A smart city is digital

By harnessing digital information and new technology in innovative and thought-provoking ways, Copenhagen hopes to become the world's first carbon neutral capital by 2025

“It’s a journey and we’ll have a lot to learn along the way,” explains Jørgen Abildgaard. In a decade, Copenhagen must be carbon neutral, and it’s Abildgaard’s job to make sure it happens.

Abildgaard is the executive director of the CPH 2025 Climate Plan, adopted by the Copenhagen City Council in 2012 and composed of a range of initiatives to lower carbon emissions through decreased energy consumption and greener energy production and mobility.

Reducing over one million metric tons of carbon emissions to zero is no easy feat, and the city knows they can only realize their ambitions by drawing on the private sector, citizens and knowledge institutions from the outset.

This holistic approach to achieving carbon neutrality represents a major shift from the city’s more common practice of centralised planning.

“When we look at the investments Copenhagen must make to execute the climate plan, we know that for every kroner we spend, investors and other stakeholders need to spend 100 kroner. We therefore need to have a dialogue with these stakeholders in order to understand their point of view and perspective – and also help them to understand the city’s ambitions and vision,” says Abildgaard.

Toward a Smart City
In order to succeed, the CPH 2025 Climate Plan needs to tackle two major issues. The first is making sure that the city and investors understand each other’s goals and ambitions; the second is ensuring that all the different initiatives work together in harmony.

This is where Copenhagen Solutions Lab (CSL) comes in. The organisation, housed within Copenhagen’s Technical and Environmental Administration, is tasked with developing how Copenhagen collects and uses data. The lab’s goal is to turn Copenhagen into a “Smart City”, using this data to drive technological innovation and increasing energy efficiency across the city.

Drivers, for example, can spend up to 20 minutes trying to find a parking spot in the city, adding to the already high levels of congestion as they drive around.

Equipping parking spots with sensors and creating a way for these sensors to communicate with drivers could change this, and potentially eliminate 31 million kilometres of unnecessary driving in the city and 1.5 million driving hours annually.

Congestion is also another potential issue that could be dealt with using data. During rush hour, some streets are at an absolute standstill, while others are nearly deserted. The location of bikes, city transport and other vehicles represents invaluable data for alleviating congestion.

“We can optimise the traffic flow to lower the carbon footprint and allow citizens to move more freely throughout the city. This is good for the climate agenda because we’ll be using less fuel, but it’s also great for the citizens because it’ll mean fewer accidents,” says Søren Kvist, a senior Smart City consultant at CSL.

Creating Digital Standards
While new technologies offer urban planners endless new possibilities for improving liveability in cities and making them greener in the process. It’s CSL’s job to ensure solutions can be seamlessly integrated with every other solution citywide to prevent potential redundancies.

But implementing the technologies is difficult, as the infrastructure for connecting them with one another does not yet exist. There are also no internationally recognised standards for handling the data, which is important if the city wants to export the ideas worldwide.

“It’s not going to be just one technology we use to gather this data – it’s going to be multiple. So we must create standards and infrastructure for these technologies to communicate with each other,” says Kvist.

Kvist sees the situation as a case of history repeating itself. In the 1700s, Copenhagen created a canal system that enabled Denmark to become a global leader in maritime trade. During the industrial revolution, Denmark built railways and roads to show it was a business friendly country. In both these cases, the city identified what it needed to remain internationally competitive and built it.

Privacy issues
Collecting data always raises issues of privacy, however. Tracking the movement of citizens and their behaviour may be useful for planning the city’s energy demands, for example, but citizens may have reason to be concerned that this data could be used for more nefarious purposes.

This issue has been raised in the media and was even the subject of a Master’s thesis at Roskilde University last year, which concluded that the city needs to take privacy issues more seriously.

But Kvist says they do, and that CSL is working closely with privacy experts in Denmark and across Europe to ensure citizen’s rights are not obstructed in the name of innovation.

“It’s extremely important that we have a clear and open discussion on privacy matters. We have to be open about what we’re planning to do, what technologies we’re testing, what we are actually doing and what are just ideas,” he says, adding that the lab is now focusing primarily on digital solutions that use non-personal and non-sensitive data, so-called open data.

“The idea is that we release non-personal, non-sensitive data to the public,” Kvist says. “And then researchers and citizens alike can take this data and use it how they see fit. A perfect example of this is Rejseplanen [the public transport route planning service, ed.].”

The city will not make any decisions on generating and assembling data until the standardisation process is complete. And the city is relying heavily on the private sector and knowledge institutions to contribute these solutions.

“We want to make sure Copenhagen is the smartest city out there. Admittedly, when it comes to data solutions and using new technology, we still have a long way to go. But we have outlined and are developing some of the best ideas in the world.” M

Urban, Tech

By Khara Lewin

Before moving to Denmark, Khara was a News Assistant at CNN, where she covered regional and breaking news. She is now studying at the IT University of Copenhagen.

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