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OVERVIEW | Three times smart: Users, Buildings, and Electricity Grid

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OVERVIEW | Three times smart: Users, Buildings, and Electricity Grid

Shutterstock / Sergey Nivens


Learnings for the development of the Smartness Indicator from an Austrian research and demonstration project



by Susanne Geissler (SERA energy & resources, Vienna)



This Overview Article presents selected findings of the recently completed project SCDA – Smart City Demo Aspern with importance for the ongoing development of the Smartness Indicator.



The Smartness Indicator - Status Quo


The Clean Energy Package of the European Commission issued in November 2016 contains proposals for revising Directive 2010/31/EU on the Energy Performance of Buildings.


The proposed revision includes a Smartness Indicator that would assess the ability of buildings to:


In March 2017, a technical study was launched by DG Energy to further investigate the scope, definition and calculation of this indicator.


In Member States, research projects have been carried out in the area of Smart Cities which can provide valuable input for the development of the Smartness Indicator, such as the Austrian SCDA-project described in the next chapters.



The SCDA-project: Smart city demonstration in aspern Vienna’s Urban Lakeside


aspern Vienna’s Urban Lakeside is a new urban development area creating homes for 20,000 inhabitants and 20,000 jobs by 2028, forming a city on its own in the north-east of Vienna, Austria. Development has been based, among others, on research studies in the field of sustainable construction, energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, and smart cities (Climate and Energy Fund research and Nachhaltig Wirtschaften initiative research), and feasibility studies.



aspern Vienna’s Urban Lakeside 2012

Urban model of aspern Vienna’s Urban Lakeside


The research organisation ASCR investigated optimisation potentials emerging from the integrated analysis of energy efficiency improvements, CO₂-reduction, and better quality of life of occupants, including the related management of the low voltage grid, specifically taking into account the fluctuating availability of energy from renewable energy technologies. To this end, three SCDA-project building areas were equipped with renewable energy technologies and building automation systems. 


The research also addressed the question whether and how the building sector could participate in the electricity market, e.g., by providing balancing services for stabilising the electricity grid. For instance, if there is plenty of solar power available, heat pumps running on electricity will start operation for heating water which is then stored in insulated tanks until needed by users. The company operating the building services installations including energy systems and building automation will sell this “flexibility” or balancing service to the grid operator (see Ecofys study and research study on Distributed Energy Resources). It was the objective of the project to investigate all details to make this idea operational under real life conditions in Austria.


Research was on a multi-unit residential building with 213 apartments, Vienna’s largest school campus with nursery groups for over 200 children, and a dormitory offering 313 living units on more than 7,000 m². Buildings are equipped with different types of heat pumps and energy storages, photovoltaic modules, solar thermal modules and hybrid modules, low-temperature underfloor heating, mechanical ventilation, and a building energy management system connected to all components.



Dormitory 2014 Residential building 2014


One objective of the project was to analyse energy consumption data at household level in the residential building. Due to strict data privacy rules, it was a prerequisite to receive a written permission from households to include them in the project. User involvement activities resulted in 111 households (>50%) participating in the project.


The investigated flats were equipped with a monitoring and control system which could form the basis for future standard systems becoming obligatory in multi-unit residential buildings in order to participate in the electricity market.


User involvement measures included newsletters, parties, simple instructions for use of equipment, seminars, peer support, and most importantly, regular opportunities called Open Door Event to discuss with the research team.



Findings with importance for the development of the Smartness Indicator


The Open Door Events were initially intended as a service for occupants in case of questions related to e.g. controlling the under floor heating, mechanical ventilation and stand-by management system. However, many of the questions raised during those events referred to lack of quality of the works, e.g. wrong connection of heating valves, and even to bad design, e.g., inappropriate placement of sensors. Reports about problems due to lack of quality of the works were passed to the building owner and fixed as part of the warranty procedure.


Bad quality of building design and lack of quality of the works affecting the energy performance of the building might also affect business models based on the participation of buildings in the electricity market. Specifically, occupants reported problems with overheating in the summer season, resulting in the installation of cooling devices running on electricity, although, according to the requirements of the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), residential buildings must be designed in a way that overheating does not occur. In contrast to other countries such as Belgium/Flemish region, the Energy Performance Certificates in Austria are not yet fit for use as a quality control tool for checking as-built energy performance of buildings.


Overall, observations during the study led to the conclusion that, without the Open Door Events, some construction defects would probably not have been detected because occupants would not have paid attention.


Lessons learnt from the SCDA-project for the development of the Smartness Indicator are:


  • Occupants’ interest in saving energy is low, while interest in saving cost is high. This is the conclusion of a study published on Energy Policy in 2013 and it is also confirmed by the results of the user research carried out by the SCDA-project.
  • Results show that appropriate building automation is more important than individual user empowerment in order to support energy saving user behavior.   
  • Buildings were regarded as black boxes with defined properties. However, the as-built situation deviates from what is stated in the building documents including in the EPC.
  • Non-energy properties of building installations such as noise of mechanical ventilation systems jeopardise the intended use and thus the planned energy balance.  

The findings from the SDCA-project are especially valuable because activities took place under real life conditions. Usual procedures were applied to populate the examined build-up areas, and no difference was made because of the research activities.





The Smartness Indicator could support the energy sector in identifying buildings “ready” to participate in the electricity market. However, it will be necessary to clearly communicate what “readiness” actually means:


1. The theoretical readiness of the building to participate in demand response, etc., because on paper, the building is equipped with some basic ICT elements and/or renewable energy technologies.


2. The practical readiness of the building to participate in demand response, etc., because the as-built situation complies with defined criteria that the building must meet in order to participate in the energy market.


The QUALICHeCK project, which was completed in February 2017, showed that in some Member States the Energy Performance Certificate does not present reliable as-built information.


It is important to have this problem in mind when developing the Smartness Indicator, in order to come up with an indicator which is meaningful and useful throughout Europe. It should offer a true benefit for linking the building sector with the energy sector by supporting the electricity sector effectively in identifying buildings fit for providing balancing services, in order to tap the full energy efficiency potential.


All results from the SCDA-project are publicly available in a report which can be retrieved from the project management. The report is in German language but contains references to articles published in English elsewhere.  



All pictures: © Susanne Geissler


The author Susanne Geissler was part of the project team and involved in user research.


The project SCDA - Smart City Demo Aspern received funding from the Austrian Research Promotion Agency FFG – Forschungsförderungsgesellschaft. Project duration was April 2014 until September 2017. It is planned to continue research activities until the end of 2018, and beyond with an enlarged programme. More information is available at: