Unlocking Net Zero: HVAC Digital Twins to Bridge the Performance Gap

Empowering the Health Sector's Transition
In the pursuit of Net Zero emissions, the UK’s healthcare sector finds itself at a pivotal crossroads. Balancing the financial squeeze of rising energy costs and the need to achieve ambitious Net Zero targets presents a formidable challenge. However, emerging technologies, such as HVAC System Digital Twins, are revolutionising the path to Net Zero buildings while bridging the dreaded "Performance Gap".

1. The Energy Conundrum in Healthcare
The UK healthcare sector faces unique challenges: rising energy costs strain budgets needed for patient care, backlog maintenance and decarbonisation projects.
Yet, the NHS is leading with a Net Zero commitment to eliminate its direct emissions by 2040 and all indirect emissions from its supply chain by 2045. Energy intensive hospital estates (24/7 operations and extensive HVAC and clinical equipment use) are responsible for 40% of the NHS’s operational carbon emissions.

2. Addressing the Performance Gap: HVAC's Vital Role
Achieving Net Zero in the built environment relies heavily on shifting from fossil fuels to electrified heat sources and heat networks. However, a persistent challenge arises in both existing and new projects: the Performance Gap. This gap occurs when actual consumption during operation greatly differs from design-phase energy estimates.

Independent research, including publications by the Chartered Institute of Building Engineers (CIBSE) reveal buildings are consuming up to double the energy initially projected. HVAC systems, responsible for up to 70% of a building's energy consumption, bear a substantial portion of the blame.

Astonishingly, forensic studies of over 450 installations reveal that 95% underperform, stemming from a lack of transparency in design, unforeseen changes during installation, commissioning issues, and post-handover inefficiencies.

3. Unravelling Core Challenges
While innovative HVAC technologies are available, they don't guarantee optimal system performance. Addressing under-performance involves more than selecting the most efficient components. It requires efficient whole-system operation, data management throughout the project's lifecycle, interdisciplinary collaboration, accurate data exchange, and seamless integration from design to operation.

A deeper examination reveals three fundamental challenges at the heart of HVAC system Performance Gaps:

  • Outdated HVAC Tools: Traditional HVAC design and engineering tools struggle to cope with the increasing complexity of modern HVAC systems.
  • Communication Gaps: Siloed working within the supply chain leads to a poor understanding of how design choices impact system performance.
  • Inadequate Information: As-built information provided to building owners upon project completion often falls short, resulting in inefficient system management and performance.

4. The Rise of HVAC System Digital Twins
Amidst these challenges, HVAC System Digital Twins emerge as a beacon of hope, offering a triad of benefits:

  • Simulation and Optimisation: Through cloud computing and advanced algorithms, entire HVAC systems can be simulated and optimised in a virtual environment before physical construction.
  • Transparency and Continuity: Digital twins provide transparency and continuity across all project stages, ensuring that the optimised design intent is faithfully realised in the final installation.
  • Performance Evaluation: Continuous reference for system monitoring and optimisation throughout the system’s operational life.

This technology empowers building operators to make informed, data-driven decisions early in the project and fosters open and transparent collaboration with their supply chain.

5. Real-world Success: HVAC Digital Twins in Action
NHS Southend Hospital, part of the MSE NHS Foundation Trust, aims to cut its carbon footprint by 10% by 2025, with the Cardigan Building at the forefront.

Using an HVAC Digital Twin, they explored options before committing to a costly heat pump installation. The digital twin revealed significant optimisation potential of the existing installation, reducing operational and capital expenses. A range of options were explored, resulting in potential for 93% pump energy reduction, 16% carbon savings, and 25% annual energy cost savings.

Manoj Chohan, Head of Sustainability at MSE, emphasised the need for optimisation before heat pump installation: "We could achieve the significant carbon reductions for much less capital outlay before committing to the proposed heat pump scheme."

6. HVAC Digital Twins and NHS Estates Net Zero Carbon Delivery Plans
Infact the transformative potential of HVAC digital twins is already recognised in the NHS Estates Net Zero Carbon Delivery Plan Technical Annex, which states “Rather than basing energy costs and carbon emissions on theoretical performance, [HVAC digital twins] can simulate and assess how building systems will operate in realistic, variable conditions.  This can help eliminate the performance gap between building systems in the design phase and in real life operation.”

7. A Vision for the Future: Embracing HVAC Digital Twins
As the healthcare sector navigates the path to Net Zero while grappling with inflated energy costs, HVAC System Digital Twins emerge as a transformative technology. Estates and capital projects teams have the opportunity to leverage this technology to pave the way for a sustainable and cost-effective future. The journey to Net Zero buildings is within reach, and HVAC System Digital Twins are the key to unlocking its full potential.

Discover more about Performance Gaps and HVAC Digital Twins in Hysopt’s whitepaper “The High Cost of Low HVAC Performance”

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