• smart cities
  • Zero Net Energy
  • Digital Twin
  • Data Analytics

Digital Twins Can Play an Important Part in the Creation of Zero Carbon Communities

Eric Woods
Dec 03, 2019

Connected City

The potential of digital twin technologies to support smart city objectives is generating considerable interest among city leaders and planners. One of the most exciting possibilities is the role digital twins can play in creating zero carbon cities.

Understanding City Operations Is Vital to Creating Zero Carbon Communities

The Energy Transition and Smart Cities session at the Smart City Expo World Congress highlighted the importance of connecting actions across all aspects of city operations if zero carbon cities are to become a reality. However, cross-sectoral approaches introduce even more complexity into an already difficult decision-making process. Understanding interdependencies across building optimization decisions, energy grid management, and mobility planning requires data integration across many sources and sophisticated analysis, visualization, and decision support systems.

This challenge is leading to a growing interest in community-scale programs that encompass most of the elements of a city system but on a more manageable scale. Smart energy communities, zero carbon districts, and positive energy blocks are among the labels used to identify district- and community-level schemes. Other environments with similar characteristics of a bounded complexity include islands, university campuses, ports, airports, and large real estate developments. Such projects represent an important upward scaling of climate action from individual sectors to a more holistic view that encompasses integrated energy systems and broader behavioral and social changes.

Examining the role of digital twins in the move toward zero carbon communities offers a guide to their role in broader smart city strategies. A cross-sector digital representation of the community can be built by drawing on data from buildings, energy networks, planning, environmental systems, transport infrastructure and services, and sociodemographic indicators. This model can be used to simulate the impact of changes, anticipate ripple effects through different community assets and services, and understand potential impacts on key community goals. Particularly important is the ability to simulate different scenarios for the community based on different approaches to energy management and emissions reduction. It becomes possible to look at costs and benefits across the whole system for initiatives such as district heating, local energy production, community energy storage, and increased EV charging capacity. Digital twins also support what-if analysis of future changes to the system and the impact of external factors, such as climate and demographic trends.

Managing Data Is the Biggest Challenge for Digital Twins 

Navigant Research, a Guidehouse company, has a new white paper, Creating Zero Carbon Communities: The Role of Digital Twins. Sponsored by Integrated Environmental Solutions, the white paper examines how digital twins aid in the development of zero carbon communities. It investigates the following examples:

  • An island community looking to optimize the use of local energy through a combination of grid improvements, distributed power generation, and storage, and energy efficiency.
  • A university looking at integrated approaches to buildings and energy services to create the greenest campus in the world.
  • A new residential development deploying a community energy system that includes one of the largest community batteries in Europe.
  • A city looking to create positive energy blocks across several districts based on a holistic approach to energy, transport, building, and social development.

Although several important issues are highlighted by these projects, accessing and managing data is universally identified as the number one challenge. Common data management issues are amplified in community-scale projects, which require data from multiple systems, in many different formats, and with different governance models. The white paper identifies strategies to mitigate data challenges including the need for a balanced perspective on data collection.

For more detail on how data management and other challenges can be addressed, as well as the key components of digital twin solutions and recommendations for organizations starting digital twin projects, see the white paper here.