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International Acclaim for Wellington’s Digital Twin

Wellington City, New Zealand’s capital city, has developed its Digital Twin to better serve its citizens, utilise resources effectively and mitigate the challenges of climate change. The Digital Twin allows a better understanding of the effects of various external forces impacting the city. City residents, city planners, local government and engineers use the insights to plan accordingly and create sustainable strategies.

A digital twin is a digital representation of a particular asset – in this case, the city – in the form of a virtual model. Relevant data is collected in real-time using an array of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors. Data and information can be analysed for patterns and predictions. The twin allows planners to replicate, simulate and create possible scenarios and solutions. The insights thus gained can be applied to real-life in the city

“As a coastal city that is highly exposed to climate change impacts and with few options for relocating infrastructure, businesses and homes, it’s critical we enable evidence-based climate adaptation decisions in the next two to three years to respond to the climate and ecological emergencies declared by Council,” said Julia Hamilton, team leader of digital innovation at Wellington City Councils (Molyneux, 2022).

The council hopes the tool will simplify a challenging yet critical topic and boost citizen engagement. Many of the impacts of climate change take decades or centuries to take effect, so future generations will be hit by sea-level rise, heavier rainfall and more violent storms even if the world makes drastic cuts to emissions today. This job will be particularly problematic in cities – including Wellington – where billions of dollars of buildings, facilities, and housing are exposed.

In this scenario, a digital twin can be city planners’ greatest tool. One industry expert described the experience in detail. She disclosed that from a screen, users will be able to travel back to the city’s past and into the future, modelled on the latest scientific projections. They’ll be able to see what protections against the rising tides – from sea walls to mangroves – will look like, the cost and how long they’ll last.

By utilising IoT, the national capital has improved its chances of successfully managing climate change. And the city’s efforts have received international recognition. A global challenge has recognised Wellington along with 14 other cities for designing the boldest and most ambitious urban innovations that address current issues including economic recovery and growth, health and wellbeing, climate and environment, and gender and equality. Along with being globally recognised, the city also won US$1 million in prize money as one of 15 cities worldwide to win the global innovation challenge.

Andy Foster, Council Mayor of Wellington City was proud of the achievement. Being one of the ‘first 15’ cities was an honour and most certainly no mean feat.

This award recognises the innovative spirit ‘down under’ despite the challenges of the pandemic and the climate emergency we’re facing. The city will use the prize to further develop our Digital Twin to visualise climate change impacts and explore adaptation options with scientists, mana whenua and residents in an easily accessible, interactive gaming-style format for all to use.

– Andy Foster, Mayor, Wellington City Council

The city’s success will echo outside its boundaries. Wellington deploys open-source code that can be used by other coastal cities to access and utilise for their planning and strategies. The accomplishment will serve not just the city, but the nation at large –  specifically coastal cities that share similarities.

Climate adaptation planning for Wellington is a complex and urgent task says Team Leader Digital Innovation, Julia Hamilton. The project is ongoing and will be established over time. Work on developing the Digital Twin will be led by Wellington City Council’s Digital Innovation team and is expected to take three years to complete.

There is a myriad of ways digital adoption can help sustainability across sectors. An example is the use of smart tags to know the health of Aoteroan cattle even from a distance as reported on OpenGov Asia.

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