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Leveraging AI and Digital Twins for Climate Resilience in Urban Environments

In the face of escalating climate change impacts, and citizen demands for healthier, greener environments, cities around the world are confronted with an urgent need to adapt and bolster their resilience. With the advent of digital twins and artificial intelligence (AI), urban planners and policymakers have found potent tools to address this pressing challenge. Through data-driven insights and predictive modelling, these technologies are starting to revolutionise the way cities prepare for and respond to climate-related hazards.

digital twin of a city popping out of a smart phone
Understanding Digital Twins and AI

Digital twins are virtual representations of physical objects or systems, including entire cities, created through the integration of real-time data from various sources such as sensors, satellite imagery, and historical records. These virtual replicas enable simulation and analysis of scenarios, facilitating informed decision-making. AI, on the other hand, encompasses algorithms and computational techniques that enable machines to mimic human intelligence, including tasks like pattern recognition, forecasting, and optimization. Whilst digital twins have been prominent in industry for more than a decade used for improving products and optimising systems, these technologies are at a very early stage of adoption in the public sector, and as such, only a handful of cities are currently using these to enhance and support their decision making.

Enhancing Resilience Through Data Insights

One of the primary ways digital twins and AI contribute to climate resilience is by providing actionable insights derived from vast amounts of data. By aggregating information from diverse sources, these technologies offer a comprehensive understanding of urban systems and their vulnerabilities. For instance, AI algorithms can analyse meteorological data, historical climate patterns, and infrastructure configurations to predict the likelihood and impact of extreme weather events such as floods, storms, and heatwaves.

According to a report by McKinsey, organisations leveraging AI for climate resilience can experience up to a 30% improvement in cost, and up to 10% rise in productivity (McKinsey). This benefit is attributed to the early warning systems and adaptive strategies enabled by these technologies, allowing authorities to proactively mitigate risks and protect critical infrastructure.

Singapore is a leader in the local digital twin field, and is using their country-scale digital twin to support their renewable energy program. Leveraging an integrated source of building model data, the digital twin has helped create a solar photovoltaic (PV) roadmap to meet the government's commitment of deploying two gigawatts peak (GWp) of solar energy by 2030. (Structures Insider)

Optimising Urban Planning and Infrastructure

Digital twins play a crucial role in optimising urban planning and infrastructure development to withstand climate challenges. By simulating different scenarios, planners can identify vulnerabilities and test the effectiveness of adaptation measures before implementation. AI-driven optimisation algorithms further enhance this process by generating cost-effective and sustainable solutions.

The City of Rotterdam in the Netherlands is exploring how to leverage digital twins and AI to enhance climate resilience. The municipality is investing around €800,000 towards the twin with partners covering the remainder of the overall €2.3 million cost (Cities Today). This investment will be used to scale the tool to more cities. Potential applications include understanding how to use the digital twin to simulate storm surge scenarios and help design innovative flood defence systems to reduce risks and save money from potential damages.

Facilitating Adaptive Governance and Decision-Making

Effective governance and decision-making are essential for building climate resilience in cities. Digital twins and AI empower policymakers with data-driven insights, enabling them to formulate evidence-based strategies and policies. These technologies facilitate stakeholder engagement, scenario planning, and risk assessment, fostering collaborative approaches to resilience building.

In BIPED (Building Intelligent Positive Energy Districts) we'll be building a digital twin for Aarhus that will help with the simulation and exploration of energy policies and actions, enabling the community to works together to better understand the impact of specific decisions and measures on the city and environment before the most appropriate actions are chosen for roll-out. In this case the digital twin provides a central point-of-reference for cities, citizens, academia, policy makers and industry to work around together, to better understand each other and city systems, and better co-create solutions that benefit all.

To sum up, digital twins and AI have the potential to be indispensable tools for enhancing climate resilience in cities. By harnessing the power of data analytics, simulation, and optimization, these technologies can enable proactive planning, infrastructure development, and governance strategies. The evidence-based approach facilitated by the technology empowers cities to mitigate risks, adapt to changing climatic conditions, and build sustainable and resilient urban environments. As climate change continues to pose unprecedented challenges, investing in these innovative solutions is imperative for safeguarding the future of our cities and communities.

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BIPED is funded under the EU Horizon Europe Research and Innovation programme. Grant ID: 101139060

BIPED is funded under the EU Horizon Europe Research and Innovation programme. Grant ID: 101139060

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