Fifteen of 17 "smartovka" murals for Tartu's SmartEnCity smart city project have been completed and the remaining two should be finished next year. ERR News spoke to city council coordinator Raimond Tamm about the ambitious project and its future.
SmartEnCity or the Smart Tartu (Tark Tartu) was launched in 2015 and is part of the European Commission's Horizon 2020 program to fund ambitious projects aiming to become more energy efficient, inclusive and smart. Tartu is one of three cities taking part, alongside Victoria-Gasteiz in Spain and Sonderborg in Denmark.
Tartu has retrofitted city center Soviet-era apartment buildings into zero energy dwellings, constructed a new district cooling plant, created a public bike sharing system, deployed new biogas city buses and installed smart LED street lights.
SmartEnCity's goal is to make the city environment smart and sustainable, to inspire people to make environmentally conscious decisions and to be easily replicable in other European cities as well.
The project should finish next year so ERR News asked Tartu City Government's SmartEnCity coordinator Raimond Tamm, a deputy major of Tartu, what there is left to do and how the project has been received so far.
Tamm said a lot has happened in the last 18 months.
The bike share scheme was introduced in June 2019 and is currently being regularly used by approximately 8,000 people. Tamm said it has performed "over our expectations" and it "has been a really big success".
Statistics show the total number of kilometers ridden on the bikes is 3.84 million and that the total number of trips so far has been 1.42 million. The average distance covered in a single trip is 2.7 kilometers. Tartu has a population of slightly less than 100,000.
There are now plans to expand the scheme outside of the city center and there has already been interest from other municipalities about how the scheme works or how it could be replicated elsewhere.
In July 2019, Tartu unveiled a brand new fleet of CNG gas buses and since January 2020 they all run of biogas which reduces the environmental impact from transportation.
But the majority of the work that has taken place last year, Tamm said, concerns the smartovkas.
The apartment retrofitting activities are one of the biggest and most important parts of the project. The aim is to take the old buildings and convert them from Class F and H to fit the Class A energy efficient category - the highest possible. Funding for the project comes from the European Union and tenant associations have taken out loans.
The Soviet-era buildings were selected because they were built throughout the Soviet Union during the 1950s, 60s and 70s as temporary housing and are nearing the end of their lifecycle. This means something needs to be done with these buildings in the near future to make them safe.
The name smartovkas is a riff on khrushchyovka, which is a nickname for the apartments built when Nikita Khrushchev was premier of the Soviet Union. They were not designed to be energy efficient.
Last winter, retrofitting activities took place and now 17 apartment blocks have been completed. They received new insulation, windows and ventilation systems, central heating systems and solar panels. Each apartment has also been fitted with a smart home system which will allow residents to monitor and control their own energy consumption for the first time. They will also each receive a mural from local artists, which have now mostly been completed.
Tartu's idea is that if their buildings can be altered and improved, then so can others. A key part of the project is replication, and there has already been interest from other Estonian municipalities and abroad. However, first the data is needed to show the project has succeeded.
Tamm said this should be available next year. As most of the retrofitting activities was carried out last winter data will be compared with this winter to see how much energy has been saved. Tamm estimated the project should save each apartment block two thirds of the energy it currently uses, saving residents money in the long run.
He said the smart system, which was brand new and developed for the apartment blocks, is also being "fine tuned" but apart from that, Tartu's part of the project is almost over.
Read more about the project here. Below is a map of where the smartovkas and their murals can be seen in Tartu.
Editor: Helen Wright