8 min read
Smart City: how intelligent is Bolzano?
2020-09-25 2020-09-25 25 September 2020 - Gabriele Crepaz
8 min read

The Sinfonia research project which ends in June 2020, aims to transform the two pilot cities, Bolzano and Innsbruck, into smart and energy-efficient living spaces. Five European cities are ready to take inspiration from the best practices. Why is the success of SINFONIA only the first step for Bolzano to become a Smart City, and what does Bolzano need to truly achieve carbon neutrality? A critical summary.

Bolzano wants to count in the future, because even now it is already a step ahead. "We are online!" says Daniele Vettorato. Together with Innsbruck, Bolzano is part of the network of European cities which want to promote the urban future by becoming a smart city. So it is appropriate that the researcher of Eurac Research and I are meeting outside in the green area of NOI Techpark in Bolzano. It is late January, the sun is hot, and the smell of spring is already in the air. Confidence in change, which is unstoppable but still seems to be full of gaps, is perhaps the most important result of the Sinfonia research project, which ends in June 2020 and marks the beginning of a new way-of-life in a medium-sized city. 

The repercussions of Sinfonia: new knowledge of innovative processes?

We must act quickly.  “We are too slow.  By continuing at this rate, Bolzano will not reach carbon neutrality by 2050” warns Vettorato, coordinator of Sinfonia for the South Tyrolean capital.  So, what to do?

We need to work harder, faster, in a more targeted, tested and coordinated way.  Sinfonia has acquired experience for this very reason.  A project launched in 2014 with 23 partners from eight different countries and with a clear task: to efficiently and intelligently use energy in cities.  After six years, it has become evident how the project involves many more areas: "In the city, therefore, among designers, artisans and administrative structures there is now a new knowledge of innovative processes", Vettorato emphasises "We hope that this culture will become a  model for all”.

Three measurable objectives: building renovation, the city's energy network, and smart points

Sinfonia has set and achieved three concrete objectives in Bolzano.  All three measurable.  The highlight: the energy rehabilitation of nine social housing buildings in the Don Bosco and Oltrisarco-Aslago districts, in Bolzano. Translated into figures, we are talking about 30,000 square meters and 345 apartments.  About a thousand tenants were involved, in the true sense of the word:  throughout the entire construction period they continued to live in their apartments.  "For the very first time we tested how to organise a quick construction site and it worked," proudly says the researcher, reporting that the planned energy savings of 50% in the refurbished buildings were exceeded.  "At the moment, we are measuring primary energy savings of 80%".  20% of the energy is now produced using renewable energy sources such as photovoltaics, solar thermal and geothermal energy.  Vettorato admits that "it was not a particularly ambitious goal".

Objective number two: The South Tyrolean energy service provider Alperia has expanded and optimised the city's district heating network.  For example, in the future a boiler engine is going to be operated on a mix of methane gas and locally produced hybrid hydrogen, thereby reducing nitrogen oxide emissions by 40%.

Objective number three: 150 sensors, so-called smart points, were installed in the city. These sensors collect data on air quality, traffic and temperature.  They help the city administration and police make decisions to make the mobility of Bolzano flow and improve the quality of life. Three totems, interactive service poles, are still missing. Those are going to be implemented in strategic areas in May (in a town square, in an underground car park and on a cycle path) and provide people with information and services such as WiFi access or electric charging stations for bicycles and cars.

Big data in Bolzano: sensors are like fingers to feel the city better.

The visible signs of Sinfonia hide what is the real fulcrum of the project which will transform Bolzano into a smart city: the monitoring of the services and data made available.  "Data provides us with knowledge, and now more than ever, we need this knowledge to act successfully and respect the environment".  Vettorato compares these sensors, with which some renovated apartments and 150 places in the city have been equipped, with companies thanks to which the city becomes more sensitive:

"We feel the city even more."

