A new “digital twin” of The University of Texas at Austin campus gives the clearest picture yet of historical and current energy usage across the Forty Acres — from engineering labs, to medical facilities, to sports stadiums, to residence halls.
A digital twin is a virtual representation of a real-life object that visualizes large swathes of data about the physical space. Digital twins can serve as a shell for other researchers to apply data and give decision-makers new insights into the spaces they manage. According to Karen Willcox, director of the Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences, almost any biological, natural or physical system could have a digital twin that would have some kind of utility, including related to climate change and where to invest in infastructure. The digital twin concept, which initially started in aerospace engineering, has exploded into areas like climate science, engineering, medicine and even smart cities.
The digital twin displays past, present and future energy usage in buildings across campus, offering different scenarios based on climate models.
“This data all lives in different silos, and we wanted to build a platform that allows us to communicate it to the community in a digestible way,” said Zoltan Nagy, an assistant professor in the Fariborz Maseeh Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, and one of the leaders of the project. “We hope that this will serve as a starting point of a major discussion of how we are using energy on major college campuses across the U.S. We need to think very carefully about energy usage in such large spaces.”