Lighthouse solutions for urban sustainability

Horizon 2020 project STARDUST helps European cities become smart and sustainable

Giulio Mazzolo

Today’s urban sprawl can easily be summed up by one figure – 75% – which corresponds to the EU’s urban population. It is easy to imagine the resulting high level of resources used and the devastating effects on the environment. The solution? Transforming our cities into smart and sustainable innovation hubs by using the latest findings in the fields of energy, transport and information and communication technology (ICT). This is what STARDUST is all about.

STARDUST is an EU-funded project run by an interdisciplinary consortium of 30 organisations from research, academia and industry, led by the Spanish Renewable Energy Centre CENER. They are making its three “Lighthouse” cities of Pamplona (Spain), Tampere (Finland) and Trento (Italy) more sustainable and citizen-friendly with more than one hundred technological urban solutions.

To ensure wider impact of the project, the approach demonstrated needs to be replicated. Four “Follower” cities – Cluj-Napoca (Romania), Derry (UK), Kozani (Greece), and Litomerice (Czech Republic) – are sharing and refining a replication methodology in their own contexts. This will trigger a cascade effect across other cities and communities through the “JOIN STARDUST” programme, delivering a holistic replication model throughout the continent and beyond.

The STARDUST team also works to ensure the measures are well accepted and adopted. To do so, they raise public awareness about the project and they develop pioneering business models and financial schemes. All these actions will thus turn the seven STARDUST cities into urban incubators of technological, social, regulatory and market solutions for other interested cities around the world.

Holistic solutions

In the STARDUST approach, technical solutions will be provided in the energy, mobility and ICT sectors while business models and citizen engagement activities will directly address policy makers, industry, academia and the general public. Together, these technical and non-technical measures form a new and holistic way to help towns and cities in their green efforts.

Energy: To reduce energy consumption, the project will introduce better technology, methods and materials. This can include retrofitting existing buildings and installing innovative heating and cooling systems to improve residents’ comfort. Dedicated protocols and user-designed interfaces for smart grids and storage systems will allow residents and energy providers to monitor and manage energy usage. Data will also be shared between users and other stakeholders. Finally, renewable energy sources and smarter energy storage systems and lighting materials are being introduced to provide energy to the ­cities (see, for example, figure 1).

Figure 1: Installation of a prototype Plug&Play solar roof on the Municipal Police building in Pamplona (Spain). The panels will provide energy for self-consumption and are connected to recycled batteries for energy storage

Mobility: The main objective for mobility is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. More efficient means of transport and alternative fuels are urgently needed in Europe to safeguard the environment and break its large dependence on oil. STARDUST is working on the deployment of electric vehicles, such as e-buses (see figure 2) and sharable e-bikes, and on the installation of the related charging stations and vehicle-to-grid infrastructures. Different types of incentives will be introduced by the Lighthouse cities to encourage the use of electric vehicles, together with the implementation of dedicated last-mile delivery strategies.

Figure 2: In Tampere, measuring devices have been installed in four electric buses and one hybrid bus to help monitor electricity consumption. The data will be used, for example, for route planning and the electrification of public transport. The charging station is located near the city center in Pyynikintori square. Due to winter conditions, there is heating under the asphalt of the charging station. Credits: Anna Vilhula e Angelique Lusuan.

ICT: Innovative information and communication technologies offer opportunities for the digital (r)evolution in cities. In the STARDUST Lighthouse cities, ICT links urban infrastructures, city managers and end users through real-time information. The three cities will install an extensive set of ICT solutions, such as: smart city apps (for access to different city services); “smart points” equipped with sensors to obtain a range of data (on weather, air quality, traffic congestion, behavioural patterns, etc.); a green light optimization system with bilateral communication with cars; smart control and management of public lighting; and street monitoring by citizens via adapted smartphones. Moreover, STARDUST will deploy open city information platforms, which are ICT infrastructures combining all project aspects (building, energy and transport). These platforms will enable the project to achieve its social innovation strategy, business ecosystem and behavioural change goals. More specifically, the platforms will: i) make city data and services available to local industries, entrepreneurs, SMEs, and other third parties, which will encourage innovative businesses and offers; ii) promote the interoperability and interchangeability of existing and newly deployed software components, data sources and services; iii) bridge the digital divide by getting people and businesses to participate throughout the project; iv) increase the number of cities, people and sectors involved or reached; v) help Lighthouse and Follower cities share knowledge and solutions, thus getting them to work and innovate together.

Citizen engagement: New technologies, services and ICT devices don’t, in themselves, make a city smart. Cities are their inhabitants, and to transform the cities we need to change their habits. People need to be involved so they can ensure the project’s measures are user-friendly and likely to be accepted. STARDUST is therefore keen to focus on both raising awareness and engaging actively with residents (see figure 3).

Figure 3: Presentation of STARDUST during the 3rd edition of the Trento Smart City Week (16 – 22 September 2019), an event that aimed to bring smart solutions close to citizens.

Expected impacts

In each Lighthouse city, the interventions will reduce greenhouse gas emissions up to approximately 60{b28ae05319d94bff0b4d65c5a9f4524dd588360f05c61ef440e1608e0a1c4144} and increase both renewable energy share and energy savings by the same amount. This will improve residents’ quality of life and ensure an economically viable and prosperous business environment. In terms of return on investment, the bankability of the solutions is expected to rise from a typical value of 4{b28ae05319d94bff0b4d65c5a9f4524dd588360f05c61ef440e1608e0a1c4144} up to 40{b28ae05319d94bff0b4d65c5a9f4524dd588360f05c61ef440e1608e0a1c4144}, with payback times dropping from 16-30 years to 2-7 years. In the Lighthouse cities, STARDUST interventions will also lead to new local jobs in the sectors of the solutions implemented. User-driven solutions, such as the active participation of prosumers and easy, efficient transport, will lower energy bills and lead to other savings and better environmental quality.


Over the next two years, STARDUST will complete the roll-out of its solutions. For greater impact, the project will remain active in the network of Smart City projects. In fact, STARDUST is not alone in the mission to revolutionise the European urban landscapes. Since 2014, 16 similar EU-funded projects have been performed, covering some 100 cities. Today, this network spans the continent, shaping the urban future of Europe and the world.

Further information

The STARDUST project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement number 774094. You can find more information on STARDUST at