Copenhagen: The Great Dane of Sustainability

22 September 2016 | by Vineeta Shetty |
Sharing does not come intuitively to the Danes. Julian Agyeman recounts in his book, “Sharing Cities” that when the Danes colonized Greenland after 1721, they taught the Inuit “that communal living—shared food, shared hunting trips, shared wives—was sinful.”
 
Three hundred years on, Denmark has embraced sharing in its many forms, despite having a very private national culture, notes Agyeman. The most obvious manifestation is the street furniture: building owners are encouraged to put tables, chairs and planters on the sidewalks near their properties to make these edge zones more inviting, thus creating more opportunities for public interaction. Eye contact is also more important. For example, 75% of a building’s ground floor walls must be glass so that people can easily see in and out.
 
Design-led sustainability has translated to inconspicuous ways of incorporating environmentally-friendly technologies into the fabric of the city. “This ‘covert’ sustainability means that creating a carbon-neutral district did not have to affect the architectural aesthetics of the urban environment,” says Sustainia. “Today district heating, clean energy and environmentally friendly transportation are such common pieces of everyday life here that no one thinks about them.”
Copenhagen-based Sustainia evocatively shares a few lesser known secrets about the design underlying the city in its Guide to Copenhagen 2025:
 
"Beneath your feet, large pipes transport hot water through the environmentally friendly district heating system, which is connected to all buildings in the area.
 
"In the walls surrounding you, a modern smart electric grid distributes clean electricity from wind turbines off the coast of Copenhagen and biomass power plants in the city.
 
"Strolling around parts of old Copenhagen in the December cold, you will not only see the shimmering lights from window decorations, you will also notice how the city rooftops are covered by a layer of snow. The fact that it remains on the roof and doesn’t melt tells a tale of an Old Town whose buildings have been modernised, insulated and optimised to ensure maximum energy reduction."
Design for Democracy
Playful shared public space has now become de rigeur in the Danish capital. But in addition to recreation and social interaction, design is also intended to foster bottom-up democracy. Norrebro is the most ethnically-diverse district of the city, home to more than 50 nationalities. The Superkilen Park nestled in this district, celebrates this by incorporating visual objects from all around the world. 

The Copenhagen Street Lab, driven by Copenhagen Solutions Lab, the City of Copenhagen’s incubator for smart city initiatives, takes this one step forward, embedding citizen-friendly facilities unobstrusively into the street furniture.

Copenhagen Solutions Lab has led an initiative to encourage technology vendors to come from various parts of the world to demonstrate pre-commercial digital solutions to urban challenges in an ultrareal-life setting over two years. In the backdrop, Danish network operator TDC and Cisco have jointly embarked on building the smart infrastructure to enable the solutions to play out.
 
The Smart Citizen was invited to the launch of a smart city test area in the heart of the city. In an area of 1 sq km bounded by the National Museum of Denmark, City Hall, the Tivoli Gardens and the harbour, the Copenhagen Street Lab has deployed close to 40 Cisco access points connected to 8 fiber hubs. Internet links of 1.2 Gbit/s ensures a decent performance for various use cases: waste management, M2M communication, smart parking via video sensors and a free street-level Wifi and information service for tourists.
 
Parking Predictability

It is estimated that upto 30 percent of traffic in urban environments comes from drivers looking for a parking space. This increases the number of cars on the road at any given time, exponentially increasing congestion and pollution. Munchen-based Cleverciti Systems has corralled a parking lot at Dantes Plads to showcase smart parking. Its parking sensor mounted on a lamppost scans 20 parking spaces to identify and locate free and occupied slots in real time. The sensor analyses parking spaces along the streets with a GPS update of every three seconds and sends real-time data about the status (available or occupied) to Copenhagen Solutions Lab. Drivers can potentially book a specific parking space before they get into their car. “We are using optical devices, but each sensor has an ocatcore chip inside, processing all image data, so only GPS data leaves the sensor,” says Maximilian Venhofen, business affairs manager of Cleverciti, in a nod to the privacy concerns of Danish citizens.
Air Pollution Monitors
 
What once occupied a container on the street to monitor air pollution is now unobtrusively tucked away on a brick façade in the Copenhagen Street Lab. Thanks to miniaturization by Copenhagen-based start-up, Leapcraft. In addition to the standard sensors for NO2, CO and SO2, they are customizable to detect CO2, H2S, O3, CH4, volatile organic compounds and even a decibel meter to address the concern with noise pollution.
 
