During May’s World Economic Forum Davos Annual Meeting 2022, Florence Verzelen, our Executive Vice President in charge of Industry, Marketing and Sustainability, participated on a panel called “Rethinking Infrastructure for the Coming Decade.” Lord Nicholas Stern (Chair, The Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment), Larry Hogan (Governor, state of Maryland) Arjun Dhawan (President, Hindustan Construction) and Jonathan Reckford (CEO of Habitat for Humanity International) were also on the panel, which was moderated by Executive Director for the Resilient Cities Network, Lauren Sorkin-Yeo.
Infrastructure and cities represent two-thirds of the global greenhouse gas emissions. National disasters are triggering higher levels of damage in cities every year due to climate change. And we are in desperate need of more infrastructure, especially in the developing world. These factors make building in a sustainable, inclusive and resilient way key to the future of our planet.
Each panel member offered their perspective on how we can develop the necessary infrastructure the world needs, while addressing sustainability requirements every step of the way. This is a timely topic since governments worldwide have earmarked trillions of dollars for infrastructure investments as part of COVID-19 recovery packages, all while we are racing to address the climate change mitigations outlined in the Paris Agreement.
It’s not just about building back better, it’s also simply about building. Some stats:
- 50% – level of original infrastructure needed in emerging areas, particularly in Africa and Asia
- $300 billion – the estimated investment level CCRI projects is needed annually by 2030 to meet global infrastructure needs
- 25% – the percentage of humanity that lacks access to safe drinking water; 50% also lacks access to safe sanitation
Leveraging COVID stimulus plans should help move things along, but to date the pace of change has been slow and siloed. The panel looked at what we collectively need to do, from planning to design, investment and construction. Florence also raised another stage that must be a focus: ongoing maintenance.
Florence talked about how technology can and should play a critical role in planning and maintaining infrastructure. She pointed out how, specifically, investments in virtual twins and industrial internet of things (IIoT) can have a major impact in creating sustainable infrastructure. A virtual twin facilitates ecodesign by allowing cross-functional, extended teams to digitally optimize every aspect of the built environment before dedicating physical resources.
Last year, we co-authored study with Accenture, Designing Disruption: The Critical Role of Virtual Twins in Accelerating Sustainability, to advance the understanding of how virtual twins could help meet the world’s sustainability goals. This paper explores use cases from five industries, including construction, finding that using virtual twins in that industry can help save up to 6,9Gt of CO2 by 2030.
The value of a virtual twin doesn’t stop after construction ends; the building/infrastructure can be optimized by feeding and analyzing data from the IIoT to predict, maintain and improve the asset through its entire lifecycle. Virtual twins can also be developed for existing buildings, to retrofit them to be more green, more productive and with better resource management. This is particularly appealing in this era of high energy costs. Florence shared an example of Bouygues Construction is applying virtual twin technology in both new and existing facilities to reduce carbon emissions by 40% by 2030.
Virtual twins also help urban planners run scenarios for natural disasters, simulating even the worst case that can result from a hurricane, flood, etc. This help can not only determine safety plans for inhabitants but also guide the construction industry to build with resilience in mind. Florence provided an example of how the government of Singapore uses Dassault Systèmes’ smart city offer to create a dynamic, 3D digital model of the city and connect all stakeholders in a secure, controlled environment.
Florence also shared some other examples of how cities are planning to be more sustainable and construct more efficiently, such as the concept of 15 minute districts: areas where citizens can have all immediate needs – food, housing, work, healthcare, recreation – met by within a 15 minutes radius, ideally by walking, biking or public transit. An example of this is how Jaipur is working on the virtual twin of their city for project planning to plan for a more sustainable living environment.
She also brought up a challenge: while the construction and infrastructure industries have lagged digital adoption, they are quickly ramping up. However, the delay has created a digital skills gap that needs to be addressed. One way to close this gap is having both the public and private sectors partner with governments and schools to help build the necessary capacity, skills and training. This is exactly the type of work that our 3DEXPERIENCE Edu addresses.
We firmly believe virtual twins can help us sustainably develop the infrastructure we need in the world, especially in developing countries. You can learn more about virtual twins here, and watch the panel discussion.
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