24 Sep 2021

It’s time for Europe’s building sector to go digital

In this piece, DIGITALEUROPE’s Director-General Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl explains why Europe’s buildings and construction sectors must harness digital technology if they are to become smarter and more sustainable.

By Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl, Director-General, DIGITALEUROPE

Europe can deliver fast results on its green deal ambitions by making the building and construction sectors more sustainable. Approximately 40% of EU energy consumption and 36% of the greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings – the single largest energy consumer in Europe.

On 30 September, DIGITALEUROPE’s Build Back Smarter event brings together industry, policymakers and stakeholders to discuss how we can work together for the EU to succeed.

Digital is the central enabler for buildings to become more efficient throughout their entire lifecycle, all while improving the wellbeing of the people living and working in them.

A smarter Renovation Wave with digital at its core

We are late to the game in comparison to the US. Construction is currently the least digitised sector in the EU. The upcoming EU Building Renovation Wave package is a unique opportunity to accelerate the digital transformation of a sector which provides 18 million direct jobs and contributes to about 9% of the EU’s GDP, all while setting a global model for building innovation, sustainability and job creation.

How can we do this? I see two important areas where the EU can achieve the most impact.

The first is to secure appropriate resources from the Recovery Funds. There is a lot of money on the table, and we need to start today to build and renovate smarter with digital. To this end, both the 20% earmarked for digital and the 37% set aside for climate action in the national spending plans should count – a digitalised building is a greener building, after all.

The second is to ensure the Renovation Wave  package has digital at its centre. The upcoming revision of the Energy Performance Building Directive (EPBD) will be instrumental in this. For instance, the EPBD should mandate digital design and operating tools with BIM in construction and renovation work. Its should also consider a wider range of parameters to estimate the actual energy performance of a building, in particular data-driven management, control and monitoring mechanisms.

More efficient buildings thanks to data-driven technology

Building Information Modelling (BIM) and digital twins are two examples of critical technologies that can map out, track and predict requirements – from materials to energy needs – before the first brick for a building is even purchased. All the unforeseen issues that cause huge increases in CO2 can be greatly reduced, such as heat leaks and wasted space.

BIM allows the creation of an accurate digital representation of a building, and also to digitise design, construction and operation workflows. A digital building twin is a real-time digital model of a building or infrastructure, using tools and technologies to collect and process real data and information from devices, components, parts, machines on an ongoing construction site and structures in use. This differs from BIM, which traditionally does not include real-time data.

Imagine a digital version of a building where you can explore and change all of its components virtually, from lighting, to water supply, to heating, ventilation and air condition. This would encourage all those involved in the building’s construction and maintenance – including architects, furniture or building material suppliers – to collaborate like never before, to ‘get it right’ from the start and to continually make improvements throughout the life of the building. This is a gamechanger when it comes to reducing a building’s carbon footprint.

Europe can be a global leader in sustainable and innovative buildings

The EU-wide climate targets set by the Commission are our end goal, but where do we start? I am convinced that Europe has what it takes to achieve the most innovative, sustainable and comfortable building stock in the world by 2030. That will require acknowledgment of digital’s critical role and a clear roadmap to get there.

The EPBD already defines some important principles, but more ambitious CO2 reduction targets need to be mandatory for the building stock. We also need to define a common framework to measure buildings’ environmental footprint, and support the deployment of the digital technologies that will help us do just that, from smart management systems and heat pumps to batteries.

We may have started slowly, but this is a race we can win. It will take people, investment and courageous governments working with the industry to take us across the finish line.

Register for our Build Back Smarter event here
Ray Pinto
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