Want to be a global smart cities leader? Keep an eye on Denmark

Wed, 2016-02-10 06:00 -- Doug Peeples

Denmark may not be top of mind in the smart cities realm. But with the right combination of cooperation, collaboration and communication the country could become a leader and a model for other cities in how they can live up to the promise of more efficient, environmentally friendly and livable smart cities, according to a new report from consultants Arup and CEDI.

The country does have some advantages. The Copenhagen Post describes the population as very accepting of and knowledgeable about digital technology -- and citizens have broad access to digital infrastructure and education. They have access to government-provided open data portals and their universities are actively involved in smart city solutions research. And the country already has an enviable record of renewable energy achievements. At one point last year, the country's wind farms provided enough wind energy to meet all of the country's electricity demand with enough left over to export to Germany, Norway and Sweden.

Denmark's smart city challenges
That's not to say the country's cities have a clear path ahead, as the report from Arup and CEDI makes abundantly clear. While the cities of Copenhagen, Aarhus, Vejle and Alberstlund are often referenced for their smart city initiatives and associated benefits, there are impediments to successful transformations. Among the hurdles to be overcome are:

  • Projects are small and not broadly applied, which leads to what the report refers to as "pilot sickness," the completion of a project with no further investment or follow through. Although certainly not limited to Denmark, the prospect of time, money and effort wasted is discouraging.
  • The government provides funding for smart city projects, but many cities don't have the skills, know-how or cross-departmental organization -- and they have little guidance on which vendors to choose or how to select the right products to help ensure success and avoid redundancy.
  • The inability to scale up after a pilot project communicates an uncomfortable sense of risk to citizens, which is amplified by the indecision of local authorities and the lack of broad cooperation between cities.

How to fix those problems and get on with it

Fortunately for Denmark's cities, the government is actively involved. "It requires that we strengthen collaboration among all levels of the public sector. There is a need for a national strategy for smart city solutions to ensure targeted and systematic efforts at the national, regional and municipal levels, so that we can meet the potential," explained Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen. "And we can do it, because Denmark is already good at using new technologies while designing modern cities -- both for the benefit of citizens and the environment."

  • Taking into account Denmark's advantages, the report recommends an ambitious five-point strategy:
    Help cities create their own vision so they'll know with technologies they need and manage their smart city projects in a way that involves all municipal services.
  • Strengthen city collaboration by building on existing networks between municipalities to encourage knowledge sharing and work toward common interests to draw private investment.
  • Clarify standards and regulation to monitor and guide through the necessary technical and legal steps.
  • Ensure that city officials listen to what their citizens have to say about their needs and issues -- and make those concerns are part of the design process.
  • Publish a national smart cities vision to heighten awareness and understanding of the value smart cities offer, a roadmap that also clearly explains targets and expected outcomes.

Related articles…
Shopping for new street lights? Head for Denmark’s outdoor light lab
Smart energy: Can district heating make cities more resilient?

 Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.