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Why uniting digital and sustainability should be at the core of urban infrastructure transformation

A joint blog post by Olivier Blum, Executive Vice President Energy Management, and Marc Nezet, Senior Vice President Software Transformation, at Schneider Electric.

Cities have always been a benchmark for human achievement. As we re-build our economies to support green urbanization, electric mobility, and counter the causes and effects of climate change, new approaches are needed. 


Green urban infrastructure must be increasingly enabled by digital innovation to accelerate global decarbonization and a better quality of life for all. With the same budget, digital technologies can renovate 10 times the building space of traditional technologies. Without that, the path to the net zero future could get thorny – 40% of the world’s CO2 emissions (or 20 gigatons of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions per year) come from buildings.


As the world is already feeling the heat of climate change, the rising number of extreme weather events around the world is a leading cause of disruption to power, water and transport infrastructure in urban environments. It takes a $300 billion toll on businesses every year. Cities of the future must handle mass adoption of electric vehicles (EVs), electrified public transport and smart buildings supplied with reliable and renewable sources of energy and new microgrid technologies in order to halt and reverse climate change.


Building on experience


Traditionally, we used to build cities based on experience, acquired skills and fashion of the time. Today’s projects are becoming more ambitious – as we rethink urban infrastructure and the role of buildings in the energy system – and are being delivered involving complex stakeholders over increasingly shorter timeframes. Without having software as a powerful ally in building cities of the future, today’s builders and architects may find themselves in a similar situation to that of trying Filippo Brunelleschi’s dome over the Florence Cathedral. When there are no prototypes, and what we are trying to achieve is unprecedented – solutions can’t be based on the gut feel and experience alone.


The construction process itself now requires new ways of collaboration while ensuring adherence to stringent environmental guidelines. We can no longer rely on the artistic vision, paper trail, and skill of design. Software solutions allow us to incorporate sustainability and efficiency into every stage of the build’s lifecycle and simulate what the building is going to be like to build, maintain and operate – making the entire process more efficient, sustainable and issue-proof. 


‘There is no green deal without digital’ 


It is not a surprise then, that there is a strong link between the level of digitization and sustainability. A staggering 90% of projects overrun and labor is used at only 40% to 60% of potential efficiency. This also creates a knock-on effect on sustainability, with at least 10% of materials (170 million tons annually) wasted and 30% of all construction time being re-work.[1]  By way of example, lack of coordination and high material waste amounts to €80 billion of waste per annum in Europe alone.[2] Digitalization provides help to reduce waste by providing necessary transparency and empowers team for more efficient decision making.


They are also vital to improving the industry’s productivity that has been on a steady decline for the past 40 years and is ripe for a digitally enabled boost. Any new buildings devised today must be built for life, existing ones must be digitally retrofitted to benefit from the power of Electricity 4.0, decarbonizing energy demand and supply though digital and electric solutions. One example of a net zero building of the future is Schneider’s IntenCity in France, Grenoble. The intended ROI on the project is around 3 years, while still creating a safe and comfortable human experience for Schneider’s 5,000 employees in the region.


Meet low carbon BIM, the next-generation solution to today’s challenges


Historically, Computer Aided Design (CAD) has been a game-changer for the construction industry. However, Building Information Modeling (BIM), is the secret behind successful innovative and resilient construction projects today and in the future. It digitizes all processes for a 360° view of the entire project lifecycle – from conception to execution to maintenance. It improves collaboration, process efficiency, quality compliance and reduces waste, with potential to reduce lifecycle emissions by 30%. 


Today’s evolving BIM landscape is increasingly a key component to construction/building’s twin green/smart transition: electrical design software allows precise simulation for tailored electrical system design fully support building energy transition; while 6D BIM software enables contractors, consultants and other users to compare and adjust cost, schedule and carbon in real time when selecting material/suppliers. 


iTWO costX by RIB Software (a Schneider Electric company), in a world’s first, offers the industry a 6D BIM solution that integrates embodied carbon accounting with cost estimating. Through a partnership with Building Transparency’s EC3 technology, users are empowered with the ability to quantify, measure, report on and compare embodied carbon across the project lifecycle, enabling better design and procurement decisions. Overall, empowering them to lead the way in sustainability and significantly reduce the impact of embodied carbon on the environment.


Time is running out to halve emissions by the end of the decade, we need to change our mindset to benefit from the technologies available to us. When we incorporate software across all stages of the construction lifecycle of our cities, one building at a time, we can cut costs, reduce waste, and create a positive difference for the environment.


[1] IEA, Engineering News

[2] The European Construction Institute

[3] McKinsey Global Institute, Green Buildings Council