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Sweco UK

Visionary visualisation: Sweco UK joins global partnership to build digital twin design into renewable energy planning


February ’24 saw an exciting ‘Kick-off’ summit in Riga, Latvia, as 19 partners from 11 countries, including Sweco UK, met to develop plans and visions for the innovative ExPEDite project – a research initiative designed to achieve a breakthrough in the way district-scale energy estates can be planned and designed in order to unlock sustainability and net zero gains.

In Europe and beyond we are faced with the challenge of redesigning our existing cities to make them more sustainable, resilient, inclusive and safe, as captured by UN Sustainable Development Goals and the New European Bauhaus initiative. Developing Positive Energy Districts (PEDs), is a breakthrough way to deal with the issue of urban emissions and applying adaptation and mitigation strategies to climate change, while ensuring that these urban areas generate an annual surplus of renewable energy and net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

To support and accelerate the development of PEDs, the ExPEDite project aims to create and deploy a novel Digital Twin for real-time monitoring, visualisation, and management of district-level energy flow. The ExPEDite project will deliver a suite of replicable modelling tools, allowing stakeholders to analyse planning actions towards positive energy and climate neutrality in a cost-effective manner.

Within the project, Sweco UK team will lead on the creation of the Digital Twin Visualisation, providing 3D models of Riga Technical University and building interactive experiences that will allow the client to easily access information, plan onward tasks, and better make informed decisions. The project will use the Riga Technical University as a pilot, however the Digital Twin district philosophy and project outcomes may be used in other districts and cities, with potentially 20 municipalities in Latvia ultimately benefiting from this research.

Dinos Ipiotis, Digital Delivery Team Lead at Sweco UK explains: “Our ultimate collective challenge in the ExPEDite partnership is to enable the planned creation and management of, as the name suggests, PEDs – Positive Energy Districts. These are, in short, urban or extra-urban areas capable of generating, using and distributing energy in various forms to a wider grid.

Specifically, we need to create and deploy a novel digital twin that allows for real-time monitoring, visualisation, and management of district-level energy flows. The idea is that this, as part of a suite of replicable modelling tools, will enable stakeholders to analyse planning actions towards scalable creation of PEDs cost-effectively, by enabling evidence-based decision making.”

Uniting 19 visionary partners across 11 European nations, our collaborative efforts are pivotal in addressing the urgent demands of the energy and climate crisis. The ExPEDite project stands as a beacon for the transformative potential in urban and district planning, showcasing how optimizing energy efficiency can redefine our future cities. At the heart of this initiative lies the innovative use of data science and cutting-edge technologies, which are essential in driving project success and demonstrating the critical role of sophisticated data management and analytics.

Dinos Ipiotis, MSc, MCIBSE Digital Delivery Team Leader

The tools will be able to model the district’s energy production and demand, building stock performance, optimise for flexibility and simulate mobility and transport. ExPEDite will explore the possibilities at district level, a scale between that of the city-wide digital twin and the individual building or asset level, seeking to enable a new macro-level data visibility schema with the potential granularity similar to that of a single asset, demonstrating the potential for organisations or groups of organisations who occupy campuses or districts within larger urban centers.

The digital twin’s design-platform will analyse various what-if planning actions, aiding energy and urban planners’ evidence-based decision-making processes, while its run-time engine will optimise the district’s energy utilisation efficiency. The digital twin will follow a modular open architecture to support multi-sectoral and multi-organisational stakeholder requirements. By employing gamification and co-creation approaches, the project will enhance public awareness and engagement in energy efficiency.

Dinos expands upon the workflow of the research job of work itself: “The initial development phase includes defining a set of requirements, establishing the architecture of the digital twin, and developing individual software components and tools.

The secondary integration and testing phase will combine the individual software components according to the defined architecture and includes continuous testing and demonstration in a Living Lab environment.

And the closing validation and evaluation phase of the project will involve the final physical demonstration and evaluation of the developed solution.”

Conceptually, the digital twin will allow for a holistic view of district-level energy flows and enables stakeholders to make informed decisions based on real-time data and highly engaging simulations. This approach will bring together city planners, local authorities and citizens in a dynamic ecosystem of active collaboration that is currently difficult to facilitate where data-fed visualisations are not available.

