Imagine a world where you could ask limitless “what if?” questions, simulate multiple future scenarios, and understand their impacts in a risk-free virtual environment. A world where you could create living models of cities and transport networks to explore how they’d cope if population levels doubled, whole districts were shut down by a virulent pandemic, or high-speed trains halved travel times.

In the drive to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), capabilities like these would be immensely valuable for infrastructure managers, city planners, and transport authorities. Such intelligent big-picture insights could transform urban design, play a vital role in reducing emissions, make cities more livable, and offer breakthrough access to communities.

The good news? Virtual twins, the technologies that can make all this happen, are already widely used by enterprises, and growing in sophistication all the time. In this blog, I’ll explain how government can take advantage of them to catalyze lasting change in two crucial areas for sustainability: built environments and transportation.

Understanding virtual twins

Also called digital twins, these technologies enable organizations to gather, visualize and contextualize data from across their physical assets in real time – making it possible to simulate, predict and automate in completely new ways.

And now the increasing ability to generate synthetic data to test out new variations and scenarios extends the scope of opportunity even further. As the massive potential of this “mirrored world” keeps on growing, it’s no surprise that spending on virtual twins is set to grow tenfold in the next three to five years.

Public service leaders are certainly taking notice. In research for our Accenture Technology Vision 2021,

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86%

of public service leaders agreed that COVID-19 dramatically emphasized the importance of virtual twins to support enterprise-wide agility.

 

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And we’re seeing innovators – particularly in border agencies, public infrastructure, defense and public safety – starting to connect massive networks of intelligent virtual twins, infused with AI, to create living models of ports, cities and delivery networks.

Showcasing a massive opportunity

Wanting to highlight how virtual twins can help us meet the UN’s SDGs more easily, and much faster, we recently partnered with Dassault in research highlighting the virtual twin potential.

We found that using virtual twins in just five areas (including transport, construction and cities) could unlock combined additional benefits of:

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US$1.3

trillion of economic value.

 

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7.52

gt CO2e emissions reductions by 2030. That’s the equivalent of around all the emissions produced by passenger vehicles in a given year.

 

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Our research highlighted how government – collaborating in ecosystems with other private and public sector stakeholders – can harness these technologies to embed sustainability into the design, build and operation of our cities.

Transforming built environments

Commercial and residential buildings account for 40% of global energy demand, 60% of the world’s electricity, and 25% percent of its water usage. They’re also responsible for around one-third of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. And these demands will only increase: estimates suggest that by 2030, there will be 706 cities with a million or more inhabitants—up nearly 30% from 2018.

Governments can harness virtual twins to make a massive impact. One example: two-way digital-physical interactions can allow for remote and even autonomous control of assets. With access to performance data, they can optimize for ESG outcomes (in real time) and carry out advance failure warning and risk management.

Using proven and commercially available virtual twin technologies to target improved energy management, dramatic carbon footprint reductions are well within reach. Our research found that their use could cut energy consumption in buildings by 30-80%, realizing 12,032 TWh of savings – that’s

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US$288

billion in incremental savings.

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To see what’s already being achieved, look at Virtual Singapore, a city-scale virtual twin created by the city-state’s National Research Foundation. This combines map/land data with real-time climate and traffic data to design and plan new urban designs. One district has already used it to test how various pedestrian bridge designs could be integrated into a nearby park.

Sustainability on the move

Government agencies urgently need solutions to lower embedded carbon footprints and enable more circular design in their transport infrastructures. it’s a major challenge. In developed countries, emissions from transport (road, rail, air and marine) accounted for about 25% of global CO2 emissions in 2016. And they’re projected to grow faster than in any other area of the economy.

Virtual twins are already tried and tested by businesses in the transport and mobility sectors. It’s estimated that by the end of 2020,

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65% of automotive manufacturers were using simulation and virtual twins to operate products and assets. And they’ve been used in the development of 85% of the world’s electric vehicles to date.

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As the green transition and electrification of transportation are critical part to the COVID-19 recovery, now is the time to ramp up the use of these technologies. Virtual twin can be used to significantly accelerate time to market, and help bring down costs for new drivetrains, lightweight body designs, and EV batteries.

There are also exciting opportunities to use virtual twins to accelerate the development of autonomous vehicles and significantly reduce their carbon footprint. One example? Mackevision, part of Accenture Interactive, is working with KI Absicherung in Germany, with virtual twin simulations being used to establish a standard for validating AI functional models for autonomous vehicles.

Virtual twins: time for action

We need to pick up speed if we’re to meet the UN’s SDGs on schedule. To avoid irreversible damage from climate change, the complete transformation that’s now essential demands new ways of managing products and services – from design and use through to end-of-life.

For governments worldwide, that means leading with impact—identifying where the most significant sustainability outcomes can be achieved, then marshalling resources efficiently to deliver real impact in these areas at pace and scale.

That will require finding new ways of working with other stakeholders to accelerate the essential transformation toward more circular economies. And it will mean moving beyond experimentation with virtual twin technologies to unlock new and vital opportunities.

I’d love to hear your views, so please get in touch.

Stephen Zoegall

Director – Consulting, Cities, Transport and Infrastructure

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