The European Union has made addressing climate change one of its top priorities. At the same time, European leaders also understand the importance of promoting energy security and growing the green economy. This is why the European Green Deal not only calls for “no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050” but also “economic growth decoupled from resource use.”
The latter point speaks to the scope of the challenge ahead of us. Economic growth has been pegged closely to resource use throughout human history. In order to grow the economy without using significantly more resources, we’ll need a global sustainability strategy that incorporates designing for the circular economy, taking advantage of low-carbon and energy-efficient innovations and thinking smarter about how to minimize waste.
European businesses can help make this happen by pursuing digital transformation opportunities. As enterprises look to live up to the promises of the European Green Deal—driving economic growth while also meeting sustainability targets—making the most of advanced technologies and digital use cases will be essential.
Digital twins unlock sustainability insights—for those who choose to pay attention
One technology that could be particularly helpful as we look to grow the green economy in Europe is digital twinning. According to the Equinix 2023 Global Tech Trends Survey (GTTS), 98% of EMEA IT leaders that have used digital twins reported gaining at least one benefit from doing so.
However, it’s notable that many of these IT leaders haven’t considered the sustainability benefits of digital twins. Of those that use digital twins or plan to start soon, less than one-third reported environmental efficiencies as a benefit. Instead, they focused more on improved productivity and cost savings.
These IT leaders must realize that deploying digital twins can have a major impact on their sustainability targets. Digital twins will help them understand and quantify the impact of their past decisions and predict the outcomes of their future decisions. With these capabilities, they’ll be able to increase efficiency, reduce waste and propose sustainable alternatives.
Examples of digital twin use cases that can drive greater visibility into sustainability targets—in addition to other business benefits—include:
- Energy & utilities: Digital twins can help make it quicker, easier and more cost-effective to bring new production facilities online. This could help increase the supply of renewable energy in key European markets where demand is already sky-high. In turn, this will drive down the cost and complexity of European enterprises using renewable energy. In addition, utilities can build digital twin models of the energy grid to simulate various different scenarios and identify potential points of failure. They can then use these insights to plan ahead for future surges in demand and implement network improvements to prevent large-scale blackouts.
- Transport & logistics: Digital twins can model the entire supply chain and its components, enabling logistics managers to identify inefficiency and waste. By optimizing routes, transportation modes and resource allocation, companies can reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
- Manufacturing: Implementing digital twins in production facilities can optimize processes, minimize outages and reduce waste. Using predictive maintenance backed up by real-time monitoring, manufacturers can avoid unplanned outages—and the waste and pollution those outages inevitably create. In addition, factories or refineries that work with potentially hazardous chemicals can use predictive maintenance to prevent spills and thus keep those chemicals from ever finding their way into the environment.
- Smart cities: A digital twin of an entire city—including its buildings, infrastructure and transportation systems—can uncover data-driven opportunities to make the city itself greener and more efficient. For instance, the city of Zurich uses its digital twin model to help visualize data around air pollution and solar energy production, among other use cases. Digital twins can also help manage the flow of traffic to reduce congestion in city centers, which in turn will dramatically improve air quality. Finally, cities can design smart waste management systems that use sensors and automated monitoring systems to reduce the number of unnecessary pickups, thus helping keep trucks off the road.
- Agriculture: Creating a digital twin can help farmers analyze soil conditions, weather patterns and crop health, thus contributing to more sustainable and environmentally friendly agricultural practices. For example, farmers can use these insights to optimize irrigation, fertilization and pesticide usage. This will reduce pressure on the limited water supply, keep chemical residue out of crops and soil, and help maximize crop yield.
- Climate solutions: The logical endpoint of digital twins as a sustainability tool is to create a twin of the Earth itself. According to Capgemini, this work is already underway. This will allow scientists to develop and test climate solutions by simulating all the interconnected systems that make up our planet, including the atmosphere, the oceans and all different forms of life.
Digital twins require the right digital infrastructure in the right locations
When you’re implementing digital twins, there are many important aspects to consider in order to get the full value. A crucial one is optimized data management: You must be able to ingest massive amounts of data, properly curate your data sets to remove the noise, use that filtered data to create your digital twin models, and then continue to feed real-time data into those models to keep them current as time passes.