Data harvested on the streets can be analysed by this plug and play device and data downloaded to various other applications, be they mobile apps, on road or in-vehicle sensors or Bluetooth and wifi scanners. In a city where more than 50% of workers and students cycle to work, cyclists, pedestrians and joggers can be expected to see the healthiest routes through the city.

Smart Bins and Smarter Water
 
Around the corner, Dublin-based SmartBin is tackling the city’s challenge to collect waste bins and containers at the right time to optimize its vehicular and human resources. A replica of a working installation in the municipality of Cascais in Portugal, wireless ultrasonic and infrared sensors mounted on the lids of a public rubbish bin monitors the fill levels and sends optimized routes directly to the municipality driver when a bin is approaching overfill.
 
Along the busy road opposite the Tivoli Gardens, municipal workers in green uniform are crouched over the bushes, weeding, pruning and checking sensors to see which plants need more water.
 
Water is a pre-occupation in a country which is prone to flooding, and experienced some serious flash floods in the summer of 2011, when six inches of rain in three hours, prompting swift action from the municipality.  Copenhangen’s vice mayor, Morten Kabell anticipates a future where sensors embedded in the sewers will turn the central sewage system into an underground map that can tell the city where and when leaks occur. This means that cities no longer need to watch for sewage water to seep up to indicate a leak, but rather, using location data, repair crew can avoid digging up an entire pavement to find the leak.
 
Iterations and Evaluations
Reactions from citizens and industry to street lab partners such as Cleverciti and Leapcraft feed into multiple design iterations and the tests are subject to a through joint evaluation. Cities do not become smart by installing sensors in bushes, sewers and buses, the city’s industrial partners are keen to stress. The smart city truly comes to life when it starts to manage and analyse the many data flows that are being exchanged across the city. Once the data starts to flow, city planners can get an accurate picture of life in the city, which can inform a range of decisions impacting everything from better transportation, health, renovation, tourism, energy and more.
 
Inputs from the StreetLab will continue to enrich open data initiatives both at city and national levels, which currently provide open data sets such as wind maps, bicycle routes, school and daycare centres.  In a move to make open data more useable and meaningful, the Lab is also steering an innovative platform built by Hitachi and supported by CLEAN, the Danish clean-tech cluster. The City Data Exchange is a software-as-a-service solution to share and sell on a single platform, some 65 datasets between various categories of users: large corporates, SMEs, start-ups, universities and the public sector. It also assists businesses and researchers to access data directly from the data marketplace. The silo-busting initiative is currently focused on two applications:

  • one integrates data from Danish energy providers to help companies and citizens compare and rate their energy consumption and greenhouse gas footprint and relate those measurements to key business and personal metrics such as number of employees and amount of office or living space
  • another enables citizens to track their transportation behaviours via smartphones and to calculate time spent, calories burned and their GHG footprint. The app will also recommend alternative transportation options with a lower journey time, higher calorie burn and lower GHG footprint.

"We are changing the landscape from a fragmented open data environment drawing from 700 sources, to a one-stop shop,” says Peter Bjorn Larsen, director of the City Data Exchange. “A one-time download fee makes the data affordable to SMEs.”  
 
Boosting this initiative is a home-grown company dexi.io, which provides scraping and crawling robots to help users extract data, transform and visualize it and connect the “refined” product to citizens or businesses.
 
