City Focus: Copenhagen, the world’s smartest city?


Copenhagen has long been regarded as one of the smartest cities in the world, an achievement that was crowned by the city being awarded the Smart City Award in November 2014. There will be a strong Danish presence in London at Smart to Future Cities 2015, with four speakers discussing sustainable cities and urban development, implementing smart traffic management and parking systems, and developing standards and protocols for future city governance and IoT management. We caught up with two of these experts – Patrick Driscoll, Smart City Lab and Else Kloppenborg, Special Advisor, Smart Cities – to discuss smart cities, smart citizens and the priorities for the industry in 2015.

Else Kloppenborg, Special Adviser, Smart Cities City of Copenhagen

Else Kloppenborg, Special Adviser, Smart Cities City of Copenhagen

Patrick Driscoll, Smart City Lab, Denmark

Patrick Driscoll, Smart City Lab, Denmark

We start by thinking about how the smart city concept is evolving for 2015, and what the priorities for the industry should be. For Else, collaboration and flexibility are key, with cities that are “eager to develop comprehensive solutions that avoid vendor lock-in and allow flexible adaptation to changing needs over time”, with fruitful collaborations that “begin with high ambitions, based on dialogue, that make room for innovation to help us solve urban challenges of true value” to citizens. Patrick takes an alternative point of view, focusing on the complexity of urban planning and a perceived distance from citizens leading to a so-called ‘trough of disillusionment’. Therefore, he advises that industry priorities should be “1) security (sensor, network, data, critical infrastructure); 2) a strong push toward interoperability and open system standards; 3) citizen engagement, including the development of a clear governance framework concerning tracking, use of data, and most importantly the vision for why SC are the way forward”.

There has been an increasing focus on urban IoT and related services in the city, what are the reasons for this? According to Patrick, urban IoT offers “significant cost-saving potential for municipal authorities as well as the possibility for better understanding of real-time and historic patterns of material, energy, and people flows within the urban space”. Else looks at it from a service perspective: “the ambition in Copenhagen is to leverage services across sectors. We want to increase the quality of life and ensure good opportunities for growth, and generally develop our city, using for instance cheap RFID chips in the City’s own material to track it, increase security, efficient use and planning”.

“One of the truly revolutionary aspects of IoT that is under-appreciated is the ability to move past the traditional dichotomy of “dumb packages/smart networks (train networks)-smart packages/dumb networks (the Internet) to develop a “smart packages/smart networks” within the urban space that uses autonomous distributed architecture to create cheap, fault-tolerant, and resilient systems and networks” – Patrick Driscoll, Smart City Lab, Denmark

It goes without saying that the role of the citizen within the smart city is crucial, but how is this role developing? According to Else Kloppenborg, even though digital services are generally well developed in Copenhagen, “we can only do so much, using new technologies, IoT and data. Without citizens that experience added value of new services and use, for instance, new apps or share data to improve services, we will not be able to reap the full potential of what a smart city can be”. Patrick agrees that getting buy-in from citizens is vital, which is perhaps something that hasn’t been taken into account thus far: “Many of the existing SC strategies are elite- or industry-driven, leaving many citizens in the dark. This is a crucial mistake for two reasons. One is that given the potential for misuse, there will be inevitable blowback from civil society about the nature and extent of surveillance within the urban space. The European Court of Justice’s ruling on the right to be forgotten is only the beginning of a trend within the EU to value privacy over commerce. Involving citizens from the beginning is slower, but will lead to higher levels of acceptance of SC systems”.

