Research 2.0: How To Build A Smart City 2

When we say urban development, we usually think about brushing up existing aspects of a city – but ask yourself: what if we could design a whole new city (within a city) from scratch? The Seestadt Aspern district in Vienna is doing exactly that – and more. They’re not just trying to be smart about what they’re doing right now. In addition, they’re also trying to find out how to become even smarter in the future – learning by doing.


Energy and sustainability belong to the most discussed topics when it comes to future life on our planet. Demand and emissions keep increasing on a global scale, however new technologies are on the rise to counter those developments. Thus, all aspects of energy – generation, supply, storage and consumption – are part of one complex system, which needs to be studied as a whole.

“A living lab testing designs and systems for intelligent cities of the future: traffic solutions, green buildings, water management and smart grid infrastructure. Helping to steer urbanization toward sustainability by using appropriate technologies, novel products and innovative solutions in a real-world infrastructure – to make the whole system smarter.”

In an ongoing project until 2018, Wien Energie is attempting to achieve this feat via a competely novel approach within the sustainable energy discussion. Responsible for ensuring the supply of electricity, gas and heat to around two million people within the Greater Vienna metropolitan area, Wien Energie is already Austrias largest energy company. However, that didn’t stop them from founding the Aspern Smart City Research project.

TEDxVienna joined energy expert Bernd Richter of ASCR and Wien Energie on a little walk through the transdanubian town-to-be, where he explained their unique concept of and why Aspern is the perfect playground for smart research. Built on top of a former airfield in the far east of Vienna, Seestadt Aspern is one of the largest urban development projects in Europe.


“The famous computer scientist Alan Kay formed the slogan “The best way to predict the future is to invent it”. Wien Energie, with its active participation in ASCR, is exactly doing so – by creating innovative business models and ensuring CO2 reduction for a cleaner environment.”

Until 2030, the district will keep evolving into a city of its own, eventually offering homes for 20,000 residents and working places for another 20,000 people. Some of them will be part of an extensive research project: how to use resources as efficiently as possible – by living inside connected building systems with intelligent power grids and interacting communication technologies.

The first participants of this “living lab” will be the inhabitants of the 213 apartments in complex D12 – suited with Smart Meters and Home Automation. Measurements of air quality like CO2 and humidity can be linked to the automatic regulation of the home automation system. The so-called Eco-Button turnes-off pre-defined power outlets and of course energy consumption can be visiualized and temperature can be controlled via smartphone.

Different lifestyles in terms of energy usage will be documented, ideally leading to the creation of individual incentives for optimizing energy usage – for instance a gamified challenge in which inhabitants compete in a game of “who can save most energy.”


Just down the road – complex D18, to be exact – a primary school and kindergarten, are waiting for the first kids to move in after the summer. An integral component of the project, their future school will be the test subject for yet another smart building concept: “The focus of the school project is optimized heat supply, which won’t be connected to the district heating network – but will be totally self sufficient thanks to ground water and air heat pumps combined with a solar thermal facility”.

For students: there will be a Dormitory with around 220 kWp photovoltaic facilities installed on the roof and a battery storage in the parking area under the earth – therefore, the building is on the one hand not only using, but also supplying energy to the network and on the other hand trying to become a passive plus building, meaning it will generate more electricity over a year than what is needed. Flexibilities are pooled sold at different energy marktes. A building energy management system (or BEMS) will be connected to an energy pool manager – an intereface between building and energy market.


The smart research project stands upon four pillars. These factors result in a comprehensive idea of how a town of 20,000 residents can be designed from scratch – as a sustainable, smart city of the future.

smart building: using knowledge and data, forecasts of future energy consumption can be made and optimized for each building individually. They will participate actively in different energy markets and therefore will be able to react flexible and independently towards changes within the system.

smart citizen: research and innovation depends on the user, since novel technologies can only establish themselves if accepted by society. Therefore, the research is not only carried out in terms of energy use, but also with regard to sociological aspects and usability.

smart grids: control and surveillance of the electricity network will be supported by analysis of acquired real data. The aim is to optimise strategies for operative aspects, as well as to find suitable solutions to cater for future needs of the market.

smart ICT: building control systems and grid control systems as well as a high number of data points will be connected via information- and communication technologies in order to be able to analyse various scenarios of the underlying research questions. Finally, a lot of helpful findings shall be the output..


The cooperative approach – 30 scientist from different disciplines – aids in finding simple solutions to complex problems. While the research program of ASCR might be finished in three years, Wien Energie remains interested and optimistic about continuing their research. In any case, we will keep our fingers crossed and hope for valuable results, in testing developments and positive feedback – in order to ensure the future of this unique project.

Today, walking around the quiet streets (so far, there is only a few of them) feels a little odd – one may be reminded of a western movie, when looking over the empty fields beyond the lake. However, sooner or later Aspern will develop into something very special: a smart city (within a city) and – you never know – it might just be the start of our future.


header image credit: unsplash

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