Accelerating the EU’s Digital and Green Transition with Infrastructure Digital Twins
The thought of infrastructure often brings up images of construction workers in hard hats. But today, it is front-page news, as countries invest in infrastructure to support their economic recovery, ensure energy security, and address climate change. In the European Union, this is now a top political priority. To deal with the current energy crisis and the consequences of Russia’s aggression on Ukraine, a flurry of legislation and funding schemes are on the table to future-proof European infrastructure.
At the center is the REPower EU plan to reduce the EU’s dependence on fossil fuels. If implemented correctly, countries will be able to finance energy infrastructure projects through their national recovery and resilience plans and accelerate their green transition. There are also several legislative initiatives on the EU agenda that are capable of profoundly impacting the energy efficiency and resilience of critical infrastructure. Some of the most important are aimed at improving urban wastewater treatment, as well as boosting and decarbonizing the EU’s transport networks—above all, rail.
In fact, the European Commission will today publish its Transition Pathway for a more resilient, green, and digital construction ecosystem—a plan jointly created with industry, research, and standardization organizations, as well as civil society and public authorities, detailing key actions and targets needed to achieve the green and digital transitions and long-term resilience of the sector.
Fostering digitization is key to decarbonizing industry. Now, organizations can leverage digital solutions and data to build better infrastructure. The challenge is that data is often siloed in different files, formats, and systems, and not easy to access. In infrastructure, it is estimated that 95% of the data produced is never used. As a result, organizations are making under-informed decisions because they lack visibility and insights. Over time, this situation can lead to maintenance issues, such as corrosion, lack of energy and environmental stewardship, and, worst case, risks to health and safety.
This is where infrastructure digital twins come in: a realistic, dynamic digital representation of a physical asset, process, or system that connects the physical infrastructure asset to its virtual counterpart. Digital twins allow us to view data in context and provide actionable insights to the right person at the right time to make better decisions, leading to better outcomes—from the planning and design phase, all the way through to construction and everyday operation. It applies to every type of infrastructure, whether buildings, plants, roads and rail, bridges and tunnels, the electricity grid, or a water distribution network.
A great example of how digital twins can help design, build, and operate better infrastructure is Bentley Systems’ partnership with Siemens, where an entire district of the city of Berlin is being built both in the real world and the digital one. Once completed, the “Siemensstadt” square’s digital twin will provide greater visibility on its energy consumption, water, and carbon footprint, thereby offering guidance on where maintenance is needed and optimization is possible to improve the quality of life of its residents.
The idea of embarking in a “twin digital and green transition” was first announced by the European Commission in 2019. Four years later, it is even more important to turn it into a reality. To achieve this political priority, legislation drafted and debated in Brussels affecting infrastructure should contain clear provisions aimed at boosting the uptake of digital technologies and data-driven solutions to support the decarbonization targets of the European Green Deal.
Political leaders have already provided EU citizens with a bold, forward-looking vision for Europe’s industry and economy. Now, all they need is the right execution—one that fully embraces digitalization.