In the nine buildings that have obtained the CasaClima A certificate, the domestic well-being of the residents is currently being tested.  For this purpose, one hundred apartments have been equipped with sensors.  How do people feel when they can no longer open their windows, the temperature adjusts itself and the air change occurs automatically?  "Through sensors we see, in real time, how people behave, and this is an indication of how comfortable people feel in their flats", explains researcher Vetturato.

So, on one hand, the data helps to keep the electricity bill low. On the other hand, the data is evaluated anonymously in order to make progress in research. "We are currently learning what parameters could be established in future for the rehabilitation of large residential complexes” - says architect Ilaria M. Brauer of  CasaClima agency in Bolzano – “We are trying to understand how to save as much energy as possible, even if the people in a house have different needs and economic possibilities”.  Within the SINFONIA project, the agency checked the quality of the refurbishments and awarded the renovated buildings the CasaClima A quality seal.

Zero climate impact?  We need to step up the pace and renovate four out of 100 multi-storey housing estates every year.

That sounds easy, but it is actually a milestone. While it may be viewed with scepticism for many, it is urgently required. Today, 80% of people live in cities and the energy-efficient renovation of large residential buildings, with minimal impact on residents, is a must in the race for carbon neutrality.  "Otherwise we are not reaching the goal by 2050", warns Vettorato, the project owner of Sinfonia.

We are lagging behind anyways. Not only in Bolzano, but also elsewhere.  Every year we need to renovate 4 out of 100 multi-storey buildings, Vettorato estimates: "At the moment we have reached 1.5 houses." Considering that in the meantime the earth's temperature continues to rise and that the deadline is getting closer, it shows: "From now on, more than four large buildings need to be renovated every year". And this just in Bolzano.

A new culture of innovation: knowledge exchange, data sharing and scalable solutions

The Sinfonia project forces politicians, administrators, planners and researchers to act.  In addition to the energy objectives, the project demonstrated how coordination processes and knowledge exchange between the various stakeholders can be accelerated, what value data sharing has, and how companies bringing innovative ad hoc solutions to the market take advantage of it.  Vettorato takes all of this into account when he defines SINFONIA as a success: "An incredible effort, but a success that brings a lot of attention and respect for Bolzano to the European network of smart cities"

Five European cities are eagerly awaiting the results of Bolzano and Innsbruck.   As so-called early adopters, they are also part of the project and can now learn from the experiences and achievements of the two pilot cities. “We are going to support Rosenheim in Bavaria in preparing an energy roadmap. Borås, Sweden, is interested in the remediation technology we developed using prefabricated facade components. And in Paphos, Cyprus, they want to apply our knowledge of thermal insulation to summer cooling systems”, explains Vettorato.

Now it important to continue with the same spirit. “The renovation is worthwhile. We have to make people understand this.” Therefore, in South Tyrol, the cubature bonus is valid until June: those who carry out an energy renovation can add a floor to the existing building. “With current real estate prices in Bolzano, the entire refurbishment pays off when you sell the property.” What if we could look towards the future with a better conscience? Let us start doing the math.


The Sinfonia research project started in 2014 and is going to successfully conclude in June 2020. The project, together with 23 partners from eight different countries, has set itself the goal of making the districts of the pilot cities, Bolzano and Innsbruck, more energy efficient and giving the residents a better quality of life. For this purpose, 345 apartments in Bolzano have been redeveloped from an energy and architectural point of view. The district heating network has been expanded and optimised. 150 smart points distributed throughout the city regularly provide data on weather, air quality and traffic flows. Five early adopter cities - La-Rochelle (France), Rosenheim (Germany), Paphos (Cyprus) Seville (Spain) and Borås (Sweden) – are now going to be able to make use of the new discoveries and solutions and tailor them to their respective needs.

A budget of 70 million Euros has been allocated for the entire project and about 27 million are co-financed by the EU. Eurac Research, the institute for renewable energy, is coordinating the project in Bolzano. Other South Tyrolean partners are the Municipality of Bolzano, the institute for social housing IPES, the CasaClima agency and the energy supplier Alperia.