Cities have always been a benchmark for human achievement. However, new approaches are needed to support green urbanisation and electric mobility, and to counter the causes and effects of climate change.
Green urban infrastructure must be increasingly enabled by digital innovation to accelerate global decarbonisation and create a better quality of life for all. Digital technologies could make better use of current budgets. Without these technologies, the path to the net-zero future could get thorny – 40 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions come from buildings according to the United Nations Environment Programme.
Climate change is already causing a rising number of extreme weather events around the world, which are the leading cause of disruption to power, water and transport infrastructure in urban environments. According to a book titled Lifelines: The Resilient Infrastructure Opportunity, it takes a $300 billion toll on businesses every year. Cities of the future must drive the mass adoption of electric vehicles (EVs), electrified public transport and smart buildings powered by reliable and renewable sources of energy and new microgrid technologies in order to halt and reverse climate change.
Traditionally, we used to build cities based on experience, acquired skills and the fashion of the time. Today’s projects are becoming more ambitious as we rethink urban infrastructure and the role of buildings in the energy system – and they are being delivered with a more complex set of stakeholders over increasingly shorter timeframes.
The construction process itself now requires new ways for stakeholders to collaborate while ensuring adherence to stringent environmental guidelines. Software solutions allow us to incorporate sustainability and efficiency into every stage of the building life cycle and simulate what it is going to be like to construct, maintain and operate – making the entire process more efficient, sustainable and issue-proof.
It is not a surprise then, that there is a strong link between the level of digitisation and sustainability. A report by the International Energy Agency found that a staggering 90 per cent of projects overrun and labour is used at only around 50 per cent of potential efficiency. This also creates a knock-on effect on sustainability, with at least 10 per cent of materials wasted. The lack of coordination and high volume of material waste amounts to €80 billion ($80.08 billion) of waste each year in Europe alone, according to the European Construction Institute. Digitalisation can help to reduce waste by providing necessary transparency and empowering teams for more efficient decision-making.
Digital tools are also vital to improving the industry’s productivity, which has been steadily declining for the past 40 years and is ripe for a digitally enabled boost. Any new buildings today must be built for life and existing ones must be digitally retrofitted, so that they can help to decarbonise energy demand and supply though digital and electric solutions. One example of a net-zero building of the future is Schneider Electric’s IntenCity in Grenoble, France. The intended return on investment of the project is around three years. In the meantime, the building will provide a safe and comfortable human experience for Schneider’s 5,000 employees.
Historically, computer-aided design has been a game-changer for the construction industry, however, building information modeling (BIM) is the secret behind innovative and resilient construction projects today and in the future. It digitises all processes for a full view of the project life cycle – from conception to execution and maintenance. It improves collaboration, process efficiency and quality compliance, while reducing waste. It also has the potential to reduce life cycle emissions by 30 per cent.
Today’s evolving BIM landscape is an increasingly key component in the transition to green construction. Electrical design software allows precise simulation for tailored electrical system design to fully support the energy transition of buildings. Simultaneously, 6D BIM software enables contractors, consultants and other users to compare and adjust cost, schedules and carbon emissions in real time when selecting materials and suppliers.
iTWO costX by Schneider-owned RIB Software offers the industry a 6D BIM solution that integrates embodied carbon accounting with cost estimating. By combining this with Building Transparency’s EC3 technology, users can quantify, measure, report on and compare embodied carbon across the project life cycle, enabling better design and procurement decisions.
Time is running out to halve emissions by the end of the decade. We need to change our mindset to benefit from the technologies available to us. By incorporating software across all stages of the construction life cycle of our cities, we can cut costs, reduce waste and create a positive difference for the environment.
Olivier Blum is executive vice president of energy management, and Marc Nézet is senior vice president of software transformation for energy management, at Schneider Electric
This article was originally published in the Autumn 2022 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.
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