Tartu – From Hrustsovkas to Smartkovskas

Tartu, Photographer: Kerly Ilves

Tartu is home to a lot of smartness. Often called the intellectual capital of Estonia, Tartu is a town of intellectuals, scientists, creatives and students, making it a hotbed for creative and scientific culture. The nation’s most renowned university, the University of Tartu, hosts nearly 14,000 students, which makes up a good proportion of the whole population of the town – in total 100,000. This means the historic university town is always full of youth, life and new ideas which are turned into high-tech start-ups and companies.

Also known as the City of Good Thoughts, Tartu already has a good track record as a smart city. Tartu has developed its e-services and paperless administration practices for decades and has been one of the first in the world to implement many smart solutions – m-parking in 2000, public Wi-Fi throughout the city in 2000, local e-elections in 2005, city mobile applications in 2006, digital signature in 2007, a fully electric taxi service in 2012, and participative budgeting in 2013 etc.

Tartu ranks 15th in the European Smart Cities benchmark for smart people and joined the Covenant of Mayors in 2014 with the aim of promoting energy efficient solutions, the use of renewable energy and environmentally aware citizens.

In SmartEnCity, Tartu seeks to:

  • Demonstrate a comprehensive approach to retrofitting outdated panel buildings according to near zero energy standards;
  • Boost the liveability of the town through intelligent street lighting, biogas buses, electric car and bike rentals as well as charging stations and many ICT solutions;
  • Engage the citizens in creating a high quality living environment that inspires environmentally aware decisions and new patterns of behaviour.

Renewable energy in the city

As Tartu uses wood chips in district heating, the system is already almost 100% renewable as only the top load is covered from natural gas. However, in general, ca. 80% of electricity is generated from oil shale, making Estonia’s energy mix a very carbon intensive one. Tartu’s Sustainable Energy Action Plan (SEAP) sets three general strategic objectives – to decrease CO2 emissions, to consume less energy in final consumption and to increase the share of renewable energy. More specifically, the aim is to increase the share of renewable energy from 38% in 2010 to 45% in 2020. This will be achieved through a combination of measures, including:

  • Ensuring a sustainable supply of district heating and cooling that is based on Tartu’s renewable energy sources (RES);
  • Offering district cooling produced from RES in the amount of at least 52,000 MWh, reducing CO2 emissions in the cooling sector by 70%;
  • Using natural gas in heating only when using district heating, solar and geothermal energy is not possible;
  • Reducing heat energy in public buildings by 20%, while electricity is produced 100% from RES;
  • Decreasing energy consumption in the housing sector by 20%, while 10% of consumers use renewable electricity;
  • Renovating street lights so they would use electricity that is produced 100% from RES;
  • Ensuring that heating and electricity consumed in the public sector is produced almost entirely from RES;
  • Private initiative leads to installing devices that produce electricity from solar power in the amount of 2 MW.

Main Project Results in Tartu:

                                                   Table: Tartu impact at city level.

Energy Efficiency/Retrofitting:

  • Overall, 18 buildings with 664 apartments and 35 218 m2 (net area) of space (34402 m2 of heated space after retrofitting) were refurbished. 
  • Approximately 1500 people benefitted from retrofitting. 
  • Average energy performance increased by 60% with retrofitting. 
  • Total energy demand was reduced by 36%, space heating energy consumption was reduced by 54%.
  •  Buildings emitted 2040 tCO2 annually before retrofitting, after renovation annual CO2 emissions are 980 tCO2. 
  • Emission of energy sources used in the buildings were reduced by 52%. 
  • In addition to saved energy and emission factor change, approximately 430 tCO2 energy savings is coming from renewable electricity exported to grid. 
  • In total 18 PV-stations were installed with peak power of 554 kWp.
  • Comfort level – indoor air quality standards achieved (II indoor climate class by standard EVS-EN 15251), thermal comfort. This is based on residents’ opinion.

                                                 Table: Results of main goals of retrofitting actions


  • Five new public 50kW fast EV charging stations have been installed in public locations to cover the demand generated by the future EVs (rentals, taxis and private use). 
  • There have been 8098 recharges in the amount of 125 100 kWh in an average year. 
  • Next, old batteries from EV’s can be reused for storing energy. EV taxis of private company OÜ Takso are partially recharged with the renewable energy that is produced on site with PV panels (300m2) and stored in old EV batteries. 
  • 60 new biogas buses are serving Tartu citizens, which means that from 2020 onwards 100% of public transportation buses run on biogas. The annual capacity of the regular public transportation service is currently 3.6 million line kilometres. 
  • Last but not least, bike-share system was implemented and it is a real success story in Tartu. From the start (June 2019), there have been almost 3 million rides and over 7 million kms cycled with bike-share bikes. Bike sharing is mainly addressed to people who need to travel 2-5 km and it is a great alternative to driving a car. There are 300 e-bikes available for rental.


Tartu’s smart city portal (CIOP) is based on IoT technologies collecting city level, building level and personalized apartment level data to one same platform. More than 2800 HEMS, 18 BEMs, 321 smart lightning equipment, all mobility actions (buses, bicycles, EV recharges) and traffic sensors integrated to the CIOP. There are 12 open data datasets available in the smart city portal.                                                                       

For more details on interventions, click here: Smart City Solutions in Tartu