Building stronger assets: how tech is making commercial real estate more resilient and efficient

Digital twins arm building asset owners, operators and tenants with the insights and data needed to identify problems– whether that’s in energy efficiency or operational risk or beyond – and take steps to solve them

Ies Headshot Treatment

Inside a building lies an intricate web of building performance data, invariably dispersed across a range of building management systems, sensors and other metering infrastructure. With buildings still representing one of the most significant contributors to global carbon emissions, navigating this complex web of building data can be key to achieving an organisation’s net zero goals.

Keppel Bay Tower was the first commercial development in Singapore to be certified as a Green Mark Platinum Zero Energy building and is one example of a how the sector has leveraged advanced data analytics and digital modelling techniques in pursuit of net-zero targets. Working with IES, commercial property owners and operators, like Keppel Land, have realised the opportunities that digital twin technology can present to optimise the current and future performance of their built assets, reducing their carbon impact and safeguarding against potential climate-related risks in the process.

IES has developed an integrated suite of tools that link live operational data from buildings to a dynamic 3D model, or digital twin. Coupled with IES’ powerful, physics-enabled simulation engine, these digital twins enable the simulation of different energy conservation scenarios prior to making any capital investment or operational adjustments to the real building, to de-risk decarbonisation strategies.

“Most people think a digital twin is solely a digital representation of a building’s assets,” says IES’ chief revenue officer Richard Fletcher. “But digital twins can provide actual operational information, rather than just a 3D representation of a building.” He adds that the digital twin can also be leveraged to project forward building improvements against the net zero targets of the owner or tenant, considering future weather predictions and grid decarbonisation data. This can assist with reporting against corporate targets as part of a decarbonisation or ESG strategy.

Digital twins provide actual operational information, rather than just a 3D representation of a building

Fletcher has worked in the construction industry for over 25 years, specialising for decades in the digital transformation of the built environment. But in doing so, he’s been able to harness technology for good. There are increasing pressures on commercial asset owners and tenants to reduce their carbon footprints and to commit to a net zero future. If this is not addressed in the built environment, companies may face future risks in terms of reputational challenges, climate vulnerabilities or costlier renovations and structural changes as a result of changing regulations.

A timely retrofit, based on an intelligent analysis of building information and operational data, can avoid these risks and improve a building’s carbon footprint. Fletcher explains that an organisation may not have considered dynamic simulation modelling within decarbonisation budgets. However, investing blindly in retrofit measures without understanding their likely impact creates risks in both the capital investment of such countermeasures, or their environmental impact. He advises including dynamic simulation modelling within any decarbonisation strategy and budget, to ensure that investment decisions are made with the best available information.

Fletcher says this long-term thinking may be a shift in the industry, but when framed in terms investors and corporate leaders can understand, may make a big impact on the bottom line – and on the building itself. “We do assessments that have a return-on-investment calculation. The results become critical because companies are making financial investment decisions based on the information we provide,” he says.

This is particularly apropos in a less-than-robust macroeconomic setting. CBRE’s ‘Sustainability Index’ indicates that more efficient properties are more resilient to market downturns. Efficient buildings are 1.2% better off in terms of return on investment than their inefficient counterparts. In an office setting, rental value growth in efficient buildings outstrips that of inefficient ones, 10.9% to 7.4%, respectively.

What I’ve learned is if you can reframe a problem down to something incredibly specific, you’ve got a much higher ability to be able to deliver it

Fletcher’s work in linking building performance to a building owner’s overall net zero goals will “improve the rates of return on a building.” IES’ digital twin technology can help companies in every sector – each often with their own energy requirements and standards – adapt to change. “Because it’s a dynamic model, if those standards become more stringent, we can make those changes quicker and show what the impact of that will be.”

If a company invests in the efficiency of its built assets, it will be more resilient to downturn and retain the value of its assets while also achieving its corporate sustainability objectives.

Doing so requires understanding where the problems may lie within a property and, crucially, how to solve them. “Because often the problem can be surrounded with a huge amount of information, you lose sight of the fundamentally important parts of what you’re trying to solve,” Fletcher says. “I think what I’ve learned, particularly over the last 10 years or so, is if you can reframe a problem down to something specific. You’ve got a much higher ability to be able to deliver it.” Using technology to do this gives companies a much more detailed understanding of their projects, the complexities within them and gives them the tools they need to solve any potential problems.

This was the case when IES was appointed to conduct a commissioning study, following a major retrofit at 1 George’s Quay, a premier commercial office building in central Dublin. By undertaking a detailed review of the building’s utility, BMS, sensors and occupancy data through IES’ data analytics platform, iSCAN, the analysis uncovered a series of operational adjustments resulting in projected annual energy cost savings of up to €108,000 and projected carbon savings of up to 302 tonnes of CO2 per year.

Having spent the majority of his career involved with digitalisation of construction, Fletcher has seen the additional emphases on embodied and operational carbon be added to the challenges that the design team now face when meeting their client’s requirements. This is true both for new developments and the refurbishment or repurposing of existing buildings. Eighty percent of the buildings that will exist in 2050 are already built, so retrofitting is a key area where digitalisation and simulation can provide enormous benefit. Enabling various upgrades to be compared and tested virtually, prior to any capital investment being made.

Knowledge may be power, but it’s what you do with it that counts. Digital twin technology can arm building owners, operators and tenants with the insights and data they need to identify challenges – whether that’s in energy efficiency or operational risk or beyond – and take steps to improve their asset’s performance. Creating higher value, more efficient buildings and reducing risk for the long term.