Smart City in Greater Copenhagen

I am still traveling through northern Europe, after Iceland, Netherlands, Germany and Russia it is now Denmark. On a private note I am visiting two early medieval Viking towns Hedeby and Ribe. These were already ‘smart’ towns between 800 and 1000, becoming part of the handful of leading trading cities in those days. Those who are following the TV series the Vikings might recall these names. Another attraction of this trip are the very long evenings, it doesn’t get dark until 11pm, you get so much more out of a day here. We are also blessed with exceptional warm weather, a very long summer in northern Europe that already started in early May.

Next on the smart city tour is Copenhagen ……

This is another city that has won multiple awards for a range of smart city projects. What makes Copenhagen so interesting is that the whole city is a living laboratory for the testing of smart technologies that are aimed at handling the challenges of urbanisation and climate change in particular. They were one of the first, if not the first, in the world to take on this total city strategy.

But the city also has a range of very interesting housing developments, aimed – through different housing configurations – at addressing the affordability of living in the city. For Copenhagen to succeed in this it will need to be a city for everybody and not just for the top layers of society, and, like most other international cities, house prices there have skyrocketed in recent years.

Other strategic areas that are helping the country to become forever smarter are their flexible labour market regulations, highly qualified talent, favourable taxation, fast establishment procedures and virtually no corruption. This makes Denmark one of the easiest and most cost-efficient places in Europe to do business. While many countries are working on an attractive economic environment like this it is interesting to see that Copenhagen links it directly to its smart city strategy, a truly holistic approach.

Similar to other leading smart cities that I have mentioned in previous blogs, Copenhagen, too, has an FttH network (as does most of Denmark) and high-speed broadband is available to 98% of all the people. They are now using a new kind of optical fibre – researchers in DTU Photonics’ High-Speed Optical Communications Group have set a new world record for single-transmitter data transfer. There is a lot of innovation taking place based on the fact that they have such a fantastic broadband network.

It is interesting to note that the country was recently named as the happiest city in the world, so they are obviously doing something right.

Data driven decision-making:  A recurring theme in my reports has been the fact that the cities I have been visiting have a sound understanding of the all-importance of data and data analytics, and here the Danes have a head-start. For decades their authorities have collected and stored basic data about citizens, businesses and real estate in order to digitise services across administrations and sectors.

A recent government program provides free access to public data sources with the aim of driving smart city innovation. This availability of high-quality basic data provides a unique starting point for developing smart solutions to meet the challenges of urbanisation and climate change, such as traffic congestion and flooding of urban areas. They also encourage others to open up their data  through the creation of efficient public-private sector partnerships, and this has already attracted many multinationals.

Hitachi is a good example here. For the reasons mentioned above they selected Copenhagen as headquarters for their European big data research and developments. In line with the city aims they will focus on sustainable society issues, and to this end the city offers unique access to comprehensive and long-standing electronic databases and registries, which are excellent for research, testing and development of healthtech, smart city and energy efficiency solutions.

Copenhagen’s ambitious climate target of becoming carbon-neutral by 2025, as well as the national target of becoming independent of fossil fuels by 2050, have long accelerated the development of data-based, CO2-reducing solutions – something the company can use in its work.

Furthermore, towards 2022 Denmark will build and renovate 16 hospitals, five of which will be in Copenhagen, offering great opportunity for the development of new digital healthtech solutions. This was another key reason for Hitachi selecting Copenhagen.

Their flagship project is the City Data Exchange. This platform enables the buying, selling and sharing of data between citizens, public institutions and private organisations. This will be the first data exchange to deliver both private and public data all in one place – it is a cornerstone of Copenhagen’s ambitious plan to be carbon-neutral by 2025.

Cities in charge:  It didn’t come as a surprise to hear that on a national political level the Danish government has made smart cities a priority; and they are putting a great deal of emphasis on the need for leadership from local government. This creates the bottom-up motivation needed for the development of smart cities and, through the partnerships, paves the way for large-scale testing of smart city solutions in real-life urban environments. Denmark also has a long tradition of citizen involvement in urban planning and development and that is coming to fruition in the current smart city developments, with the assistance of the extensive scale of communications technologies that are nowadays available to engage with citizens in many different ways.

Around 250 companies are involved in smart city activities in Greater Copenhagen, and small companies make up two-thirds of the smart city industry, offering attractive investment opportunities as well as bridgeheads for collaboration with the public sector in Denmark.

This high level of collaboration with academia, its citizens, the public sector and industry has made it possible to run a multitude of new smart city technologies and solutions as they are being tested and developed across the ICT, cleantech, construction and transportation sectors.

International collaboration:  While smart lighting is something that most cities involved in smart city strategies are looking at, Copenhagen is taking this one ambitious step further. They are going beyond national collaboration as this project is a ground-breaking partnership between Danish and Swedish regions, municipalities and universities, inviting international and local companies to create a world-leading region for smart urban lighting. ‘Lighting Metropolis’ will make the region the world’s most advanced one-stop hub for smart urban lighting research and development.

Those of you who have followed my smart city activities will know I strongly believe that there is significant synergy in international collaboration – many of our projects are very similar in nature and are therefore ideally suited for both national and international collaboration. However, the way that cities are organised often makes collaboration more difficult.

The aim of this project is to strengthen the significant role lighting can play in supporting safety, accessibility, identity, health and education for people in cities.

Covering Eastern Denmark and Southern Sweden, Greater Copenhagen is home to 3.8 million people. Together they are creating the world’s leading living lab for smart urban lighting.

With a budget of 7.3 million euros the project aims to set new standards for innovation, uniting public and private sector partners, including incubator pods, start-ups and scientists, and making city spaces and buildings available for development, test and demonstration.

Future smart lighting demonstration projects in Copenhagen:  Around 20 new lighting demonstration projects will be carried out in Greater Copenhagen, in real-life test environments such as schools, parks and hospitals.

The projects will be focusing on:

  • Outdoor lighting: design, safety, identity, attractiveness
  • Indoor lighting: biological light, learning, health, work environments
  • Smart urban lighting: intelligent control systems, sensor networks, internet of things, intelligent traffic systems (ITS) and Wi-Fi
  • Climate and environment: energy efficiency, environmental impact, life cycles and sustainability
  • Return-on-investment: investment strategies, total cost of ownership, demand, maintenance and operation.

Green transition:  In a partnership between municipalities within Greater Copenhagen, known as Gate 21, companies and knowledge institutions are working together to accelerate the green transition.

Gate 21 aims at creating a sustainable society and green growth through strategic partnerships between the public sector, private enterprises and the research community. They work to develop, test, demonstrate and implement new solutions within:

  • Cities and construction
  • Transportation
  • Energy and resources.

Interestingly, this project is driven by economics as well. The municipal market is an increasingly important driver of green growth, and Gate 21 brings the industry closer to the local authorities.

Also, the partnering municipalities are used as a real-life laboratory, enabling business and knowledge institutions to develop and test new technology in full scale.

The city  has open invitations to collaborate on projects, including smart parking and blockchain applications in the energy sector, and is part of a call for tender to create a Europe-wide internet of everything platform for open innovation. Working locally and with other cities across Europe and the world is a key factor in the strategy of the city that allows it to be at the forefront of technological change and development.

For people like me, who are looking at collaboration and partnership, Copenhagen is perhaps the most important city to follow in order to see what the best practices are in creating smart cities along those strategic lines.

Paul Budde




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