Cooperation for sustainable smart city

In Sweden, ‘Smart City’ means ‘Sustainable City’. There is only one way to fast track the journey toward a sustainable future and that is through collaboration.

With that opening remark, the Swedish ambassador to Korea, Jakob Hallgren, welcomed participants to a joint Swedish and US conference that was held in conjunction to the 2019 Seoul Smart City Summit. The summit was organized by the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the joint conference was arranged in close collaboration by the business promotion offices, Business Sweden and the American Chamber of Commerce. The majority of speakers represented Swedish and US companies with presence in Korea.

Perspectives on “smart”

During the Conference, Professor Junghoon Lee at Graduation School of Information, Yonsei University, introduced the Korean National Smart City Project where they approach smart city as a model for innovation. The Korean government designate several cities as smart cities and operate them as national pilots with specific projects on topics such as autonomous vehicles, big data, AI and drones.

Grace Simrall, Chief of Civic Innovation and Technology at Louisville Metro Government introduced Louisville’s effort to be a world-class smarty city. Through close collaboration with innovation in the private sector, they had introduced smart lighting in the entire city and achieved smart mobility by utilizing the data platform of Waze.

Companies have their own smart city cases that they represent and from the Swedish side we learned how the joint venture LG-Ericsson is working to realize smart city solutions, how ENVAC is handling household waste in efficient and sustainable says, smart energy solutions by ABB and electric mobility by Volvo Trucks. And from the US side we took part of presentations by Automated Anywhere, Ecolab, Johnson Controls and Lime.

Sustainability as central ethos

The Swedish presentations by the Ambassador as well as my own, were both heavy on the subject that a smart city need to have sustainability as a central ethos. Several speakers emphasized that we want cities where people are thriving and in a mega-city like Seoul it is exceedingly clear that the quality of the environment in the city is a very important factor for people’s well-being. These days, an often-discussed question is whether technology will be able to save us from a bad environment. The message we wanted to convey from Sweden was that smart digital technologies have a very important but not sufficient role to play.  The development of IoT, AI and other technologies are taking us towards a situation where we have digital twins of our cities. This will enable optimization and simulation to an increasing degree, but it also raises important policy issues that we need to deal with, such as privacy, integrity, network regulation, etc. The positive message is that we have dealt with this in successful ways before as we have developed our cities in smart ways, and it concerns the environmental aspects.

I took my home town and the early establishment of a large cogeneration plant to provide central heating as a good example where cooperation and co-development of technology and policy have built the foundation for a sustainable city: District heating is smarter with one chimney instead of thousands since it enables more investments in cleaning the fumes and variation in energy sources. Thus, the heating of 98 percent of the households in Västerås moved from fossil fuels in the 1960’s, to biofuels and on to household waste. Political decisions and public initiative, acting on science that highlights problems with the climate, and on market conditions, have placed Sweden as a top performer on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, second only to Denmark. New technologies such as digital technologies will present opportunities to even further develop our cities to sustainable cities where the well-being of people is key.

It is interesting to see how different it is where you put the emphasis on the broad concept smart city. It shows how we need do work together not only between regulation and market but also between cities. We have different views and solutions and they enable us to expand new opportunities.

Towards digital Twin cities

Hammarby Sea City is built on the lessons we learned in Sweden in the 1970’s and utilizing more modern technologies. It was built 20 years ago but is still one of the most important “urban living lab” for Smart City in Sweden. The Hammarby Model uses resources in a cyclical loop, ensuring that the system is based on a life-cycle assessment and maximizes renewable resources usage. The closed loop system allows water, waste, and energy to feed into each other, reducing the amount of resources needed to maintain the system. The system is enabled by connected technology that focuses on sensors, monitoring activity in real time. Residents can see the results of their actions and adjust for maximum sustainable outcomes acknowledging “if you can see it, you can change it.” 

Tech is an important enabler. Moving on towards the digital Twin city, I expect smart will still mean sustainable.