Smart City Copenhagen: Europe’s Largest Living Lab
From urban design to smart city technologies, Copenhagen is a pioneer and a test bed for solutions that can improve sustainability and quality of life in a rapidly urbanizing world. Supertrends spoke to Anders Sloth, Head of Smart City Technologies and Solutions at Copenhagen Capacity, about why Denmark’s capital is attracting providers of smart city solutions, which technology fields are expected to have the biggest impact on city life, and why smart solutions need not necessarily be high-tech solutions.
Interview: Chris Findlay
Supertrends: Anders Sloth, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. To begin, could you briefly describe your work at Copenhagen Capacity, and what it entails?
Anders Sloth: In a nutshell, Copenhagen Capacity works to promote investment and attract talent to the greater Copenhagen area. As a Senior Investment Manager and Head of Smart City Technologies and Solutions, I work with smart city technologies and companies interested in investing in Copenhagen, which can be venture capital companies or foreign investors who have an interest in Danish smart city companies, but also foreign smart city companies who want to establish a business here because of market or project opportunities that align with their product. We help them network with local stakeholders and assist with taxation and administrative matters related to setting up a company here.
ST: Can you give some examples of the kinds of technologies we are talking about?
AS: These are digital applications that generate and communicate data to create the interconnectivity that cities need to become more intelligent. In the field of mobility, for example, we have sensors that monitor traffic in cities and control the traffic lights to optimize the flow of pedestrians, cars, and cyclists. Other solutions monitor and assess air and water quality and pollution to inform data-based solutions for creating healthy and livable cities. Ultimately, it’s about generating data to make the city a happier and more livable place.
ST: So Copenhagen itself is a smart city and a testbed for smart city technologies?
AS: Yes, there’s a lot of momentum here from political and municipal actors to create strong smart city incentives. Copenhagen has set itself the very ambitious target of becoming the first carbon neutral capital by 2025, which also includes technical components. Our city is Europe’s largest living lab for testing outdoor lighting and smart city technologies.
Copenhagen has set itself the very ambitious target of becoming the first carbon neutral capital by 2025.
ST: But there’s also a lot of original research being undertaken in and around Copenhagen.
AS: That’s right. For example, we collaborate very closely with the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) and promote their R&D projects, and we also see many companies from overseas coming here to share knowledge and learn about innovations in areas like water management. After all, DTU was recently ranked the world’s number two university when it comes to research, just after MIT in Boston. And this is also an attractive factor for companies looking to relocate – knowing that they will be able to recruit highly qualified talent from our universities.
ST: In which technical fields do you expect to see particularly interesting developments related to the smart city concept?
AS: One of the main areas is mobility and transportation. Although Copenhagen has great infrastructure for cyclists and we have a lot of people cycling, road traffic is still the vertical that is emitting the most CO2. So we need to optimize road traffic in cities, whether through car-free zones, banning diesel cars in the city, creating incentives for EVs, or offering more accessible parking to prevent cars emitting CO2 for 20 minutes as they drive around looking for parking spaces.
ST: It’s interesting that smart city solutions don’t always have to be high-tech, IoT-connected digital gadgets.
AS: You’re so right. Ultimately, it’s about communicating the concept of smart city in such a way that more people understand and become familiar with it. It’s not about technical buzzwords – we need to present simple solutions in order to secure political support and help the public understand what it’s about, because smart cities are the future.
ST: One of the challenges in raising awareness is that many smart infrastructures are not visible to the public, but in the background – underground or behind walls. Which smart city solutions will be the most visible ones in the coming years?
AS: Probably the most noticeable ones will be the technologies that the public can interact with through smartphones. New types of software and applications for the general public will include an evaluation element, where the users can give feedback about how this technology has affected their overall happiness in terms of living in the city. Dubai has made an effort to measure the smartness of a city not in terms of technology, but in terms of happiness. In other words, they do not implement new technologies in the city unless they can actually monitor whether they create a sense of happiness for the people.
ST: Cities are where a lot of the world’s emissions are caused. How can smart city solutions help achieve that zero emissions goal that Copenhagen has also set itself?
AS: Research shows that 70 percent of the UN Sustainable Development Goals can be achieved through smart city technology, which is quite high. To bring about a green transition in the context of increasing urbanization, smart city concepts and digital applications are inevitable. If we don’t find a way of dealing with urban growth efficiently by managing CO2 emissions and air quality perspective, it won’t be much fun living in the cities of the future. Whether in Copenhagen or even more crowded cities like Beijing, we need data on emissions, air quality, public transport capacity etc. to ensure we are comfortable and have a really good feeling about the city we live in.
Seventy percent of the UN Sustainable Development Goals can be achieved through smart city technology.
ST: Speaking of urbanization and people moving to the cities, what makes a city smart in terms of how it uses its available space and land?
AS: This relates to the density and spatial footprint of buildings, but also of the cities overall. It’s a complex topic, especially given the shift to remote work in the current pandemic, which may determine livability conditions in the future. Here in Copenhagen, one of our planning priorities is to connect the suburbs even more closely to the city and make them attractive. Looking at buildings in particular, we need to build vertically as opposed to horizontally, but also be really smart about using the available area when you design buildings. Suppose you could somehow create apartments that are 55 m2 in size, but feel like 70 m2 due to advanced design and architecture – then you can fit more people into buildings without causing too much conflict.
ST: It seems that problems are inevitable because it’s almost taken as a fact of life that cities are just going to get bigger and bigger and bigger as more and more people move into the metropolises worldwide. Yet we’re not incentivizing people to move out into the country, due to the imperative to build more efficiently, more densely, and not have infrastructures spread out over hundreds of square kilometers if you can have the same amount of people living in 20 km2, for example. It almost seems like there are two different goals there that are in conflict with each other.
AS: That’s true, and it will be challenging to create the right incentives for dealing with these complex issues. If you live outside the city and have the choice between commuting to work by car or by public transport, it may be hard to relate to the idea that your individual choices help to cut down the national CO2 emissions by a minuscule fraction. The reward for taking public transport, or for recycling waste, may just not be large enough. On the other hand, punishing such behavior may conflict with our democratic and Nordic values. So the question is, which incentives could get people to do the right thing? Recently, the CEO of one of the biggest banks in Denmark suggested that homeowners who invest in energy efficiency or rooftop solar panels could get cheaper bank loans or mortgages. That’s an incentive individuals can relate to in a totally different way, because if optimizing home energy use means €500 savings on a monthly bank loan, that can have a very strong positive impact on the average family.
ST: Is Copenhagen aiming for any measurable future milestones in terms of smart city technology – for example, a point when all new office buildings will have energy management systems installed, or when all commutes will be done by autonomous vehicles?
AS: You have to remember that smart solutions, whether they be autonomous vehicles or intelligent buildings, also require appropriate infrastructure. If we were to say that all road traffic around Copenhagen should be autonomous vehicles by 2030, we would also have to build an infrastructure that fits with the way autonomous vehicles maneuver around. In terms of investment in infrastructure, it’s challenging to set those kinds of milestones. My take is that if none of these things happen at a scale where it makes a big difference before 2030, I don’t think we’ll have a planet for much longer. So, in that context, 2030 is probably the most important milestone on a global scale, regardless of any technology that supports climate action. Our contribution at Copenhagen Capacity is to connect with the people who can find those solutions and optimize them, and to attract smart city companies who have an interest in investing or establishing themselves in the greater Copenhagen area. We can help them find the right local partners to develop project opportunities and support them in building tools and solutions that can make this city, and all cities, sustainable in the long run.