“One of the most exciting aspects of this project for me is the potential for enabling communities to create a positive impact on their energy efficiency and overall sustainability. To create a successful outcome, ExPEDite needs to develop solutions that are both ethically sustainable and socially acceptable. This enables the use of digitalisation as the keystone to a sustainable built environment, bringing together the three key pillars of sustainability: People, Planet and Prosperity.”

The ExPEDite digital twin will be applied to a district in Riga, Latvia, and will provide practical guidelines, reusable models, algorithms, and training materials to aid other cities in replicating the digital twin for their districts, fostering widespread adoption of sustainable energy practices. The ExPEDite-project runs from 1 January 2024 until December 31 2026 and was officially kicked off on 15-16 February in the city of Riga (LV). This three year’s project consists of 19 partners from 11 different countries, including research centers and universities, public authorities and technical partners, and is being led by Riga Technical University.

Dinos continues: “To succeed, engagement with key pivotal stakeholders is essential – no amount of technical prowess can replace stakeholder involvement. An exciting prospect is the incorporation of gamification elements in the development of a desktop interactive experience and a mobile app for ExPEDite, to create a step-change in public engagement and above all awareness of their role in management of the ongoing energy efficiency of their communities.

“The development of the digital twin visualisation, synced with gameplay features, is a thrilling prospect – it will give me the opportunity to fuse engineering and gaming which have been two of my biggest passions since childhood in one form or another. Injecting data from different sources into a gamified digital world will make it easier and more enjoyable for all relevant parties to not only interact with, but also feed back on and enhance our research.

“I’m especially looking forward to co-designing the technical solution, and developing the necessary software components and tools ‘under the bonnet’. The opportunity to work on cutting-edge technology and contribute to the development of sustainable energy solutions is always extremely motivating when you envisage the difference it has on the power to make on a societal scale.

“R&D initiatives like ExPEDite are important because they enable innovation and contribute to the development of sustainable communities. They bring together different stakeholders, including researchers, industry experts and policymakers to collaborate and address complex challenges, but challenges which are focused on a tangible human-oriented outcome. The best part of it all is that these initiatives help to advance knowledge, technology and practices in various fields.

“I believe digitalisation is the keystone to a sustainable built environment. Without digitalising how buildings produce information, how stakeholders consume and use the data from their built assets and without the emerging digital tools which can sit beside our bright minds and provide deeper and more accurate insights into the behaviour of existing assets and the potential behaviour of optimised assets, we cannot seriously hope to create a manageably sustainable built environment.

“Projects such as ExPEDite will enable us to shift away from the narrow focus of ‘Net Zero Buildings’ to a more holistic ‘Net Zero Human’ approach and help end the practice of siloed net zero thinking which can too often result in unintentional pushing of carbon from ‘my domain’ to someone else’s, often increasing the overall carbon footprint in the process. The information created by a PED and made accessible through a digital twin interface will enable more holistic insight into the behaviour of the built assets and the humans living and working within them.”

Sweco is constantly working to develop client-focused digital solutions – honing existing services and incubating new methodologies through 360-degree futurology to unlock potential and present a fundamental shift in the way we collectively design, manage and maintain our built environment.

Sweco’s fellow project partners are: Rīgas Tehniskā universitāte (LV), National Technical University of Athens (GR), Interuniversity research centre of public economics – University of Padova (IT), Digital + Sustainable Innovation Lab – UCP (PT), VSB – Technical University of Ostrava (CZ), Laurea University of Applied Sciences (FI), EXUS AI Labs (GR), Eviden (SP), Plegma Labs (EL), Tecnalia (SP), Sweco UK Limited (UK), UpcoMinds Cyprus (CY), Deloitte Consulting S.r.l. S.B. (IT), Technological Platform Energy Security Czech Republic (CZ), Riga Digital Agency (LV), Rīgas valstspilsētas pašvaldības aģentūra “Rīgas enerģētikas aģentūra” (LV), The Lisbon Council asbl (PT), Open & Agile Smart Cities (BE), DATI Group (LV).

The project is funded by the European Commission. Sweco is applying for funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through the Horizon Guarantee Scheme.