Meet Austrias Smart City of the Future

It’s rare to build a smart city from scratch, but that’s what Vienna is doing on the site of an abandoned airfield in the outskirts of the city.

The city of Vienna ranks at or near the top of most quality-of-life list. The Economist, for instance, just put the Austrian capital in the second slot of its “Liveability Ranking,” which ranks cities based on their stability, healthcare, education, infrastructure, and culture and environment.

City planners in Vienna and local partners, however, think they can do better. An ambitious project known as Smart City Wien is underway that seeks to achieve “radical resource preservation” among other things. By 2050, Vienna is looking to reduce its per-capita greenhouse gas emissions to 80% of 1990 levels.

Vienna’s focus on the environment is clearly apparent in its plans to build a new smart city in the suburb of Aspern that was once a village and later an airfield located east of the city center. Before construction began, the city opened a metro center at the site that is a roughly 25-minute ride from the city center. The first phase of construction started in 2013 and finished a year later.

At once a construction project and a research project, the Aspern smart city initiative will make use of a smart grid, smart meters linked to a data analytics environment. “We are asking: ‘What can we do regarding intelligent infrastructure to make it even more sustainable — especially towards energy consumption?” says Gerhard Engelbrecht, Senior Scientist at Siemens AG.

The core stakeholders on the project, other than the city of Vienna, are the utility Wien Energie, network operator Wiener Netze, and Siemens, while Teradata is managing the data analytics. Siemens is focused on energy management and implementing advanced building technology. Referring to the project as a "Smart Grid Testbed," Siemens is installing prototypes of advanced transformers and advanced smart grid technologies as part of the project. In terms of smart building technology, Siemens is testing new uses of predictive optimization and data analysis including energy forecasting algorithms and predictive maintenance.

Designed as a “city within a city,” Aspern will eventually house 20,000 inhabitants by 2030, according to planners. “The planning started around 2010 and the construction work began around 2013,” Engelbrecht says. “There are already about one-third of that—around 6000 people — already living there now. The construction continues, of course, and the entire district will be finished around 2030.”

“In particular, you have a lot of potential to improve sustainability,” Engelbrecht explains. “People living in Aspern are educated [about energy consumption] and they are living in newly built houses that are erected using sustainable principles—using the appropriate materials, local construction, and smart building principles.” 

When asked about how building a new smart city from the ground up compares to retrofitting an existing one, Engelbrecht says: “Absolutely there is a benefit. When you think of retrofitting these old buildings in Vienna, there’s just no comparison to erecting a new building. Buildings that are 100 or 150 years old are an energy nightmare.”

While city planners in Vienna have ambitious plans to curb energy use, one of the central challenges during the project was to convince some of the stakeholders that investing in energy monitoring infrastructure will be worth the investment in the long term. “Also, it was a challenge to convince stakeholders to try new approaches to data analytics. By understanding data as a whole, we can do data discovery and try to find novel links that have not been yet discovered,” Engelbrecht says. 

Already, the district generates “an avalanche of monitoring information.”

Planners expect the second phase of the Aspern project to be completed by 2022 “You would have about 13,000 people living there then. And then the third phase—2030—we will have the full 20,000 people there,” Engelbrecht says. “This is a cool project. No question about that. But Vienna is growing so fast that we could use a project like Aspern every year to accommodate our growing population.” 

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