How digital twins connect finance and sustainability

The Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB), a digital twin research effort in the U.K., has recently completed a five-year charter aimed at linking the dots between building designs and connected ecosystems of digital twins. Over the ensuing years, the research efforts helped promote conversations about how improved data sharing could improve construction processes and cultivate shared understanding among stakeholders. 

As a parting gift, the group has compiled several reports that focus on how digital twins can be utilized to address business, social and environmental goals. The Gemini Papers explore best practices for aligning physical infrastructure of the technology, digital replicas and touch on social considerations. A separate white paper with similar focus explores “How Finance and Digital Twins Can Shape a Better Future for the Planet.”

“We need to have a built environment that is created and run to enable people and the planet to flourish together for generations to come,” said Alexandra Bolton, executive director at the CDBB. “We believe that if you have better data, you can make better decisions and have better outcomes.” 

Data integration is key

Data integration and sharing was one of the biggest challenges the CDDB identified across its years of research and collaboration. 

“We have been collecting data for years, but it’s not been used to its full value because of the silos,” said Mark Coates, international director of public policy and advocacy at Bentley Systems and a coauthor of the research.  

Open data does not mean data is freely given away, but rather that all parties identify ways to exchange data that address all security and privacy considerations. Another significant consideration is that the data is translated across contexts using standard ontologies and frameworks for characterizing what data means. This is important for connecting the dots between the data workflows of engineers and designers working to create new buildings — as well as the owners and technicians that focus on building operations and the governments and bankers that finance them. 

Bringing in the finance community

The group claims there is massive potential for investors to influence how data is used to enhance infrastructure decision-making. Lead financiers are exploring how digital twins could improve capital allocation processes, help screen and manage risk and improve asset value. One promising example is the Cross River Rail in Brisbane, Australia, in which a publicly sponsored mega-project provided the catalyst for a city-level digital twin that supports better investment decisions.

There is a range of different types of investors, such as private equity firms, commercial banks and institutional investors, each of which employs various strategies to generate returns. In addition, everyone needs to consider how to construct digital twins to represent different types of assets ranging from low-yield low-risk core assets like energy, rail and water to more opportunistic investments like data centers, air, or seaport expansion. 

It’s essential to work with construction teams, investors and users to connect digital twins with specific investor strategies. For example, debt-oriented firms like banks use digital twins to manage risks and secure better rates. Equity firms are using digital twins to increase the value of assets, while governments are using digital twins to improve data sharing for the public good. 

Although the CDDB has just completed its mission, many of its activities, including the Digital Twin Hub, live on to promote broader collaboration across engineering construction, finance and engineering teams.

“We need to develop the narrative and evidence of digital twins for the wider community around risk management, ESG reporting and better return on investment,” said Peter El Hajj, the national digital twin programme lead, Centre for Digital Built Britain.

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