Urban planners are embracing the use of digital twins as the benefits they provide for planning and operational management of assets continue to be discovered. A digital twin is a virtual representation of a system or object. A report by ABI Research, a global tech market advisory firm, finds that cities are set to realize cost savings of $280 billion by 2030 through efficiencies gained by the use of digital twins.

"Digital twins will become the ultimate tool for city governments to design, plan and manage their connected infrastructure and assets in an efficient and cost-effective way. Cost savings can be obtained in key areas, such as energy and utilities, transportation, safety and security, and infrastructure (roads/buildings). However, urban digital twins also offer many other advantages in terms of supporting and improving sustainability, circularity, decarbonization and the overall quality of urban living," said Dominique Bonte, vice president of end markets at ABI Research.

The use of digital twins can create efficiencies over a range of asset categories and use cases:

- Getting designs of buildings and other physical infrastructure right the first time avoids expensive modifications after completion.

- Creating energy-efficient building designs by maximizing solar capacity yields energy savings over the building’s lifetime.

- Policing and emergency response costs are reduced through resilient and safe infrastructure designs.

- Optimizing designs of utilities, streetlight and surveillance networks achieves the same coverage target with less capex.

- Design of Covid-19 proof buildings results in healthcare savings.

- Seamless exchange of data with citizens for mediation purposes enables efficient eGovernment.

Urban digital twin planning solution suites are offered by leading suppliers including Engie-owned Siradel (telco, surveillance, streetlights, mobility), Dassault Systèmes (generative building design, energy, air flow, green infrastructure), Siemens (buildings, electric digital twin), ANSYS (lighting, Covid-19), IES (energy efficient campuses), Bentley Systems (ports, water distribution), Microsoft, AutoDesk, PTV (transportation), and CityZenith (districts).

Some vendors specialize in specific capabilities such as physics modeling and simulation of light, heat, airflow, noise, radio wave propagation (ANSYS, Siradel), generative design (Dassault Systèmes) and dynamic modeling of vehicle and pedestrian traffic (PTV). Underlying all solutions is their capability for virtual prototyping and scenario analysis.

"While the cost saving advantages of digital twins allow cities to achieve fast ROIs, the increasingly complex nature of connected and smart urban infrastructure, especially in view of future smart urban concepts, will simply mandate the deployment of digital twins as critical, holistic management tools, similar to the role they play in other industries like manufacturing," Bonte concluded.

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