School of Computer Science & Statistics (SCSS) and ADAPT SFI Centre researcher Dr Qian Xiao has been awarded funding from the SFI National Challenge Fund - Future Digital Challenge Programme in collaboration with Dr Kevin Credit from the National Centre for Geocomputation (NCG), University of Maynooth. Their project “Exploring realistic pathways to the decarbonization of buildings in the urban context: a case study of Dublin city” will develop approaches with human-centric AI technology to tackle the challenges in urban building retrofitting for improving energy efficiency faced by local authorities, policymakers, urban planning offices and building owners.

Improving building energy efficiency, especially for existing ones, is key to combating climate change for many EU cities. However, urban building energy analysis is a complex, multi-scale, multi-sector challenge. Each building is different, and so is its built-up urban form. Without strategic intervention in the multi-faceted aspects of urban building retrofitting problem, the transition to carbon-neutral by 2050 as planned in the Paris Agreement will not be possible

With funding support from the SFI Future Digital Challenge Programme, Xiao and Credit will leverage large-scale machine learning models to tackle these challenges for both commercial and residential building energy upgrades, using Dublin City as a case study. These models will explore hidden socio-economic barriers to building retrofitting, mitigate the estimation error of building energy models due to incomplete/inaccurate data, and develop cost-efficient urban building retrofit design and planning solutions.

Project lead Dr Qian Xiao elaborated: “This pilot project is pioneering a digital building energy consulting service to accelerate the energy efficiency upgrade of buildings in pursuit of a sustainable green transition at the urban scale. Empowered by human-centric AI technology, our service explores realistic solutions by integrating technology with data intelligence and analytics of the urban economy to simplify the customer journey and foster collaboration among public-private partnerships.”

The project team is setting up “Digital Building Energy Consulting” where they use AI models to automate communication with customers, gain insight into the factors that affect retrofit uptake, and personalize solutions by suggesting alternative, cost-efficient building energy upgrade choices.

The complexity of the questions naturally requires interdisciplinary and intersectoral collaboration so the project brings together extensive expertise and complementary perspectives in artificial intelligence/machine learning (Dr Qian Xiao, School of Computer Science and Statistics, ADAPT Centre), urban economy (Dr Kevin Credit, University of Maynooth) and public-private partnerships (Dr Stephen Brennan, Smart D8). The team seeks to explore AI-boosted solutions to realize the full benefits of urban intelligence in pursuit of a sustainable green transition.

Team co-lead Dr Kevin Credit highlighted: “What I find most interesting about this project is that it addresses a really timely issue - overcoming barriers to building energy retrofit - that touches on so many important social and environmental issues: energy poverty, affordability, climate mitigation, and historic preservation. The collaboration with TCD is integral to the success of the project because it combines Qian’s expertise in cutting-edge AI technology with my interest in urban development processes and sustainability, both of which are necessary to understand how to design tools to better inform the retrofit decision-making process.

Team Societal Impact Champion Dr Stephan Brennan from Smart D8 said: "The age and diversity of living and working buildings in Dublin 8 provide an ideal test bed for solutions to inform home and business owners about the optimum approach to retrofitting. Improvements to the living and working environment will have a knock-on positive impact on citizens’ health, well-being and economic sustainability of the individuals and the community."