Launched in June 2014, the EU project Sinfonia has set out to integrate scalable technologies in European cities in order for them to become more energy-efficient. The project has received €27m of co-funding from the EU's Seventh Framework Programme for Research, Technological Development and Demonstration, and the total funding is approximately €42m.
As the pilot cities, Innsbruck in Austria and Bolzano in Italy will work in conjunction to achieve 40% to 50% energy savings and increase the use of renewables by 20%.
In Innsbruck, a city of 120,000 people, the focus will be on its eastern district, where 66,000m2 of residential and public buildings dating from the 1930s to the '80s will be retrofitted. This includes renovating outdated insulation, installing highly efficient ventilation systems and using renewable energy such as solar power.
A low-temperature grid and the use of recovered heat and cold from local industries, as well as wastewater and geothermal heat from the Brenner tunnel, are proposed solutions to increase the use of renewable energy by 95% within the district heating network.
Similarly, the retrofitting expected to commence in Bolzano - 37,000m² of social housing from the 1950s onwards - includes updated insulation and the integration of renewable sources for electricity and heating.
Making the leap from concept to reality
"[Sinfonia] has two actors who started separately and merged into one consortium," says Håkan Perslow, Sinfonia's project coordinator from the SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden.
Scientists working to mimic the process of photosynthesis have reached a significant milestone.
"We have strong demonstrators in Innsbruck - the municipality, the housing and energy supply companies, and the University of Innsbruck - and on the Italian side in Bolzano, we have similar actors such as housing and power companies."
It is through such partnerships with external companies that the project will, Perslow hopes, successfully make the leap from concept to reality.
"This is where the housing companies have their major role," he explains. "These houses ... have a low standard. The energy demand is not meeting the standards and norms of today. There is some quite substantial retrofitting that needs to be done for insulation and retrofitting of roofs.
"We are also looking at installing individual monitoring [systems] for electricity and water, which at the moment are not included in the buildings. It will be, more or less, a total retrofit."
Innsbruck and Bolzano are, naturally, at the forefront of the development, but as a Europe-wide project the scope of the Sinfonia mission is anything but narrow.
To bridge the gap between research efforts and large-scale implementation, the project is working with five additional districts in Europe, known as early adopter cities. These are La Rochelle, France; Sevilla, Spain; Pafos, Cyprus; Rosenheim, Germany, and Borås, Sweden.
Perslow says: "They [the early adopter cities] provide a good range of environmental and climate conditions.
"It is very important that we have a European perspective on this and the early adopter cities have been chosen because of their internal strategies and the challenges they face.
"It is also a timing issue. They indicated from the beginning they wanted to be partners and have established links to other consortium partners. For example, SP's headquarters are located in Borås, so it's natural that we collaborate with them. They thought this project would be something valuable to them.
"However, it also includes 25 partners and twelve third parties. We also have a couple more that are coming on board shortly."
These 25 partners, from eight European countries, incorporate scientific companies, including SP. On top of this, an estimated 15 other cities have expressed an interest in collaborating with Sinfonia.
The adopter cities will start their own smart city processes around the end of year three, after the developments in Innsbruck and Bolzano have had time to produce results.
In the meantime, there are plans for a project meeting sometime between the 27 and 29 May, which will assess performance to date. The project hopes to start refurbishment work in Innsbruck later this year.
Transferable and scalable
To develop best practices for the different districts, Sinfonia will develop a set of templates and refurbishment models, which will be transferred as necessary.
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"There are two aspects to this and this is what makes Sinfonia really interesting," Perslow adds. "First of all we have the concrete sharing of what is actually done in buildings, here and now, and we are able to have technical staff meet in person to discuss this, face-to-face.
"What we also do to analyse from a more theoretical point of view, is look at what potential these individual technical solutions have on a local, regional and national scale - and even in a European context. This is the model we are working on when trying to develop simulated district typologies, or templates as we used to call them.
"We have also analysed the scaling potential of different types of technology to see if there are multifunctional elements.
"We are then able to simulate this in different types of districts and environments, so in theory it will be applicable for the north of Sweden down to the south of Spain.
"By doing this, we have a theoretical overview of the potential of the concepts in Innsbruck and Bolzano. What potential do they have in a European context? And, in theory, how much can we calculate for energy savings?"
Turning to the projected savings, Perslow is confident that the systems put in place will deliver, going as far as to say that Innsbruck and Bolzano "are likely to reach those targets and even more savings on a building level".
A powerful incentive for Europe
Sinfonia is pushing ahead with its Replication Cluster, which follows the mantra laid down by Perslow and his colleagues of collaboration and transferring knowledge as the building blocks for smart cities.
A work in progress, this initiative with EU-GUGLE - a project that aims to showcase sustainable renovation across European cities - is further proof that "these types of integrated schemes are relevant and necessary for many cities in Europe," according to Perslow.
"With Sinfonia, we will be able to provide a range of solutions and perspectives on renovating city districts and making them energy-efficient, and therefore smart.
"By year three, I think will we have concrete results and hands-on experience on how we go about doing this. I think that will be a very powerful offer for cities in Europe."
As Innsbruck prepares to put its retrofitting plans into action, with the first tenders in the pipeline, Perslow is anxious for the revolution to begin and believes that the five-year timescale is sufficient.
"We are anxious to get started. Local policy processes have to be aligned with the EU funding mechanism; this has been a challenge, but I think we have succeeded," he says.
"Overall, they have different timescales. The first houses to be retrofitted will have a renovation time of nine to twelve months, depending on what will need to be done.
"In two to two and a half years from now I think we will be able to start evaluating the results."