BIM is a key part of the fourth revolution (digitalisation) of the AEC industry and enabling tool for a cleaner and more sustainable build environment.
This has been recognized by the European commission, and a number of H2020 funded Projects, including BIMCert, are focusing in providing training frameworks and support in order to up-skill the industry.
There are increasing requirements for energy efficiency competencies and applicable skills, resulting from European decarbonisation and sustainable energy long-term strategies.
Therefore, solving the problem of development of skills for sustainable energy, required by the construction sector, and stimulating demand for sustainable construction and a skilled energy workforce, is closely connected to the upgrading of the BIM skills of construction professionals.
BIM as an enabler of change and de-carbonisation in the AEC industry
As a sustainable energy supportive technology, BIM is a vital tool for reducing the carbon footprint in the construction sector. BIM is the backbone of the new ‘informed’ way of working in the construction sector, triggered and targeted by digitisation and equipped to manage the ‘full energy content’ of construction. Such is the impact of BIM, the European Commission has supported, promoted, and developed several policies and initiatives aiming to foster digitalisation in the construction sector. These include inter alia the Strategy for the Sustainable Competitiveness of the Construction Sector and its Enterprises (2012), the EU BIM Task Group, and the upcoming EU Digital Construction platform.
‘By harnessing the capacity of the building sector, many countries can cut emission rates cost-effectively and achieve energy savings of more than 30%, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.’
Now is the time for the implementation of digitisation in the construction sector to proactively and effectively reduce the carbon footprint and environmental impact of construction. BIM provides the data for a building’s energy consumption. This data can then be used as information to make informed decisions on how best to manage the entire energy circle of a building.
BIM’S contribution to the energy life cycle in construction
There are four segments within the energy life cycle in construction: Potential, Embedded, Operational, and Sustainable energy. These four segments together account for all of the energy used in the complete construction life cycle and are mutually dependent and therefore, cannot be considered separately. Decisions and actions are not mutually exclusive; decisions made within one segment has significant impacts across the entire energy circle.
BIM-based energy modelling provides several benefits, including more accurate and complete energy performance analysis in early design stages, improved lifecycle cost analysis, and more opportunities for monitoring actual building performance during the operation phase.
1. Potential Energy – Targeted During the Design Stage
Energy savings are planned and targeted during the design phase. It is about utilising BIM tools to possibly reduce the gap between predicted and actual building performance proactively. BIM can be used to model buildings and sequentially perform multiple analysis, enabling energy performance prediction that can be applied to compare design alternatives, allowing for an improved final decision
The BIM collaboration method and tools allow for a more efficient coordination, avoiding errors and therefore leading to a more efficient construction phase, avoiding wastage, and contributing to decarbonisation in the construction phase.
BIM software, based on the 3D data enriched model, allows for simulations as solar paths, solar gains, thermal behaviour, testing M&E systems. Those, allied to other digital technologies such as cloud computing, and AI and machine learning, are already and will increasingly allow testing and evaluating of several design options until we find the best solution
BIM tools allows you to analyse the model, enriched with the correct input of data, to calculate and graphically visualise/ represent the loads and performance of the building, allow an easier, clear and more direct interpretation and understanding of design choice and changes on the impact of building performance.
BIM tools also facilitate quantification (5D) which, allied with simulation tools, permit a better informed cost vs performance ratio comparison. That helps make an informed decision about feasibility of design options, as well as compare the predictable energy savings and linked cost saving during the operation phase against the investment required in construction phase. This is of key importance to illustrate that sustainability and energy efficiency are not only environmentally necessary but it can be profitable also.
BIM involves a full lifecycle approach in the AEC industry, and the model is a digital twin of the build asset, and BIM simulation tools allow you to establish since the inception/ design phase, a roadmap for the most efficient way to run the building in the future
2. Embedded Energy – Targeted During the Construction stage
BIM is recognised as a tool to support the visualisation of a building’s energy performance, sequence and schedule of construction aimed towards the application of sustainable construction materials and techniques, with minimum waste of energy and materials.
Using the BIM 4D tools (time scheduling simulation) and 5D (quantification), these enhanced digital tools allow more efficient project management in the construction phase, coordinating the works better, reducing construction time, avoiding clashes, and the planning of delivery of materials to site.
The use of digital scanning, combined with the BIM process, integrates different digital data inputs and outputs into new digital workflows applied to construction.
For example, in the case of existing building, a digital survey allows you to measure key hotspots requiring energy efficient improvements. BIM design can to help simulate and predict how to improve these, and how to implement them during the construction phase. During and after construction this can be re-measured reusing the digital scanning techniques and comparing the BIM model data to verify and reduce the gap between predicted design performance and built performance.
3. Operational Energy – Targeted during the Operation / Service Stage
Energy savings achieved through the building operation stage are monitored and managed continually with lessons learned fed back to design teams for future projects. The practicality of implementing BIM is evident as it assists performance management through effective data management in building operations by supporting the interlinking of data environments. Effective energy management reduces energy consumed while maintaining occupants’ health, safety, and comfort conditions. BIM is utilised to improve existing processes aimed towards sustainable usage of energy.. Digital sensors can track energy usage and be compiled within the building’s BIM digital model. The engagement of wider public stakeholders (occupants and users) into a standard action of improving buildings’ energy performance is essential.
4. Sustainable Energy Targeted During the End-Of-Life
Connected with the three phases above, BIM is a potential method to enable an easier way of achieving energy savings throughout the lifetime of a building.
Energy for demolition or recycle / reuse is a constitutive part of the life cycle energy of a building and, although in less amount, can still have a significant contribution to the overall environmental performance.
All materials and products, especially those with high insulation properties, may require substantial energy and carbon effects for recycling or disposal. EPDs (environmental product declarations) of building envelope materials are incorporated as non-graphic information in the BIM model and used by various stakeholders and professionals in the supply chain.
In the near future, BIM models, with the help of AI prediction, will integrate the future use and re-use of buildings, allowing easier changes of use and refurbishment processes, reducing the energy requirements for demolition and material use connected with new builds.
There is a huge amount of building stock available already, BIM can be used to analyse and find effective and feasible ways to re-use those building without the need for new builds.
As we move forward, there is a need for construction techniques, policy formulation and policy implementation to be integrated into a balanced and coherent system delivering sustainability across the entire construction supply chain.
In the EU, Energy Roadmap 2050 BIM is the most effective supportive technology for: sustainable energy, reducing carbon footprint and increasing the energy efficiency in the construction sector.
However, BIM is a tool. BIM is only an enabler. Digital environment is a medium. It’s people, professionals, that can make and implement the change. A tool is only as good as its operator.
Considering the importance of digitalisation as the new modus operandi of the AEC industry, in addition to it being the key method to help the industry achieve the energy efficiency and de-carbonisation targets required to tackle the existing crisis and threat of climate change, upskilling the industry professional operating in this new reality is paramount.