Digitalisation represents an opportunity to innovate and decarbonise the whole building value chain. This article provides a quick overview in terms of technology trends, tools and European initiatives.
Buildings are responsible for approximately 40% of EU energy consumption and 36% of the energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. Buildings are therefore the single largest energy consumer in Europe. Heating, cooling and domestic hot water account for 80% of the energy that we, citizens, consume. At present, about 35% of the EU's buildings are over 50 years old and almost 75% of the building stock is energy inefficient . At the same time, only about 1% of the building stock is renovated each year. Digitalisation in the construction sector can bring significant opportunities for the whole value chain, not only by improving existing practices, but also by integrating disruptive technologies and tools that can lead to new processes, business models, materials, and solutions.
Standardisation and interoperability are crucial for the digitalisation of the building sector. Various standardisation organisations are working on this topic, such as ISO, and CEN at the European level. There are also standardisation initiatives outside those organisations, such as the ‘building SMART International’ (bSI) initiative and their Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) as a neutral and open specification for the BIM data model, or the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) for GIS standards.
Standardised and interoperable data for digitalisation
The construction sector, like many others, is governed by numerous standards, regulations, guidelines, and requirements, which are critical to ensure safety, quality, process efficiency, and data capture. However, they can also represent a significant barrier to collaboration and interoperability of new technologies. Given the heterogeneous nature of the players involved in the construction value chain, it is crucial for the effective and successful deployment of digital technologies that the data is standardised and thus interoperable.
By providing a specific format for a precise data type that can be understood and used by all actors in the value chain, standardised templates and formats would provide a consistent approach for product manufacturers. These templates would enable automation and dependability of digital construction data processes like BIM. This would be an enabler for the wider adoption of digital tools. Data standardisation will also support the delivery of sustainable construction projects by providing information in a homogeneous way, allowing both developers and clients to compare sustainability data more easily (such as energy efficiency and waste generation) from different buildings.
Smart Buildings offer the most effective way for cost efficiency and utilisation of the building's technology systems. Smart Buildings are expected to contribute to the following:
- Occupant comfort: smart buildings learn occupant behaviour to improve user comfort.
- Energy saving: smart buildings can significantly reduce energy consumption and associated costs.
- Time saving by automation of daily routines.
- Safety: detection of fire, gas leakage, use of self-diagnosis systems, and alerts improve the level of safety.
- Expert systems: embedded in smart buildings, expert knowledge can be stored.
- Health: health decisions are of the highest priority in buildings where services such as appropriate temperature, air conditioning and light intensity are provided.
- Care: smart buildings can improve the quality of life for older people and the disabled by providing comfortable, safe, and supportive care.
European policy framework and initiatives
Digital technologies will promote innovation, efficiency, and sustainability of the construction industry in the near future. In fact, by 2030, the cumulative additional GDP contribution of new digital technologies could amount to €2.2 trillion in the EU, a 14.1 per cent increase from 2017 . The European Commission has lately developed a policy framework to make this prospect a reality, geared towards the digital transformation of the EU economy, including in the construction sector . The most important initiatives are the following:
The European Green Deal will transform the EU into a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy, ensuring: no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050; economic growth decoupled from resource use; no person and no place left behind. The European Commission has adopted a set of proposals to make the EU's climate, energy, transport, and taxation policies fit for reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.
The ‘Renovation Wave’ (2020) is a strategy aiming to accelerate building renovation (at least 35 million inefficient buildings by 2030) to address climate change (applying “Energy efficiency first” principle, decarbonisation, integration of renewable energy sources, and ensuring circularity and the highest environmental standards), energy poverty, support the recovery and the green and digital transition. Renovating them is essential to reducing emissions and energy use and will hep the EU to achieve:
- A response to energy poverty
- Creation of 160,000 green jobs in the construction sector by 2030
- Reduced emissions and energy use to support climate targets.
- Improved quality of life, health and well-being for residents.
- Decarbonised, digitalised and smarter homes.
- Affordable sustainable design through a New European Bauhaus.
It is a fundamental part of the European Green Deal and paved the way to the 2021 proposal revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive 2010/31/EU and its Amendment 2018/844 and the EU Clean Energy for all Europeans package. Its relevancy to the digitalisation of the buildings sectors is illustrated by the following elements of its action plan:
- It paves the way for the introduction of Digital Building Logbooks, to integrate all building-related data (Smart Readiness Indicator, EPC, etc.), thus assuring that the data collected is compatible to be used throughout the renovation process.
