively to reap the rewards. AEC professionals have a key role to play in helping to raise awareness and educate clients, as well as upskilling themselves to advance energy modelling.”

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