Update on EU research on energy efficient built environments

The European Commission funds research on a lot of important thematic areas, and in recent years the themes of sustainability and participatory approaches have received a lot of attention. This has made way for companies like Experientia to participate in research projects, as part of project consortiums with research and industry bodies from around Europe.

CITYOPT is just such a project. The consortium, in addition to Experientia, comprises research centres, cities, and energy utilities from Finland, Austria and France. The project aim is to develop applications and foster new partnerships between city leaders and stakeholders to optimize energy use in delicate urban environments.

Experientia has been leading the Demonstration work package, in charge of user research activities and user and stakeholder involvement. The project is currently underway, with research completed in Nice, Côte d’Azur Métropole (France), Helsinki, Finland, and Vienna, Austria.

Helsinki, Finland. One of the contextual interviews with the Kalasatama district's stakeholders.
Helsinki, Finland. One of the contextual interviews with the Kalasatama district’s stakeholders.

The CITYOPT project (Holistic simulation and optimization of energy systems in Smart Cities), started in February 2014 and will end in January 2017.

The project team consists of a consortium of 7 companies, aimed at improving sustainability by enabling more energy-efficient built environments. The CITYOPT consortium gathers project partners from 4 European countries, including research institutes, cities, energy utilities and a design studio:

Helsinki, Finland. Business models workshop with Östersundom stakeholders.
Helsinki, Finland. Business models workshop with Östersundom stakeholders.

The specific project targets are to engage users with the new CITYOPT applications, create new partnerships connecting city leaders and stakeholders and create new business models for decision support systems for energy efficient neighbourhoods.
The project will create a set of applications and related guidelines to support planning, detailed design and operation of energy systems in urban districts. The project addresses energy system optimisation in different life cycle phases, focusing on specific potential for optimisation and user & stakeholder involvement characteristics. 3 case studies in different climate zones demonstrate solutions: Helsinki, Finland; Vienna, Austria; Nice Côte d’Azur, France.

Nice, France. Contextual interviews at a dweller's flat.
Nice, France. Contextual interviews at a dweller’s flat.

Experientia, leader of the Demonstration work package, organises and conducts the user research activities and the user and stakeholder involvement. To date, Experientia has conducted a series of user research studies in the three pilot cities aimed at understanding the local contexts, end-users’ mental models and common behaviours, and involving the stakeholders in the business model definition. These activities included 15 contextual interviews, 3 participatory workshops, 3 business model workshops, 1 design ideation workshop, a session of contextual observations and an online survey. These activities involved city planners, utility companies, energy distributors, product and automation technology suppliers, facility managers, office workers, dwellers, and domain experts from the project consortium.

Vienna, Austria. The moderator describes how to execute an exercise during a participatory workshop.
Vienna, Austria. The moderator describes how to execute an exercise during a participatory workshop.

The results of the user research were analysed by Experientia’s research team and constitutes the starting point for defining the information and system requirements of a set of applications focused on real people’s expectations.

In the upcoming project months, Experientia will support the design of the CITYOPT application user interfaces. Experientia’s efforts will focus on the design and front-end development of a community-based application for the Nice Côte d’Azur residents, France, to support energy demand response scenarios. The application will be tested by 50 families, and their valuable feedback will play an essential role in improving the application UI and features, and to validate the project results.