Though it is the smallest of the Nordic countries with a population of 5.7 million, Denmark has — in recent years — emerged as a major force in leading the transition of industrialized countries to green-growth economies. Recently, the country has lived up to that reputation by adding a second component to its green-growth strategy, beginning with Copenhagen: Smart Cities. In February 2011, the Danish government announced the “Energy Strategy 2050” with the goal of being entirely independent of fossil fuels by 2050. In May 2012, Copenhagen pledged to become the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025.
Data Moves, Traffic Moves
Cities become smart when governments implement big data infrastructure to have better control over the city’s numerous moving pieces. Using sensors and real-time monitoring systems, data is collected from citizens and devices and then processed and analyzed to tackle inefficiencies and better understand how the city operates.
The driving force behind Copenhagen’s transformation into a smart city is the Copenhagen Solutions Lab, a government-backed venture to coordinate all big data projects. The Lab’s largest project to date is “Copenhagen Connecting,” an initiative bringing together citizens, businesses, government and research organizations in building data-collecting infrastructure and aggregating it on an open platform for the benefit of the city.
Copenhagen Connecting will collect real-time data from Wi-Fi access points mounted in streetlights to track the movement of Wi-Fi-using devices in cell phones, wearables, bikes, buses and cars. The anonymized data can then be analyzed to monitor how pedestrians, cars and bikes move through the city. This understanding has allowed researchers to create an intelligent traffic-management system to optimize traffic flow and limit congestion, minimizing the CO2 emissions coming from gridlock. The data can also be used to incentivize green transportation by giving citizens access to real-time information on the costs — monetary and time — of traveling by car.
The data-network infrastructure will connect parking systems, traffic lights, municipal buildings, smart metering systems and charging stations for electronic vehicles so that the city can direct traffic in real time, help citizens find parking spaces without idling and optimize energy usage in municipal buildings and street-lighting systems according to weather conditions, traffic movement and fuel prices.
Copenhagen Connecting also plans to install sensors in garbage cans and sewers to optimize city services like trash removal, water sanitation and waste management. Citizens will even have the option to link their personal assets like vehicles, bikes and other items into the network in order to prevent theft.
A Green Today Means A Greener Tomorrow
In 2014, Copenhagen was awarded the international World Smart Cities Award in Barcelona for Copenhagen Connecting and its plan for the collection and use of data to create a greener, smarter city. Marianna Lubanski, investment promotion director at Copenhagen Capacity, the city’s organization for economic development, said that the award shows Copenhagen’s ability to be “a great living lab for test and demonstration” for smart-city solutions.
As 21st-century cities continue to grow and evolve, they will no doubt face myriad of challenges from pollution to traffic to overcrowding, and it will take both creativity and innovation to tackle these issues. However, cities like Copenhagen have demonstrated that tapping into the power of technology and the insights of big data can help cities move to green-growth economies while improving the quality of life and creating a more livable city for all.