Aleksandar Jovanovic: Geothermal energy as a force in urban redevelopment


Aleksandar Jovanovic’s career was inspired by his dual interest in natural science and the arts. Having competed in contests involving physics, music, geography, and ecology, he eventually chose a career in science – specifically, civil engineering and architecture. Here, he has found opportunities to “integrate [an] ethnographic approach to technology and develop novel methods in architectural research.”

The studies described on Jovanovic’s poster entailed questionnaires/interviews with experts – engineers, planners, architects, decision makers, researchers, and academics – associated with particular projects in renewable (esp. geothermal) energy. “The concept was to start with countries and their cities that have been utilizing geothermal for a number of years,” he explains, “especially, to see their experiences and learn from them.” His open-ended questions focus on each project’s: a) description, financing, and benefits for the specific community; b) relation to the city and to regional planning and development; c) relation to historical background of the “built environment.” His approach employed comparative analysis of different case study cities.

The four case studies dealt with projects located in:  

  • Altheim and Braunau/Simbach, Austria/Germany – towns of about 5,000 and 25,000 people, and site of the Altheim Project in which a geothermal plant produces electricity and heat for many town buildings; Braunau and Simbach share geothermal utilization across the border;  
  • Reykjavik, Iceland – a city of nearly 130,000 whose pioneering use of geothermal energy, due to its geological setting, sharply reduces the need for fossil fuels and cuts CO2 production;  
  • Nis, Serbia – a city of nearly 200,000, whose challenges include integrating use of geothermal energy in an established urban environment, and concerns for the city’s architectural heritage;
  • Utica, New York, US -- a city of 61,000, whose past industrial success and growth were built on fossil fuels; nevertheless, programs to incentivize geothermal energy use are welcomed, especially if they help to preserve Utica’s architectural heritage and enhance livability.

Altheim and Reykjavik both offer extensive material for advanced analyses. Nis has a “rich cultural heritage that allows for endless possibilities for geothermal energy integration into urban redevelopment,” notes Jovanovic. And Utica (near his guest research post at Cornell University) “shares similarities in the cultural heritage protection as well as a low level of sustainable energy uses.” The qualitative case studies identified several challenges to expanding the use of geothermal energy – a lack of urban planning that incorporates systematic use of geothermal heat; shortage of tax funds to support geothermal energy initiatives; concern for established cities’ architectural heritage – that also offer opportunities.

These opportunities within energy planning, revealed by Jovanovic’s case studies, should help cities address their long-term geothermal resource potential through planning and advance funding. To him, the most important benefits of geothermal energy use are “indirect ones, not able to be seen or measured.” They involve social resilience of city neighborhoods, achieving a livable environment, less pollution, and more room for rethinking the cities in terms of transport, green infrastructure, and innovative designs – the central methodology of contemporary urban planning for a bright future.


Aleksandar Jovanovic earned his PhD in architecture from the Graz University of Technology. In his work Aleksandar Jovanovic combines geothermal energy research and architectural drafting. He currently is a Guest Researcher at Cornell University. His past work roles have included international research roles such as his geothermic research work conducted at the University of Iceland - Háskóli Íslands.


The preceding article is part of a series featuring the scientific work of 20 young Austrian researchers, all who are active members of the OSTA's Research and Innovation Network Austria. The initial presentation of their work took place at the ASCINA poster session under the auspices of the "Austrian Research and Innovation Talk" in Toronto on October 21, 2016. Three of these scientists were subsequently awarded the ASCINA award the same evening, honoring their outstanding scientific work.


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Thursday, 14 November 2019