Maintenance and utilities account for approximately 27% of the operating expenses of a real estate firm.1 Digital twins can help real estate companies cut operating costs by up to 35%2, while improving living standards and fostering sustainability. However, not all real estate executives and project and site managers are fully aware of what digital twins are and/or how they can help the real estate industry. In this comprehensive guide, we will explain how digital twins are transforming the real estate sector through 5 key use cases.
What is a Digital Twin in Real Estate?
A digital twin is a virtual representation of a physical building and its surrounding environment. It contains all of the relevant information about the building such as floor plans, equipment data, tenant usage patterns, and more. Sensors installed throughout the building collect data on things like temperature, occupancy, equipment runtimes, etc. and feed this data into the digital twin model in real time.
Digital twins in real estate collect data from various sources to create a virtual model of the physical building. (Source: MDPI)
The digital twin integrates this real-time data with 3D models of the building interior and exterior to provide actionable insights and enable simulation of different scenarios. It acts as a virtual blueprint of the physical asset.
Top 5 Use Cases of Digital Twins in Real Estate
Let‘s explore the top 5 transforming use cases of digital twins in the real estate sector:
1. Knowledge Management
Large real estate portfolios contain vast amounts of data on the design, construction, renovations, equipment, and maintenance history of their buildings. This information is often scattered across various documents, drawings, manuals and tribal knowledge.
Digital twins offer a central hub to store all of this building data in an easily accessible format. They contain the full as-built designs, asset details, sensor data, maintenance logs, etc. in an integrated model. When issues come up, building managers can quickly reference the digital twin to identify culprit components instead of digging through piles of paperwork.
Having this "single source of truth" enables more efficient troubleshooting and maintenance. For example, JLL created digital twins of skyscrapers in Chicago which helped their building managers respond to tenant needs 50% faster by providing rapid access to asset info.
2. Data-Driven Decision Making
Digital twins enable real estate owners and operators to make smarter decisions backed by data. The virtual model allows them to simulate different scenarios and see how changes will impact operations and costs.
For instance, a property manager could test out modifications to the HVAC system, shade controls, or equipment runtimes to optimize energy usage and tenant comfort. Or they could simulate the effect of renovating the lobby or adding a new tenant amenity on leasing rates and rent premiums.
Running simulations on the digital twin is far less expensive and disruptive than implementing changes in the real world to see how they perform. This gives managers the confidence to rollout changes that have been validated digitally.
According to Gartner, over 50% of large real estate companies will use digital twins to improve decision making by 2024.
3. Development Optimization
Digital twins are extremely valuable in the construction phase to optimize real estate design and development. Construction companies can create digital twins of their projects while they are still on the drawing board.
These virtual models allow them to visualize designs and collaborate more effectively across project teams. They can also use the digital twin to simulate and analyze the construction process. This helps surface issues with logistics, safety, budgets, etc. before breaking ground.
Once construction is underway, the digital twin enables real-time monitoring of progress versus plans. For example, a housing developer in Finland used a digital twin to track the completion status, identify delays, ensure components met specifications, and more. This helped them optimize processes and make the project 18% more efficient.
A construction digital twin allows for virtual monitoring of the building process. (Image source: Pexels)
4. Operating Cost Reduction
For owners and facility managers, one of the biggest benefits of digital twins is optimizing energy usage and operational costs. Buildings account for about 40% of global energy consumption and related greenhouse gas emissions.3
Digital twins give visibility into critical building systems like HVAC and lighting and how they are being used. Facilities teams can analyze this data to rightsize equipment, balance loads, identify faults, tighten up controls and schedules, etc. to improve efficiency.
For example, a real estate firm in New York used a digital twin system from Enertiv to analyze their HVAC energy usage. They identified ways to optimize the system which reduced costs by $170,000 annually.
According to Gartner, energy and sustainability use cases will drive over 60% of digital twin adoption in real estate through 2026. The operational savings outweigh the upfront investment in the technology.
5. Sustainability Improvements
Beyond energy savings, digital twins enable property owners to make their buildings more sustainable in other ways too. The virtual model allows them to measure and analyze their environmental performance.
They can then simulate different scenarios to see the impact changes would have on metrics like energy use, carbon emissions, water consumption, waste generation, stormwater runoff, etc. This helps them implement solutions to minimize their environmental footprint.
For example, a digital twin could show that switching to renewable energy, upgrades to the building envelope, adjustments to material procurement processes, and installing low-flow water fixtures would cut CO2 emissions by 25%. Sustainability goals can be tested and validated virtually before rolling out changes.
Implementing Digital Twins in Real Estate
Now that we‘ve covered the major uses cases, let‘s discuss key steps for implementing digital twins:
- Start small – Run a pilot project on a single building or asset before scaling across your portfolio. This allows you to demonstrate value and work out any process kinks.
- Assess readiness – Review your existing data environment and IT infrastructure. Determine if you have the sensors, connectivity, integrations, and skills to support a digital twin.
- Select software – There are a variety of software solutions for creating and managing digital twins. Evaluate options to find the right platform for your needs and budget.
- Develop models – Work with consultants and technology partners to build 3D models of your assets and integrate data sources to bring the digital twin online.
- Drive adoption – Get buy-in from facility managers, technicians, executives and other stakeholders through demos and training. Change management is critical.
- Prove value – Start tracking metrics like response times, energy savings and sustainability gains. Refine the digital twin to continue delivering ROI.
The Future of Digital Twins
Digital twin adoption in real estate is growing rapidly. According to ResearchAndMarkets.com, the global digital twins market size will reach $48 billion by 2026, up from just $3 billion in 2020.
We can expect to see digital twins become mainstream in real estate over the next 5 years as technology improves and costs decrease. Emerging applications include integrating digital twins with augmented and virtual reality to create "digital replicas" that allow virtual walkthroughs of buildings.
While the benefits are tremendous, companies need to ensure they adopt digital twins for the right business reasons. Change management and data governance are also critical to get the most value. Used properly, digital twins can transform how real estate portfolios are designed, built and operated.
1. “2021 Price Index of Operating Costs.” NY city Rent Guidelines Board. 2021. ↩
2. “Increasing NOI In Stabilized Class A Office High Rise.” Enertiv. ↩
3. “Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction 2019.” UN Environment Programme. ↩