Digitals twins have been widely used by industry for many decades. Nevertheless, their use in the built environment is relatively recent, but growing inline with the decarbonisation agenda. Literature to date has evidenced the role of digital twins in promoting energy improvements, but how can they be implemented more widely to benefit net-zero in the sector?

Digital twins are digital replicas of physical conditions, in this instance buildings, that allow users to understand how they impact and change their environments. The digital twin’s approach considers physics inputs, simulation processes and real data, combined with machine learning and Internet of Things (IoT). Their use enables assessment, engagement, and prediction at a building, community, or city scale. 

Within the energy realm, digital twin technology has the capability to integrate physical infrastructure, decision making at urban planning level, networks, renewable generation, and building design, operation and retrofit. They can provide insights into energy use and allow users to test and optimise initiatives that comprise energy generation, use and storage.

At the University of Nottingham, we are investigating innovative ways to use digital twins as a powerful visualisation tool to help users to engage and interact with energy, and ultimately reduce carbon emissions. 

Revolutionising occupant engagement using real-time data

Nottingham’s Trent Basin housing development incorporates Europe’s largest community energy battery and a ground-breaking community energy scheme which was developed and deployed through projects such as Project SCENe and their partners. The University of Nottingham team, within the scope of the Active Building Centre Research Programme and, in collaboration with Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES), has built a digital model replicating the development’s physical environment and populated it with both real and simulated data. This digital twin platform can be accessed online but it is also pre-loaded in 147-inch screen at the development’s community hub (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Interactive 3d image platform for energy and building performance data displayed on a 147inch multiple touchscreen at the Nottingham’s Trent Basin Housing development

The platform was experimentally launched in 2018 and updated in 2020 to display real-time data collected from the community energy scheme. The platform is a public user-friendly visually interactive tool, available to all residents and visitors. Through this platform users can learn and interact with community energy data; multiple-users can interact at the same time on the screen and children are also welcomed to engage. It is important to note that personal home data is secure and not open to public access.

The objectives are to engage and inform the residents and a wider audience about energy issues and the benefits of energy efficiency and community energy approaches. The residents are able to review information about community energy data and this helps them to make more informed decisions in order to optimise the operation of the scheme and the operation of their own homes. This in turn could help drive behavioural change and help reduce carbon footprint.

This platform is now fully operative, and the 76 existing householders of the development can engage with the tool. Residents are still in an explorative stage of the tool and are learning how to use this technology.

Click here to watch a video that features digital twins at Trent Basin. 

Dr Renata Tubelo is a research fellow in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Nottingham and is working extensively on the ‘Behind the meter billing’ project at the Trent Basin housing development.