Cities are starting to deploy smart services in different areas, such as transport, security, energy, healthcare, development and sustainability. Taking this into account, where will we see activity in the next few years? Patrick considers that on an EU level, it will be “mostly built environment, energy, and transport. The Horizon 2020 and European Innovation Partnership for Smart Cities is mostly focused on reaching the 20/20/20 goals for the EU (carbon emissions, energy consumption, and renewables)”.

copenhagen smart city

Else focuses on what’s happening in Copenhagen, with transport, energy and climate being highly prioritized areas – “for instance, we already implemented better transport management systems to improve the flow of traffic generally and green waves for bicycles”. In the field of energy, reducing energy consumption is a constant imperative, which often requires ‘old school’ solutions (eg. Better insulation), but also “you can do a lot through systematic data-based monitoring of energy consumption and improved management of your building portfolio”. As for renewable energy, a large portion of energy in the Danish grid is wind-powered, but the challenge is over the volatility of renewable sources compared to the more predictable production schedules of, for example, coal fired power stations. Therefore, to reduce the dependency on back-up from fossil-fuel based energy sources, “we have to reduce peak load hours. One way to do this is to introduce more flexibility both in the consumption of energy and in the production of energy. This is something that we need more knowledge about. We expect a new demonstration project, starting January 2015, in the urban development district of ‘Nordhavn’ to help us understand both the required levels of flexibility in the consumption and ways to introduce it in, for instance buildings, or through greater levels of integration of the transport and energy systems”. On a related note, Copenhagen’s newly-adopted street lighting project will not only save 50% energy, but also, lampposts will function as data hubs: they can collect data and will be connected to the fiber network.

“Underpinning all data-driven solutions are, logically, data. Your models, analyses and prediction powers never get better than the data you feed into your models, analyses – or solutions. Through a public tender and a competitive dialogue with three industry consortia, we aim to establish a market based ‘Big Data Digital Infrastructure Platform’. The idea is to develop a platform for both public and qualified private data – and we are looking for a concept that in the long run will work without subsidies. Nowhere in the world can you find this today” – Else Kloppenborg, Special Advisor, Smart Cities, Copenhagen

In Smart Cities, the question of funding is key; a lack of it can act as a barrier to smart city development, but to what extent? As Else suggests, pilot projects are manageable within City budgets, but partnerships with private business/funding from external sources is important in order to fully implement certain programmes. Patrick Driscoll picks up on this theme, asserting that “there is still a big problem with mobilizing sufficient resources to roll out systems at scale. This is due in large part to the lack of sound empirical audits of actual costs/benefits from current SC systems”. What is the solution, though? According to Patrick, the business case for cities should be handled less by marketers, “and it needs more rigorous auditing to demonstrate the actual (as opposed to the promised) costs and benefits”.

Finally we look at city governance. How is it evolving to enable the smart city? Else and her team acknowledge that Smart City thinking challenges conventional ways to manage cities, but they have put certain initiatives in place, such as a Smart City Project Council, launched in 2014 and set to include all seven Administrations in due course. Also in 2014, the Copenhagen Solutions Lab was inaugurated, with the primary aim of engaging citizens, partners and industry in the search for smart city solutions to solve the city’s challenges. The idea is to develop, promote and test new solutions. Patrick airs a note of caution, however, particularly over cybersecurity, stating that “the existing threat environment warrants a much more serious response from both municipal and national authorities”, describing current strategy as “hopelessly naïve”, and that “it is incredibly irresponsible for utilities, cities, and national authorities to push a network-enabled architecture without a viable security strategy in place”. It is without doubt that there needs to be a root-to-branch review of cybersecurity in cities, and perhaps more people like Patrick need to be asking these questions. It is something that city administrations cannot do alone though, with the last word going to Else Kloppenborg: “Generally, we work closely with stakeholders, business and knowledge partners to ensure that we understand both challenges and the range of potential solutions. We cannot go it alone. But together, we can get far in making the city smarter, more liveable and a thriving environment for business”.

Is Copenhagen the smartest city in the world? It just might be.

Download Patrick and Else’s full responses to these Smart City questions here, and discuss and debate the topics with them in London on 28-29 April at the 4th Annual Smart to Future Cities conference. With a fantastic speaker line-up, covering all the hottest Smart City and Urban IoT topics, from funding to service functions, it promises to be a business-critical event.

Smart Future Cities

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