- It refers to the EU support for investment and uptake of digital technologies with the help of DIHs (Digital Innovation Hubs), TEFs (Testing and Experimentation Facilities) and Horizon Europe.
- It announces further support for BIM by promoting it in public procurement by defining a methodology for public authorities to conduct cost-benefit analysis of BIM.
- It sets forth the development of a unified EU Framework for digital building permits and establish a trusted scheme for certifying energy efficiency meters in buildings that can measure actual energy performance improvements.
By supporting the development of a sustainable, (cyber)secure, transparent and competitive market for digital energy services, ensuring data protection and sovereignty, and encouraging investment in digital energy infrastructure, the Action Plan for Digitalisation of the energy system aims to contribute to the EU's energy policy objectives.
The plan put the emphasis on how innovative technologies can promote using energy resources more efficiently, the integration of renewable energies into the grid, and save EU consumers and energy companies money. This will not only be consistent with the 2030 digital objectives but will also ensure that digital energy becomes an integral part of the green energy transition.
Other cross-cutting initiatives implemented are the EU Circular Economy Action Plan (2020) and Waste Framework Directive (Directive 2008/98/EC), Construction Blueprint, European Skills Agenda, European Pact for Skills, the BUILD UP Skills initiative (please, note that the URL might change soon), the EU Building Stock Observatory, the DUT Partnership or the EU BIM Task Group.
Energy Performance of Buildings Directive: Smart Readiness Indicator (SRI)
The Smart Readiness Indicator (SRI) assesses the smart readiness of buildings (or building units) in terms of their ability to perform three key functions: optimisation of energy efficiency and overall performance in use, adaptation of their operation to the needs of the occupants, and adaptation to signals from the grid (for example, energy flexibility). The SRI was established under the 2018 revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) and defined by the SRI Acts (C/2020/6929 and C/2020/6930)
Figure 2. Smart readiness technologies in a home.
For a given building, all smart-ready services (such as heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, EV charging, etc.) are assessed against the following desired impacts of smart buildings: energy efficiency, maintenance and fault prediction, comfort, convenience, health, well-being and accessibility, information to occupants, and energy flexibility and storage.
In the building sector, the further expansive implementation of the SRI is expected to trigger investments in digitalisation. In a scenario where the SRI is mandatory, linked to energy performance certificates, a high uptake rate of smart ready technologies and services is expected with total cumulated investment of EUR 58 billion by 2030 and EUR 181 billion by 2050, considering 80% of the buildings having increased by at least one level of smartness by then. 
Next table shows a summary of the most recent projects funded by Horizon Europe in relation with smart buildings and other related actions: SEE THE TABLE.
Digital Building Logbooks: Digitalisation of the building lifecycle
A building permit is the final authorisation, granted by public authorities, that gives permission to start the construction phase of a building project. It is possible to distinguish between three main stages of the technical development of building permit systems:
1) The paper-based building permit system, completely not digitalised.
2) Partially digitalised BPS (PDF type of documents, allowing users to download forms and upload documents, or even providing for interoperable data, which allows for the exploitation of data and generally for a more sophisticated approach).
3) Complete digitalisation characterised by fully digital processes with machine readable documents allowing for the exploitation of data. This final evolution relates to the compatibility with BIM, allowing to have a fully automated process with 3D models.
A digital building logbook is a common repository for all relevant building data, such as administrative documents and/or data for maintenance and bureaucratic purposes, as well as to assess the buildings’ energy performance. Currently, building-related data, such as data of technical and construction information, building characteristics, energy-efficiency performance information and market transactions data, are limited and often inaccurate.
The lack of such data and a common repository to store and display them altogether generates additional costs and inefficiencies, stifles innovation, increases risk and undermines the confidence of investors. Digital Building Logbooks aim to increase transparency and trust among owners, tenants, financial institutions, construction sector stakeholders and public administrations and reduce information disparities. The organised and shared data would not only reduce uncertainty, but also time and costs needed to track down missing information.
