'Digital twin' tech to cut Stirling's carbon emissions

By Kenneth Macdonald
BBC Scotland Science Correspondent

  • Published
Trent BasinImage source, Project SCENe
Image caption,
IES has helped construct a 3D digital model of the first phase of the Trent Basin development in Nottingham

A Scottish company is using "digital twin" technology to build replicas of entire communities in cyberspace.

They say their aim is to help people reduce their energy bills and cut carbon emissions on a huge scale.

One plan nearing completion is a project that will create digital twins of 30 schools for Stirling Council.

The digital twinning concept is already widespread. In effect, it is a perfect replica in cyberspace of something that exists in the real world.

It could be a machine, an animal or a building.

Or in one project already up and running, more than a hundred buildings.

Heat and air

The Glasgow-based company Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES) has helped construct a 3D digital model of the first phase of the Trent Basin development in Nottingham.

It is a zoomable model offering people access to remarkable levels of detail in real time.

You can click on individual homes to monitor their energy consumption and the flows of heat and air.

More importantly, the people who live there can do the same to reduce their bills.

It looks impressive online, even more so on a 147in touchscreen placed at the heart of the development.

Sensors across the site feed live information to the digital replica: how much solar energy is gathered locally, how much electricity is stored in an enormous Tesla battery, how much is exported to the grid.

Image source, Project SCENe
Image caption,
People can click on individual homes in the digital images to monitor their energy consumption and the flows of heat and air

The approach has been promoted by Project SCENe, which stands form Sustainable Community Energy Networks.

Its partners include Nottingham University where Mark Gillott is professor of sustainable building design.

"We have Europe's largest community battery," he tells the BBC's Saturday Good Morning Scotland programme.

"A large urban solar farm and a whole bunch of houses that are low energy in their design.

"The digital twin has been set up to give us an interface with that development.

"We're working with IES because we wanted something that was very interactive, very visual.

"We wanted to make it clear and easy for users...to understand how the systems are actually performing."

Building-by-building approach

IES has been in business for 25 years. In that time they reckon they've helped deliver around a million buildings that are more energy efficient.

Its founder and chief executive Don McLean says their techniques have already saved "30 power stations worth of energy".

The Nottingham project has piloted an approach IES are calling the Intelligent Communities Lifecycle (ICL).

It expands the building-by-building approach to look at whole neighbourhoods.

The ICL product manager Ruggiero Guida fires up his laptop and zooms in on one home.

"I have data from all the meters and sensors that have been installed into the building."

Image source, Integrated Environmental Solutions
Image caption,
Digital images of the building shows the solar energy being gathered

It looks impressive. But there was a problem at first: People.

"For the first four or five months no-one signed up," he says, "because everyone was concerned about privacy, about their data.

"But the more people started to interact with the screen, they started to sign up.

"Then all of a sudden, in a month, they had 25 new families."

The system also means new ideas can be tried in the digital realm to see if they will work in the real world.

New windows or solar panels can be installed in cyberspace to establish whether they would work or be costly mistakes here in the material world.

Single command centre

The next planned step is to use the technology on a far bigger stage: 30 schools run by Stirling Council.

The council says the project is under way and nearing completion, describing it as an "exciting initiative" that will help reduce energy bills and CO2 emissions.

Existing energy systems mean the schools are already dotted with sensors, feeding back energy information to several different platforms.

Don McLean says his team will pull all that data together to create a digital twin of the school estate in a single command centre. Then they will use artificial intelligence to make sense of it all.

He says the concept could be scaled up to cover not just all of Stirling's council premises but the whole of the city.

But why stop there?

"The word community is very flexible," he says.

"It could also mean a campus or a county or a company.

"It just depends on the scale you want to work at, so really there is no limit to what we can do.

"Could we eventually have the whole world in a digital twin that's using our technology? Yes that's possible.

"But I think it would take us a week or two to do it."

You can hear more about the digital twin project on BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland Radio programme on air from 0800 on Saturday.