How digital technologies can contribute to the built environment’s transition to net zero

According to Microdesk’s Shivani Soni and Daniel Giddins, digital technologies such as BIM and digital twins can play a key role in supporting the built environment sector towards net zero.

With growing concerns about increasing greenhouse gases (GHGs), the built environment sector is being urged to review current approaches, design more sustainably and incorporate lean construction. Each team member is responsible for reducing GHGs and driving emissions to net zero. Statista reported that the construction industry in the UK produced 12.5 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in 2019. Since 1990, CO2 emissions from the construction industry in the UK United grew by 45%. As a result, the UK government has announced new Building Regulations (Part O) to reduce CO2 emissions by 30% on new build by June 2022.

Thus, many organizations seek to declare net zero commitments by signing up for initiatives such as Architecture 2030, RIBA 2030 Challenge and Construction Declare. Working towards net zero reduction is an ambitious and challenging mission that has won support from government and industry thought leaders, who are urging stakeholders to take a more unified approach to carbon across the lifespan ( WLC), an equation consisting of two parts. The first part is operational carbon, which refers to the energy used in buildings. The second is embodied carbon, which refers to products, transportation, construction, maintenance and replacement, and end-of-life disposal.

Why should AECO organizations plan now?

According to the latest data, almost half of all homes in England, 46%, have an energy efficiency rating of C or better, up from 14% in 2010. The government wants to increase this number by installing low-emission technologies carbon like solar panels. and heat pumps to ensure new buildings are properly insulated to reduce energy costs. Improved ventilation is also part of the plan to keep occupants of newly built homes safe and reduce airborne virus transmission in new non-residential buildings.

The new regulations will raise standards and are seen as a key step towards a cleaner and greener built environment. They are part of the Future Homes and Buildings Standard strategy, which aims to ensure that all homes are ready for net zero.

June is just around the corner and AECO organizations should start planning now to play their part in achieving the government’s goal. Implementing digital transformation methodologies enables progress towards more sustainable design, construction and operation. Additionally, the integration of predictive and real-time analytics processes can help industry and the economy achieve net zero goals.

How can digital technologies support progress towards net zero?

Building Information Modeling (BIM) and related digital technologies can effectively help AECO professionals address carbon emissions from new buildings. The main drivers of CO2 emissions from buildings are intrinsically linked to the measurable characteristics of buildings. These include, but are not limited to, the overall building mass, percentage of glazing, shading, and U-values, which can influence the energy required to cool and heat the building. Additionally, non-geometric data regarding materials, space, and equipment usage can be integrated into the BIM model for future reference. With BIM, designers, owners and operators maintain continuous insight into a project’s progress.

It is important to recognize that BIM differs from the traditional CAD process. Producing a hand drawing and a drawing in a CAD environment is virtually the same. One is simply a digitized version of analog. The draftsman requires a degree of imagination and interpretation to produce unobtrusive snapshots of the proposed building in the form of plans, sections and elevations.

However, BIM is not just the next step in design. BIM is a building prototype; it is the creation of a virtual building enriched with many properties of the real world in the final product. By having a virtual and testable building, the AECO industry becomes closer to other industries such as aerospace and manufacturing, as multiple design iterations can be tested to identify the most optimal solution before committing. on a final form.

For example, site analysis can be conducted in conjunction with GIS platforms for better land use. Solar gain and daylight analysis can help determine optimal glazing and shading ratios. Non-graphical data can also be used in a carbon reduction strategy. Similarly, reliable information about individual building materials can be tracked in BIM and aid in their repurposing at the end of a building’s life, thereby offsetting the material’s embodied carbon. Historically, building information was provided in an unstructured and ad hoc manner. However, thanks to established BIM standards like ISO 19650, the information gathered from an information model can be considered reliable and credible, enabling sound decisions about the future of a building.

Adopting frameworks like ISO 19650 and the principle of data loss can help project stakeholders accept responsibility for achieving net zero goals. The ecosystem of digital tools is vast and can get quite complex, and many are overwhelmed with understanding which tools to use, when. When working seamlessly with defined key goals and objectives, digital tools can be leveraged to perform valuable analysis. The key is to define the information requirements that meet the conditions of the owners and to set up the project to exploit and examine the data.

What does the future hold?

Industry, including technology providers and consultants, must work together for a consistent approach. Laws like the new mandate support this effort. Often, industries need a push from the top, which encourages them to adopt and implement methodologies that help them achieve their goals. Often the value of investing in digital tools to support the analytics process has not been conveyed effectively. Efforts should intensify to show that their value is likely to outweigh the increase in upfront costs over time. Historically, the success of construction projects has been measured in purely economic terms. However, environmental and social objectives are increasingly becoming key elements in project briefs.

Beyond the static BIM used in design and construction is the digital twin, a virtual representation of a physical asset but powered by real-time data from its corresponding physical twin. Therefore, the same level of information available about a building in the design phase now exists throughout the building’s life cycle. This influences building-level sustainability by enabling responsive, scheduled maintenance and interventions and can also contribute to city-wide carbon reduction initiatives through further integration into smart city networks.

Shivani Soni

Shivani Soni

Strategy and innovation manager

Daniel Giddin

BIM solutions specialist


Daniel Giddin

Tel: +44 (0)800 029 4635

[email protected]





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