Building Information Models (BIM)
BIM is a digital form of construction and asset operation. It brings together technology, process improvement, and digital information to radically improve client and project outcomes. It is also a strategic enabler for improving decision making for both buildings and public infrastructure assets across the whole lifecycle. It applies mainly to new build projects, but BIM crucially supports renovation, refurbishment, and maintenance of the built environment, which have the largest share of energy consumption of the sector.
There are different ‘dimensions’ of BIM, depending on the type of information included, from BIM 3D (contains the three-dimensional data (height, length, and depth) of the structure) through BIM 4D (time data (duration, scheduling, etc.)), BIM 5D (costs), BIM 6D (sustainability data), to BIM 7D (facility management information). 
BIM can bring numerous benefits and advantages to the construction sector and to all stakeholders involved in the construction lifecycle, particularly for architects, project promoters and facility managers, as it serves as the central software platform to integrate design, modelling, planning, and collaboration, thereby providing a digital representation of a building's characteristics throughout its lifecycle. Indeed, measurable benefits could be brought to the construction and post-occupancy management of assets (buildings and infrastructure) through the increased use of the BIM methodologies. However, despite its applicability during the entire construction process, BIM is currently mainly used in design and construction phases, with lower adoption rates in the operation and maintenance phases. 
A Digital Twin is the real-time digital representation of the physical building or infrastructure. Usually, data is gathered by on-site sensors that continuously monitor changes in the building and in the environment and updates the BIM model with the most recent data and measurements.
The benefits of using Digital Twins in the construction sector are multiple, mainly focused on the construction and maintenance phases, and primarily related to the kind of information fed into the Digital Twin model. With Digital Twins, companies can avoid over-allocation and proactively predict resource needs on construction sites, thus avoiding the need to move resources over long distances and improving time management. In fact, both during the construction and the maintenance phases, Digital Twins can provide automatic resource allocation monitoring and waste tracking, allowing for a predictive and more efficient approach to resource management. Buildings and entire neighbourhoods can be kept regularly monitored to promptly identify the need for interventions. 
Building Management Systems (BMS)
Operation and maintenance stages represent 50–70% of the total annual facility operating costs, and building management requires integrating and analysing different types of data. IoT and smart connection have great potential in optimising FM activities, including inventory and document management, building security, logistics and materials tracking, tracking of building component life cycle, and building energy controls of data and information generated by various stakeholders. 
A smart building energy management system (SBEMS) is the application of the internet of things (IoT) that helps to optimise the energy consumption of smart building through the implementation of robustly designed control strategies. There are different types of SBEMS technologies to optimise building energy consumption automatically and continuously, and to maintain indoor comfort to a satisfactory level. 
Digital information and analysis are crucial for connecting all innovative technologies in the construction sector and processing the available data leading to significant improvements and transformations. In fact, the added value of having real-time information, precise measurements, and historical stock databases will be increasingly important and essential for the sustainability and competitiveness of the building sector.
Several reports show that the EU construction sector is making progress in its uptake of digital technologies. Whether it is data collection, process automation or digital information and analytics, digital technologies are deeply intertwined and increasingly present in the construction sector. They are used at all stages of the value chain, from design and construction to operation and maintenance. However, their level of adoption also varies according to:
- Their size and investment capacity
- Their market maturity and technological readiness
- The perceived benefits (and for which actor)
- The market and policy/regulatory constraints and opportunities
Digital technologies can help the sector build better, and tackle several issues, including labour shortages, labour productivity, waste and greenhouse gas emissions, health, and social challenges. For this to happen, further citizen engagement is needed.
European Commission, «COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS A Renovation Wave for Europe - greening our buildings, creating jobs, improving lives,» 2020.
DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology, «Shaping the Digital Transformation in Europe,» 2020.
Organization, European Construction Sector, «Digitalisation of the construction sector,» 2021.
B. Alpagut, X. Zhang, A. Gabaldon y P. Hernandez, «Digitalization in Urban Energy Systems. Outlook 2025, 2030 and 2040,» European Commission - CINEA, 2022.
A. Mannino, M. C. Dejaco y F. R. Cecconi, «Building Information Modelling and Internet of Things integration for Facility Management,» Applied Sciences, vol. 11, nº 3062, 2021.
M. Saidu Aliero, M. Asif, I. Ghani y M. Fermi Pasha, «Systematic Review Analysis on Smart Building: Challenges and Opportunities,» Sustainability, vol. 14, p. 3009, 2022.