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Digital Twins for Climate-Neutral Smart Cities

Updated: Feb 14, 2022

On 22 April 2022, DUET partners moderated a breakout session organised as part of the DigitALL Public conference. The aim was to exchange ideas and stimulate a discussion on how digital twins can support cities in their green transition. Below we share some thoughts on the subject, including a round-up of the main takeaways from the side event.

Climate change is a global concern. We urgently need new thinking and strategies to address it and achieve sustainable growth. The European Green Deal is the EU’s response to the challenge, with the overall goal being the transformation of the Union into a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy by 2050.

Digital innovation will play a key role in this transition. By harnessing new technologies and data, cities can start realising their long-term vision (e.g. net zero) while effectively tackling more immediate problems such waste, traffic and air pollution.

European Commission has set ambitious targets for climate neutrality: 100 European cities by 2030, and all European cities by 2050. While challenging, the numbers are not unattainable. Many European initiatives, among them DUET and its precursor PoliVisu, have supported cities on this journey, providing a platform for co-creation of data-driven solutions that meet local needs and priorities.

PoliVisu was a 3-year project that used data visualisations as an opportunity to close the gap between long-term policies (e.g. Green New Deal) and short-term operational decisions (e.g. road closures). The following examples illustrate how this was achieved in practice.

Mechelen, Belgium: Created ‘school streets’ which involved citizens putting a cheap sensor in their windows and collecting data on the number of vehicles passing their house. Data was used in a community dashboard to work out which streets around schools should be closed to traffic during the school run to make it safer for children to walk to and from school.

Pilsen, Czechia: Used visualisations of their road network to calculate and monitor the impact of the city’s Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan. Near real-time views made it possible for authorities to preemptively intervene to avoid a major congestion. This helped to keep the traffic flowing, ultimately reducing the amount of noxious gases thrown in the atmosphere.

Pilsen's Traffic Modeller solution

DUET takes data visualisation to the next level. By using the digital twin technology, the project combines multiple models and data streams in a common environment, allowing users to perform various what-if analysis related to traffic, air quality and noise pollution.

For instance, users can simulate the effects of new developments to see how building a new apartment complex can alter mobility demand and cause new traffic from typical destinations e.g. work zones, universities, residential areas. With regards to air quality, calculations can be performed for several pollutants (PM10, PM2.5, NO2) based on weather information (wind direction, wind speed) and spatial conditions, as well as traffic flows. And when it comes to noise modeling, the results can be displayed as maps in a digital twin, which local authorities can use to assess citizens’ exposure to noise-generating activities.

DigitALL Public conference presented an excellent opportunity for us to share all these ideas with other cities (e.g. Bologna, Fredrikstad), and also to see how they think digital twins can help them in their green transition. Below were provide a roundup of the main take-aways from the breakaway session:

  • Digital twins are seen as a massive investment. Those leading the way need to show others how to embark on this journey in a cost-effective manner. A few validated case studies, ideally aligned with climate goals, is a great way to get started

  • The quest for perfect data in support of decision making still puts off many cities. It is an ideal that may never be achieved. Nevertheless, it is worth investing in data literacy to improve our understanding of what data can and can’t deliver, of its benefits and drawbacks

  • Digital leadership and championing is crucial at all levels of government to drive digital twin adoption at scale. Cities that have succeeded in that highlight the need to target politicians, city managers and influential business groups for a multi-stakeholder buy-in

12 cities spanning six countries are currently working on urban digital twins as part of the LIVING-IN.EU initiative. Want to join? Click here.

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