Innsbruck becomes a Smart City
Of course: electricity comes out of the socket, water from the tap and all the waste we produce is magically cleared away the next day.
This works as a matter of course and hardly anyone thinks about what is behind this supply and disposal. But that doesn’t matter – the Innsbruck municipal utilities are all the more concerned about this. Not only is security of supply an issue there, but also the sustainable vision of a smart networked city in energy matters. What does that mean? For example, using the waste heat from a transformer to heat an indoor swimming pool and generating electricity and heat from biogas in the wastewater treatment plant. The IKB is at the forefront of resource conservation in Europe and has even won prizes for this.
100 percent green electricity
In 2019, the IKB brought the prestigious ASRA Award to Tirol for the third time in a row. The coveted award recognises the best sustainability reports in Austrian business. But how do you get this award? A look behind the scenes reveals more: Innsbruck’s municipal utilities generate 320,000,000 kilowatt-hours in their own power plants and supply around 80,000 households. Only green electricity from natural sources is fed into the lines – on the one hand from hydropower, on the other from photovoltaics. And it is precisely these photovoltaic plants that have arisen from a special idea.
In 2012 and 2013, the IKB approached citizens with an extraordinary offer. Two photovoltaic power plant parks with 10 plants were planned and anyone who wanted to could participate. 400 IKB customers were convinced by the ‘Innsbruck Sunshine’ project and supported its construction. With their shares, they are now independent of the development of electricity prices and have made it possible to use a sustainable energy source.
Biogas from sewage sludge
Sun, wind and hydropower: that’s what immediately comes to mind when we think of ecological and renewable energy sources. But there is more to it than that. As has been impressively demonstrated at the sewage treatment plant in Innsbruck’s Rossau since 1976. Biogas produced from sewage sludge is not simply released into the air, but converted into electricity and heat in gas engines. What comes out of it? So much that the sewage treatment plant can supply itself with energy. And the surplus heat also heats the Olympic Village indoor swimming pool and the restaurant at the Baggersee.
On the way to a smart city
This use of biogas is a good example of the goal of the so-called Sinfonia project. This EU project is about finding and developing intelligent energy and infrastructure solutions. Where and when is energy needed? Where does it occur and can it be used? Bringing all this together in a meaningful way is a huge logistical challenge. IKB plays a key role in developing solutions – after all, they are the largest industrial partner in the consortium. And that’s how ideas like this come about: In the Innsbruck Mitte substation, a large transformer works to adjust the voltages. When voltage is transformed, heat is generated. And this heat – according to the idea of the IKB technicians – should be usable. The problem is that no one had ever done it in this form before. That didn’t stop the inventive minds, and since then the large transformer has simply been heating the IKB office building in Salurnerstraße as well. ‘Such initiatives don’t come about by chance, emphasises the IKB CEO Helmuth Müller: ‘As a public company, sustainable management is not just a phrase for us, but a clear commitment.‘
Commitment and action are also evident in Innsbruck at night. At 10,000 light points throughout the city, the energy-efficient and cost-saving LED technology was switched over. This means a quarter less energy and corresponds to the electricity consumption of 650 households.
However, a sustainable energy future not only changes the public space, but also electricity management in households. Smartphones, navigation systems and PCs have digitalised our lives in many areas. In comparison, the conventional, analogue electricity meters look like museum pieces from another era. And that’s where they really come from, because the technology is a full 100 years old. That doesn’t have to be bad – but it could be much better. With the digital electricity counter ‘Smart Meter’, the energy consumption in a household is recorded conveniently and securely. Customers have the opportunity to monitor, analyse and adjust their personal consumption in a cost-saving manner. Even if one or the other may be happy about the personal visit of an IKB employee: most people will appreciate that ‘Ssmart Meters’ transmit the data digitally to the grid operator IKB and that a manual reading is no longer necessary. Concerns about data protection are unfounded, by the way. The figures are cryptographically encrypted and – if possible – sent to the IKB headquarters via dedicated lines. The system would immediately detect and report any attempts at manipulation.
However, the advantage of digital measurement technology is not only convenience. With the ‘Smart Meter’, power guzzlers can be identified just as much as devices that are unknowingly running in the background. This benefits the environment and – not least – our own pockets.
iKB is a Tyrolean success story. Lebensraum Tirol Holding, in cooperation with its subsidiaries (Tirol Tourist Board, Standortagentur Tirol and Agrarmarketing Tirol), brings special companies, projects, initiatives and people before the curtain. What they all have in common is that they play a pioneering role and act as role models for sustainability and responsible business. They contribute to the sustainability of the Tyrolean economy, society and environment and encourage the dissemination of sustainable change concepts. You can find more success stories here (in German only).