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How digital twins can accelerate the green transition

Society is running too slowly towards the goals of the Paris Agreement. If we continue at the same pace, we will have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 7.5 percent by 2030, when the targets call for a 55 percent reduction. But the race is not yet lost. Digital twins can lead the way.  

According to the EU's Joint Research Centre, JRC, there are opportunities for acceleration in what is known as twin transition. It is about combining digitalisation with green transition, and allowing these transformations to reinforce each other in the quest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And here the digital twin is an important tool. 

"A lot of data analysis is done today, but with digital twins we can start doing the analyses in real time and in a more efficient way and see synergies. In this way, digital twins can increase the pace of change”, explains Andreas Huss, project manager at RISE. 

A digital twin is a copy of something real. The technology is used to visualize data, make simulations and monitor what is reflected. For example, a digital twin of a machine can be used to test different methods for optimizing energy consumption. The most effective method can then be implemented in reality. 

"With digital twins, you can find keys to the green transition on both a small and large scale. You can get answers to how something can be operated in the best way and how the benefits can be maximized with the resources that already exist, by zooming in on the details and using AI technology, but also see how to handle goal conflicts in a larger system perspective”, says Carina Carlman, Research and Business Development Manager in construction and real estate at RISE.

Silos put a stop  

A digital twin of a machine is comparatively easy to produce. It becomes all the more complicated when an entire city or municipality is to have a digital twin. In that case, huge amounts of data are needed to create an exact copy. Geographical data, traffic flow data, urban planning data and real-time data collected from sensors are just a few examples. Today, many cities and municipalities also work in silos, with limited opportunities to share data with each other. 

"These silos must be removed, because a digital twin only works when data can be shared in commonly agreed formats and when different types of data can be linked together. Until then, we cannot reach an exact picture of the city. At most, we can create a digital distant relative, or a cousin perhaps. But even the incomplete twin becomes something that different administrations and departments can gather around and work towards. It will be an important incentive to gain control of data”, says Therese Balksjö, senior project manager at RISE.  

A digital twin only works when data can be shared in commonly agreed formats and when different types of data can be linked together

Developing prototypes 

She is one of those leading the work within the Smart City Lab project. Here, municipalities get help to understand how data can be collected and made available. When the collection and sharing works, Andreas Huss and his colleagues who work with architecture and physical planning can be connected, to get a data-driven community building process.  

"We are investigating how we can get the companies' data to work together with the competencies and processes that already exist. It can be about bringing together people from the IT department and the city planning office or the environmental administration, to get expertise in the right places, or visualizing information so that everyone understands each other”, says Andreas Huss. 

“We believe that the solution lies in building prototypes and exploring this incrementally and iteratively. This means that you don't just ask what the needs are in a city, but build a prototype and ask the same question and get detailed answers. You can simulate the future and produce detailed goals, for example for how you would like to manage stormwater or traffic data in 2045. And when you have these goals, you can develop roadmaps," says Anton Gustafsson, senior researcher at RISE.  

"The prototypes can serve as sketches for the development of digital twins", adds Andreas Huss.  

Data collection paved the way for more electric cars 

The working method with prototypes has been used, among other things, in the Stockholm district of Hammarby Sjöstad, where they investigated how digital twins can connect tenant-owner associations with the city's infrastructure, a kind of interactive neighborhood platform. Through the platform, residents can take part in visualized data and contribute with data themselves.

"Within the innovation platform Stockholm Green Innovation District, which includes RISE, a function was developed where residents could enter when they wanted to pick up their fully charged electric car. With the help of this information, the tool was able to optimize the parking garage's charging function. “This made it possible for more people to have electric cars, even though the district's infrastructure was not up to this in the initial situation”, says Carina Carlman. 

Many of today's digital twins may be more digital cousins – but there is potential to accelerate the green transition with the help of technology.  

"For Sweden's regions, municipalities and cities, it is now important to broaden data collection, remove silos and simulate target images to aim for. This is where RISE can provide support. With our broad domain expertise, we are the best set up of all actors in Sweden to be involved in this transition”, says Therese Balksjö. 

About digital twins 

Digital twins are virtual copies of physical objects, processes, or systems. For example, a digital twin of a city can be used in urban planning to make calculations, simulations, predictions based on data. It can be used in citizens' dialogs about investigations and new plans and so on. The twin can also be used in the operation and maintenance of a city. For example, the term "city control room" is used, where sensors and connected things can provide direct notification of the status of the city, regarding electricity and water and sewerage, for example. Furthermore, the twin can be used for control and control. Through input from the connected things, sensors in urban spaces and in infrastructure, it is possible to control water and energy flows in real time, for example. 

Carina Carlman

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Carina Carlman

Forsknings- och affärsutvecklingschef

+46 10 516 55 75

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Therese Balksjö

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Therese Balksjö


+46 10 228 41 02

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