Unlocking Net Zero: HVAC Digital Twins to Bridge the Performance Gap

Empowering the Public Sector's Net Zero Transition

In the pursuit of Net Zero emissions, Government departments and local authorities find themselves at a pivotal crossroads. Balancing the financial squeeze of inflation, rising energy costs and the need for climate action presents a formidable challenge. However, emerging technologies, such as HVAC System Digital Twins, are revolutionising the path to Net Zero while bridging the dreaded "Performance Gap."

1. The Energy Conundrum

The UK's public sector faces growing challenges: surging energy costs; critical levels of inflation; and increasing demands on public services - straining budgets and impeding the pursuit of ambitious decarbonisation projects.

However, recent data from Neos Networks reveals a stark reality: just 0.01% of public buildings achieve the highest energy efficiency rating (A+), and only 9% meet the 2030 minimum efficiency standards (EPC rating B). This means 90% of public buildings require upgrades within the next seven years to meet net-zero targets.

Simultaneously, sustained high energy costs are having a seismic impact on local authority operating budgets, with public services having to be reduced in order to “keep the lights on”.

2. Addressing the Performance Gap: HVAC's Vital Role

Achieving Net Zero in the built environment relies heavily on shifting from fossil fuels to electrified heat sources and heat networks. However, a persistent challenge arises in both existing and new projects: the Performance Gap. This gap occurs when actual consumption during operation greatly differs from original estimates.

Independent research, including publications by the Chartered Institute of Building Engineers (CIBSE) reveal buildings are consuming up to double the energy initially projected, leading to significant unnecessary additional carbon emissions and exacerbating the impact of the current energy cost crisis.  Evidence shows that HVAC systems, responsible for up to 70% of a building's energy consumption, bear a substantial portion of the blame.

Astonishingly, forensic studies of over 450 installations in large buildings reveal that 95% underperform, stemming from a lack of transparency in design, unforeseen changes during installation, commissioning issues, and post-handover inefficiencies.
3. Unravelling Core Challenges

While innovative HVAC technologies are available, they don't guarantee optimal system performance. Addressing under-performance involves more than selecting the most efficient components. It requires efficient whole-system operation, data management throughout the project's lifecycle, interdisciplinary collaboration, accurate data exchange, and seamless integration from design to operation.

A deeper examination reveals three fundamental challenges at the heart of HVAC system Performance Gaps:

  • Outdated HVAC Tools: Traditional HVAC design and engineering tools struggle to cope with the increasing complexity of modern HVAC systems.
  • Communication Gaps: Within the supply chain, a lack of communication leads to a poor understanding of how design choices impact system performance.
  • Inadequate Information: As-built information provided to building owners upon project completion often falls short, resulting in inefficient system management and performance.

4. The Rise of HVAC System Digital Twins

Amidst these challenges, HVAC System Digital Twins emerge as a beacon of hope, offering a triad of benefits:

  • Simulation and Optimisation: Through cloud computing and advanced algorithms, entire HVAC systems can be simulated and optimised in a virtual environment before physical construction.
  • Transparency and Continuity: Digital twins provide transparency and continuity across all project stages, ensuring that the optimised design intent is faithfully realised in the final installation.
  • Performance Evaluation: Continuous reference for system monitoring and optimisation throughout the system’s operational life.

This technology empowers building operators to make informed, data-driven decisions early in the project and fosters open and transparent collaboration with their supply chain.

5. Real-world Success: HVAC Digital Twins in Action

Under the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme (PSDS), Newcastle City Council has tackled a wide array of its public buildings, upgrading end of life fossil fuel heating systems, with Air Source Heat Pumps.

By adopting an alternative approach by instilling the use of HVAC digital twins from project inception, the council can better understand the potential cost (opex/capex), carbon and occupant comfort impacts of this transition; assess different system alternatives in the early design stages; and validation that final design, installation and commissioning is fully aligned with its financial and technical requirements.

In the early stage, this approach helped the council reduce required capex on just one school by £900,000, as well as significantly improve performance of the designed system to further increase CO2 savings and mitigate the unintended consequence of operational costs increasing.

6. A Vision for the Future: Embracing HVAC Digital Twins

As the public sector navigates the path to Net Zero while grappling with energy costs, HVAC System Digital Twins emerge as a transformative technology. Local authorities across the UK have the opportunity to leverage this technology to pave the way for a sustainable and cost-effective future. The journey to Net Zero is within reach, and HVAC System Digital Twins are the key to unlocking its full potential.

Discover more about Performance Gaps and HVAC Digital Twins in Hysopt’s whitepaper “The High Cost of Low HVAC Performance

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The Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) is the professional body that exists to advance and promote the art, science, and practice of building services engineering, to invest in education and research, and to support our community of built environment professionals in the pursuit of excellence.

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