State-Sponsored Sustainability
Though seemingly a private sector initiative, the city government has contributed 4 million Danish Kroner and the capital region about 5 million kroner to build up the ecosystem of the City Data Exchange. This is indicative of the state-sponsorship that characterizes the Danish approach to urban innovation. The city urges a shared responsibility for its sustainability goals. However, a dirigiste approach is apparent in all the initiatives around the city. The city takes the firm lead and business and citizens follow. Sustainia provides a penetrating insight: “Danes also have great trust in their government and are positive towards public-private partnerships and triple helix models. Trust also makes it is easier for the public sector to marshal agreement for new projects and goals.”
An example of such initiatives is Gate 21, a triple helix organization to accelerate the green transition though capacity building, demonstration projects and Living Labs.

EnergyLab Nordhavn, driven by the municipality in concert with a diverse group of energy players, is a Gate 21-driven project embedded in a new waterside low-energy district being created from scratch at the edge of the city. It seeks to be a living lab of technologies, business models and operational solutions at all levels: component, building, grid infrastructure and system. Over the next half century, it is envisioned as supporting 40,000 new residents and an equivalent number of new jobs. Copenhagen’s famed district heating model promises to receive a boost with initiatives to transfer heat from pipelines and buildings, enhanced communication between buildings’ heating systems and the supply network and the use of heat pumps and electric boilers to enhance the mix of district heating.


EnergyLab Nordhavn, driven by the municipality in concert with a diverse group of energy players, is a Gate 21-driven project embedded in a new waterside low-energy district being created from scratch at the edge of the city. It seeks to be a living lab of technologies, business models and operational solutions at all levels: component, building, grid infrastructure and system. Over the next half century, it is envisioned as supporting 40,000 new residents and an equivalent number of new jobs. Copenhagen’s famed district heating model promises to receive a boost with initiatives to transfer heat from pipelines and buildings, enhanced communication between buildings’ heating systems and the supply network and the use of heat pumps and electric boilers to enhance the mix of district heating.
Visionary as Gate 21 initiatives such as EnergyLab Nordhavn (see box) are, the switch in government from Social Democrats to the centre-right liberal party signals a move from 'green' to 'black' government, City Hall warns. The change in government threatens to diminish Denmark’s imposing stature as a front-runner in green-leaning initiatives. For example, electric vehicle owners enjoyed a tax holiday for their first 2 years and cheaper parking. This was eased out, leading Tesla to close shop in Copenhagen. The case for e-vehicles is now precarious in the country: as of this year, a conventional car would cost 700,000 Kroner, while an e-vehicle would cost 1.5 million Kroner.

The new government has also sniffed down the city’s bid to become a carbon-neutral capital by 2025, reversing a policy decision to fast-track the installation of wind turbines. The average wind speed in Denmark is 7.6 metres per second and at one time, Denmark provided the largest wind subsidy, as much as 30% of the intial capex. Nationwide, local cooperatives give as many as 100,00 individuals and households skin in the game. As much as 50% of its energy comes from wind and it produces a net surplus. There was also money to be made, selling first-hand knowledge to the rest of the world in this domain. All this may now be under threat.

It is also a matter of pride for the country that its building laws require structures be built to much higher standards for energy efficiency than the world average. That changed in the summer of 2015. The centre-right party now in power ushered in a more laissez-faire approach, allowing developers a free hand in energy-efficiency standards.

Climate coyness by the ruling Venstre Party means that city government often has to fight harder for the green agenda, atleast until the next election in the summer of 2019. “It is difficult when the government works against you,” says Torben Gleesborg, executive director in the Technical and Environmental Administration of the City of Copenhagen.

While it may be scuttled in public works, the Technology and Environmental Department soldiers on in stimulating a citywide market through its internal tenders. A beacon of hope for the municipal government is that the Venstre number 45 out of 179 elected members in the Folketing, which means they have to negotiate their policy reversals with more progressive forces in the parliament.

"We believe in the future," says Gleesborg, "because despite the state, we think that other political parties are with us and will stop the worst of proposals. Our work in the EU like Horizon 2020 projects will help along."

Copenhagen: The Great Dane of Sustainability

Category: Technology Enablement
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