Tartu – From Hrustsovkas to Smartkovskas

Tartu, Photographer: Kerly Ilves

Tartu is home to a lot of smartness. Often called the intellectual capital of Estonia, Tartu is a town of intellectuals, scientists, creatives and students, making it a hotbed for creative and scientific culture. The nation’s most renowned university, the University of Tartu, hosts nearly 14,000 students, which makes up a good proportion of the whole population of the town – in total 100,000. This means the historic university town is always full of youth, life and new ideas which are turned into high-tech start-ups and companies.

Also known as the City of Good Thoughts, Tartu already has a good track record as a smart city. Tartu has developed its e-services and paperless administration practices for decades and has been one of the first in the world to implement many smart solutions – m-parking in 2000, public Wi-Fi throughout the city in 2000, local e-elections in 2005, city mobile applications in 2006, digital signature in 2007, a fully electric taxi service in 2012, and participative budgeting in 2013 etc.

Tartu ranks 15th in the European Smart Cities benchmark for smart people and joined the Covenant of Mayors in 2014 with the aim of promoting energy efficient solutions, the use of renewable energy and environmentally aware citizens.

In SmartEnCity, Tartu seeks to:

  • Demonstrate a comprehensive approach to retrofitting outdated panel buildings according to near zero energy standards;
  • Boost the liveability of the town through intelligent street lighting, biogas buses, electric car and bike rentals as well as charging stations and many ICT solutions;
  • Engage the citizens in creating a high quality living environment that inspires environmentally aware decisions and new patterns of behaviour.

Renewable energy in the city

As Tartu uses wood chips in district heating, the system is already almost 100% renewable as only the top load is covered from natural gas. However, in general, ca. 80% of electricity is generated from oil shale, making Estonia’s energy mix a very carbon intensive one. Tartu’s Sustainable Energy Action Plan (SEAP) sets three general strategic objectives – to decrease CO2 emissions, to consume less energy in final consumption and to increase the share of renewable energy. More specifically, the aim is to increase the share of renewable energy from 38% in 2010 to 45% in 2020. This will be achieved through a combination of measures, including:

  • Ensuring a sustainable supply of district heating and cooling that is based on Tartu’s renewable energy sources (RES);
  • Offering district cooling produced from RES in the amount of at least 52,000 MWh, reducing CO2 emissions in the cooling sector by 70%;
  • Using natural gas in heating only when using district heating, solar and geothermal energy is not possible;
  • Reducing heat energy in public buildings by 20%, while electricity is produced 100% from RES;
  • Decreasing energy consumption in the housing sector by 20%, while 10% of consumers use renewable electricity;
  • Renovating street lights so they would use electricity that is produced 100% from RES;
  • Ensuring that heating and electricity consumed in the public sector is produced almost entirely from RES;
  • Private initiative leads to installing devices that produce electricity from solar power in the amount of 2 MW.

Smart Solutions for Tartu:

  • Tartu retrofitting package
    The main idea of retrofitting activities in Tartu is to turn the Soviet-time “khrushchyovkas” into “smartovkas” that offer an energy-efficient and high-quality living environment to the pilot area residents.
  • District cooling system that uses residual heat
    The new district cooling system that will be installed in Tartu’s pilot area buildings involves a heat pump that produces heat for the district heating system by using residual heat from cooling.
  • LED lights with smart controllers
    A smart street light control system that is based on a wireless mesh technology is now installed in more than 320 new LED street lights in Tartu, including a number of detectors and sensors.
  • Public bike sharing system
    As an additional mobility solution that the City of Tartu funded itself, an electric bike sharing system was set up, including 65 parking locations spanning across the entire city for maximum use and comfort.
  • Gas buses in the whole city
    The City of Tartu has purchased 64 brand new biogas buses to serve the public transportation network – this is a major step towards the goal of making public transportation 100% based on gas in Tartu. 
  • Reusing old EV batteries
    Tartu has quite a large electric taxi fleet and seeks to repurpose these EV batteries by developing an energy storage solution that allows to partially recharge electric taxis with renewable energy that is produced on-site with PV panels.
  • Smart home solution
    In addition to the retrofitting package seeing Tartu’s pilot area buildings fully renovated, the apartments are now supplied with a smart home system that connects to the Cumulocity cloud platform and enables data exchange and monitoring.
  • Tartu smart city portal 
    Tartus’ long term vision is to build a Digital Ecosystem for city data and services by integrating various data inputs and sensor systems together into one city ICT platform, where anyone could build their own value adding services on top of the city provided platform.
  • Technical consultations and community meetings
    For the retrofitting activities to succeed in Tartu, the respective housing associations need to be engaged and supported throughout the planning and implementation process – for this, several consultation measures are used.
  • Lecture series “Planning an energy-efficient city”
    In order to disseminate expert knowledge and educate citizens on various topics that relate to the development of smart cities, a lecture series has been launched in cooperation with the University of Tartu.
  • Art solutions for pilot area buildings
    In addition to fully renovating its pilot area buildings, the City of Tartu organized an international art competition for finding artists who will create unique artworks for the pilot building facades.
  • Study on attitudes towards technologies and the environment
    The University of Tartu will conduct a study on the pilot area residents’ attitudes towards technologies and the environment, exploring aspects like environmental awareness, actual behaviour and consumption patterns.
  • Social innovation experiments
    A number of social innovation models will be experimented with in Tartu in order to facilitate behavioural change and mutual learning among the residents of the pilot area and Tartu as a whole.