Creating and operating a digital twin requires a robust IT infrastructure capable of handling complex simulations, processing vast amounts of data and supporting real-time interactions. In most cases, digital twins rely on real-time data from IoT devices to update the virtual model from a multitude of locations and sources. This drives the need for digital infrastructure distributed near those many locations.
Like many other AI use cases, digital twins require distributed digital infrastructure to balance the needs of different workloads around performance, latency, cost-efficiency, and data privacy and sovereignty. You’ll likely need a combination of edge infrastructure, colocation data centers and public clouds to properly manage these tradeoffs as you ingest, move, store and process the data that fuels your digital twin models.
Some digital twin use cases are especially sensitive to latency. For instance, if you’re using digital twins to perform predictive maintenance in a factory, you’ll need to collect data from sensors and process it quickly to ensure you’re acting on real-time insights. In cases like these, even a few extra milliseconds of latency would be problematic. Therefore, you’ll need compute infrastructure at the digital edge, in close proximity to the factory, so that data doesn’t have to travel long distances between collection and processing. For other use cases that aren’t as sensitive to latency, the cloud or a centrally located colocation data center may be better options.
How can Equinix help overcome the challenges of deploying digital twins in Europe?
Platform Equinix® enables the hybrid infrastructure approach that can put you in the best position to succeed with digital twins. Our digital services make it quick and easy to stand up compute, storage and networking capabilities to support your digital twin models. Equinix Metal®, our Bare Metal as a Service offering, allows you to deploy single-tenant compute and storage capacity on demand, with none of the cost and complexity of acquiring your own physical hardware.
With Equinix Fabric® for software-defined interconnection, you can simplify your multicloud networking, accessing the cloud services you need for your digital twins in a matter of minutes. As your digital twin models mature and start ingesting larger volumes of data, you can easily scale your virtual connections to keep up with that growth.
Equinix can also be the digital infrastructure partner you need to help deploy your sustainable solutions in a sustainable environment:
- We were the first digital infrastructure company to commit to becoming climate-neutral by 2030. We set a science-based target for emissions reduction across our global operations and supply chain to help us meet that goal.
- We achieved 96% renewable energy coverage during 2022, our furthest progress so far toward our goal of 100% coverage by 2030.
- We’ve developed next-generation sustainability innovations such as high-density liquid cooling and low-carbon fuel cells, and have begun to deploy pilot programs for these technologies to support real customer workloads.
- We’ve committed to optimizing our overall power use by widening the operating temperature ranges for our data centers, thus allowing us to support customer workloads while reducing the need for cooling.
Equinix also understands how data sovereignty requirements can be challenging for European businesses looking to deploy digital twins, and we’re working to help overcome those challenges. In the GTTS, 61% of EMEA IT leaders said that insufficient infrastructure would make it difficult for them to prepare for evolving data sovereignty regulations, compared to a global average of 56%.
To help address this issue, the EU started the Gaia-X initiative to support the development of a federated data marketplace for European businesses. This would make digital twins and other data-driven use cases more accessible in Europe, as European businesses would be able to freely share their data and services with one another, while never giving up control and ownership over the things they share. Since Equinix plays a key role in the connectivity and exchange of data in Europe, we’ve joined Gaia-X, and we’re proud to offer our support to its ambitious goal of a trusted, sovereign digital infrastructure for Europe.
Deploying digital twins successfully is all about having the right IT architecture and being able to connect with ecosystem partners in the right places. At Equinix, we can support you in this journey, thanks to our global interconnection platform, advanced digital infrastructure services, and dense digital ecosystems of thousands of enterprises and service providers. To learn more about how you can start capitalizing on the potential of digital twins today, book a meeting with an Equinix expert.
 “A European Green Deal: Striving to be the first climate-neutral continent,” European Commission.
 Marianna Charitonidou, “Urban scale digital twins in data-driven society: Challenging digital universalism in urban planning decision-making,” International Journal of Architectural Computing, January 2022.
 “Digital Twins: Adding Intelligence to the Real World,” Capgemini Research Institute, 2022.