Climate change concerns are forcing city authorities around the world to start thinking more coherently about how they use and generate the energy for their citizens. To do this, new tools are needed to model the built environment that makes up a city.

Cumulatively, cities produce around three quarters of the world’s GDP and greenhouse gas emissions. They are also home to half the world’s population – a figure that is expected to rise to between 65% and 75% by 2050.

In April this year, the Glasgow headquartered firm, Integrated Environmental Solutions IES Ltd, which has spent 25 years analysing the energy use and environmental impact of buildings, released a software suite designed to model multiple buildings simultaneously. These Intelligent Communities Lifecycle (ICL) tools are already being used to monitor and model the impact and energy use of campuses, communities and cities.

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Dr Sarah Graham, ICL Consultant at IES says the software will enable people to create a digital representation of any group of buildings and their networks. This facilitates the planning and coordination of developments as they evolve, lessening their impact.

“The idea is to provide a toolset that can address the problem of climate change on a citywide scale,” she says. “We can create a live, 3D twin of any built environment to facilitate planning for the future. The model includes the buildings and the networks they run on, such as the electricity, water and gas,” Graham explains.

IES was founded in Scotland, on 10 June 1995, by the current managing director, Dr Don Mclean. Its software and consultancy expertise are already in use by clients around the world, and the firm now employs over 200 staff. In addition to its Glasgow HQ, IES has offices in Dublin, Atlanta and Singapore, and representatives around the world, particularly in Australia, Europe and the Middle East.

“Our clients are major multi-disciplinary design firms around the world, along with universities, councils, corporations and city authorities. We do compliance work in a number of countries and we have a strong focus on optimising the design and operation of any building project. The tools enable ‘what if’ scenarios to be tested at the design stage, and throughout the operational life cycle of the development,” she explains.

IES’s software can import metered data eg BMS, and AMR sensor data to model the dynamics of operation of a building or system which is a characteristic of a true digital twin.

HeraldScotland: A virtual ‘twin’ will test-run scenarios to identify optimal investments and improvements.A virtual ‘twin’ will test-run scenarios to identify optimal investments and improvements.

As Graham explains, large buildings typically generate huge amounts of data from air conditioning, sensors and utility meters. The sheer volume of data makes it difficult for estate managers to make effective interventions. The ability to visualise all of the data on a single platform uncovers unknown issues and opportunities for improvement.

Riverside Museum in Glasgow is a great example. As a new building with a ‘Green Badge’, the management team felt the energy performance was not on a par with other buildings in the portfolio. IES Consultants helped to identify potential reasons and, with minimal investment, a 26% reduction in gas consumption and a 16% reduction in electricity were achieved.

“Modelling the building management data in real time in a building’s 3D digital twin enables us to get an in-depth understanding of how the building is performing and what can be done to improve its performance, as we can virtually test different options. Clients are interested in how they can achieve zero carbon targets quickly and cost effectively. 

“The leaders of a university, or the management team at a hospital are faced with having to evaluate different potential solutions. Our software helps them model solutions, such as installing wind turbines, modifying buildings, or incorporating energy storage,” she notes.

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IES has helped organisations around the world to solve these kinds of queries. Another good example is a recent project at Dundalk Institute of Technology in Ireland where a team of students and researchers worked with support from IES. They factored in the cost of three options against their carbon targets to understand how best to invest. Graham also points to the Nanyang Technology University in Singapore, which has become the first ICL Living Lab, creating a full 3D model of the campus. This helps them to ensure that the buildings are all operating optimally and allows them to test Energy Conservation Measures already installed to decide how to achieve further savings.

“Where we are dealing with a lot of building sensor data we use AI and machine learning to help to process that information, we can simplify the view the management team get and customise it to what they want, thus reducing the burden on those individuals. With the Internet of Things there will be more and more data available so it’s important we have robust means of capturing and processing that data and using the insights to inform decisions or drive the building systems. Think of the Hive control for home heating systems but on a much larger scale.”

Another recent example is the work IES has done on Orkney. “A number of Scottish islands are off the grid and the communities see a benefit in being self-sufficient as far as electricity generation is concerned,” Graham explains.

The ICL tools can be used to model the energy demands and generation, at the same time, create a portal for the community to engage with the data. An example of this is Nottingham Trent Basin – a major residential development project. The project runs a PV (solar cell) array with the largest storage battery in Europe. IES has created a model which residents can interact with via apps on phones or via a 147-inch screen on site. Researchers from Nottingham Trent University are involved in demonstrating the benefits of making the data accessible in order to modify behaviours to reduce electricity use.

The way people behave inside a building or a cluster of buildings, has a major influence on emissions, she points out. “When you know how a building is performing you can start incentivising individuals to move towards a more responsible use of energy. This can have a really positive impact in the drive towards decarbonsation,” she notes.

With the Scottish Government having set a “net zero-carbon” target for Scotland to achieve by 2045, the software clearly has a valuable role to play in helping local authorities and cities to get to grips with their emissions.

“Creating a virtual, digital twin of a campus, or even of a city, is a powerful way of understanding the dynamics and identifying opportunities. To quote Lord Kelvin ‘If we don’t measure it we can’t improve it’. Using the ICL any stakeholder can gain an understanding of the impact they and the built environment is having on the environment,” Graham notes.