The neighborhood as a sustainable source of energy

UAS Technikum Wien conducts research into PlusEnergy neighborhoods worth living in and focuses on the needs of residents

- Interdisciplinary approach to sustainable neighborhood research
- Integration into teaching: results flow immediately into teaching so as to train specialists with the latest findings

 

In order to achieve the climate and energy goals, both the energy supply of buildings and the integration of sustainable mobility must become more sustainable, safe and affordable. Buildings account for ten percent of Austria’s total greenhouse gas emissions and traffic for 29 percent. UAS Technikum Wien, the largest purely technical university of applied sciences in Austria, has been spearheading research into sustainable energy generation for several years. In the current three-year research project “Competence team for PlusEnergy neighborhoods worth living in (KoLPEQ)”, it has been pursuing an interdisciplinary approach and focusing on the needs and involvement of residents.

“The technologies for the sustainable use and production of energy already exist. Where we have some catching up to do is the active involvement of users. We can plan, measure and research, but ultimately the success depends on the application. In this research project, we have for the first time chosen an interdisciplinary approach that takes a holistic view of PlusEnergy neighborhoods. Based on what is possible in terms of technology, we increasingly involve residents in order to make individual lives more visible and ultimately to increase their quality of life,” says Kurt Leonhartsberger, head of the Energy Systems and Power Electronics competence field at UAS Technikum Wien.

KoLPEQ: Research for a better quality of life and lower energy consumption

With the support of the City of Vienna, UAS Technikum Wien is setting up a three-year research project with KoLPEQ (Kompetenzteam für lebenswerte Plusenergiequartiere – Competence Team for PlusEnergy Neighborhoods Worth Living In), which focuses on the quality of life and sustainability of future buildings and neighborhoods. Research is carried out on construction projects in planning as well as on existing neighborhoods. From a technological point of view, this involves the use of photovoltaic systems, heat pumps, geothermal probes as seasonal heat accumulators or smart grid applications. The challenge, however, lies not in the use of individual technologies, but in their smart interaction. The aim of the research is to develop models and methods that can map the complex level of interconnectivity.

“In KoLPEQ, it is not the building itself that is the focus of research, but rather the neighborhood with offices, shops and apartments. These actors need energy at different times that can be produced and exchanged locally. The interaction of the residents and the buildings with the technological offering is important for the smart interaction. The residents are assigned a new essential role by being able to actively participate in a ‘sharing economy’ for energy and mobility,” says project manager Simon Schneider from UAS Technikum Wien.

The planning and conversion of existing buildings is different. “On the one hand, the make-up of the building itself has to be examined and, on the other hand, the residents have to be convinced with numerous arguments for investments in a sustainable energy supply,” Schneider continues. “Our experience shows that there is often a substantial need for information here and that the residents need to be persuaded. But this is definitely where the greatest potential lies. In a non-refurbished “Gründerzeit” house, at least 80 percent of the heating energy can be saved. The rate of renovation in Vienna, however, is currently only 0.4 percent per year, as well as the national average. Two to three percent would be necessary.”

 

Interdisciplinary approach to sustainable neighborhood research

Implementing PlusEnergy neighborhoods usually begins with an analysis of technical and economic feasibility as well as the legal framework and urban planning requirements for the quality of life. The KoLPEQ research team was expanded to include aspects of social science so as to consider more closely the view and the new role of the users overall. Acceptance on the part of the residents with regard to space-saving measures for highly efficient renovations or digital networking is often low, and the reasons for this are manifold. In PlusEnergy neighborhoods, they can also become part of a “sharing economy” for energy and mobility.

“Implementation often fails because of the resistance of the residents, who are more concerned with interpersonal and everyday concerns than with technological solutions,” says Kurt Leonhartsberger, drawing on his many years of experience with other projects. “As an engineer, you become aware of many different aspects by involving residents – aspects that are highly relevant for the user but have not been on the radar before, from the point of view of the technologies.” In KoLPEQ, the residents are integrated by means of workshops, qualitative individual interviews, questionnaires and events with social science support.

 

Integration into teaching: results flow immediately into teaching so as to train specialists with the latest findings

Research on and implementation of PlusEnergy neighborhoods are very pertinent topics, as they offer enormous potential for sustainable energy use, and thus also a reduction of CO2 emissions. Accordingly, the demand for specialists in integrative urban planning, neighborhood management, property developers, consultants and specialist planners is high. It is therefore planned that the results of KoLPEQ will be incorporated in the form of recommendations for action for further neighborhoods on the one hand, and integrated into teaching at UAS Technikum Wien on the other.

“Integrating new findings into an existing curriculum is often a lengthy process. With KoLPEQ, we are pursuing a new approach where we want to integrate the results quickly into teaching. The demand from industry for specialists with this know-how is high, hence we want to train our students using the latest research findings,” says Leonhartsberger in conclusion.

Another important goal of KoLPEQ is to plan an interdisciplinary summer academy on the subject of PlusEnergy neighborhoods worth living in. Here, students of master’s degrees in spatial planning, architecture, building and energy technologies, as well as sociology and computer science form interdisciplinary teams for the respective revitalization projects. 

In Austria, there are already over 37,000 jobs in the renewable energy sector (source: BMLFUW [Austrian Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management]). Internationally, the trend is even stronger: the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) is forecasting a 60 percent increase in global employment in the renewable energy sector from around 9.8 million (as of 2016) to 24 million by 2030.

 

Research at UAS Technikum Wien in numbers

UAS Technikum Wien is one of the universities of applied sciences with the highest level of research activity in Austria. In the 2017/18 academic year, the positive development of R&D seen over the past five years continued. The total financial volume of research activities reached a new record of EUR 5.8 million. Of this total, EUR 4.4 million came from third-party funds, i.e. funds provided by external research partners. The number of research projects completed rose to 118. Over the past five years, the amount of R&D funds raised has increased by 63 percent. The funded research activities of UAS Technikum Wien concentrate on the five main areas of Embedded Systems & Cyber-Physical Systems, Renewable Urban Energy Systems, Secure Services, eHealth & Mobility, Tissue Engineering & Molecular Life Science Technologies, and Automation & Robotics.  

In the sphere of Renewable Urban Energy Systems, around 30 research and contract projects are currently being carried out. Among other things, the research projects deal with user-oriented energy systems, smart grid applications, photovoltaics or the building as a power plant. Further information is available at