Three requirements for successful ‘smart cities’

23.01.2018 / Janne Walker Ørka

The market for global ‘smart city’ solutions is expected to total almost USD 1.56 trillion by 2020. If a nation is to take a leading position in this market, we are dependent on ambitious local authorities, new collaboration models and a breakdown of silos within the country.

The global ‘smart city’ market is huge: we can expect to see a business market of USD 1.56 trillion in the period 2015 to 2020 alone, according to Frost & Sullivan.

The world’s largest conference in this field, the Smart City Expo World Congress, was held in November 2017 in Barcelona.

Innovation Norway has identified smart cities as one of six areas of opportunity for sustainable economic growth in Norway and invited along a record number of Norwegian cities and businesses to show the best Norwegian solutions for developing smart cities.

COWI was part of the Norwegian delegation.

After the week in Barcelona, we believe that three aspects will be crucial if a nation is to succeed as an international smart city’ exporter. 

1. We need ambitious municipalities with a willingness to invest

Scandinavian local authorities were well represented at the Smart City Expo. Most were there because they are in the process of developing a smart city strategy for their municipality, or because they intend to do so in the near future. They see this as necessary investments, from which they will reap the benefits in the future.

However, this is far from true for all cities and local authorities; they are wary of taking the lead in investing in projects that could potentially result in mere visions. 

We are still at the starting line when it comes to phasing in end-to-end smart city solutions in Scandinavia.

However, even pilot projects have positive side-effects, as businesses are attracted by cities who act on innovation.

If the municipalities manage to attract some of the best minds by showing themselves to be forward-looking and willing to invest, they will, gain an edge in the expertise needed to move towards becoming smarter cities. 

Businesses are attracted by cities who act on innovation.
Janne Walker Ørka


We have many answers as to what the cities of the future should look like, with smart water and waste management systems, micro-terminals, green and intelligent mobility solutions and local renewable energy production.

Knowledge sharing and cooperation are essential to getting interaction within the smart city to work. Neither local authorities, engineers nor urban planners can run these projects on their own.

The distribution of roles in the smart city makes the task of urban development more complex than ever before. Implementing these projects will ultimately demand new forms of investment and ownership.

If we are to succeed in the silo-free society, across academic institutions, industry, public authorities and local communities, we need to change the collaboration and business models.

This will probably call for more trust than we are used to in traditional market-based models, and public-private partnerships (PPPs) will play a greater role. Solid reference projects reducing the barriers and uncertainty associated with PPPs will be needed in order to succeed.

A change in the collaboration and business models will probably call for more trust than we are used to in traditional market-based models, and public-private partnerships will play a greater role.
Janne Walker Ørka

But silos do not only exist between the sectors; they can also be found within the municipalities.

For local authorities, a smart city plan of their own is not necessarily the most effective silo-breaker; the smart city strategy can become a silo in itself – as a ‘separate universe’ outside existing district plans.

The risk is that good ideas and coherent solutions have a very long way to go before they become a reality.


If we are to be credible exporters of smart city solutions, we need more than visions – we also have to provide real-life results.

If the willingness we encountered in visiting cities and municipalities in Barcelona also reflects in their ability for action, they also will become an attractive provider of solutions on the world stage. 

The team from COWI presented our own smart city concept, ‘Sollihøgda Plussby’, during Smart City Expo. 

Europe's first city to produce more energy than it uses

'Sollihøgda Plussby' is an ambitious environmental project aiming to strengthen the future of the Oslo region. Today, the proposed location is an uninhabited forest area, but the goal is to create the first European city that is planned and designed utilizing environmental and smart technology from the start. 

The city can accommodate 30,000 inhabitants and provide 15,000 jobs, and become Europe’s first 'PlusCity. 

‘PlusCity’ is one that produces more energy than it uses. It will be designed with the knowledge we have about climate change, and how we can create zero emission societies in the future.

The vision has four city principles;

1. Smart city and transportation

The town center and transportation hub will be surrounded by high-density areas with apartments and office buildings. At Sollihøgda, transport methods with the highest social benefits will be put first, with accessibility easiest for those who walk, ride bicycles and travel by bus and train. The project also includes autonomous buses and freight transport, a car-sharing pool, and city bikes. 

Trucks will not be allowed to enter the neighborhoods, and we will minimize waste and use a modern, central waste suction system to collect and sort to recycling.

2. Plus energy

A city that produces more energy than it uses. Clean and renewable energy production will be distributed and stored through smart micro grids. Zero emission buildings and a city designed with intelligent mobility solutions will decrease the carbon footprint and energy needs substantially. 

3. Destination: Recreation

The city becomes a portal to the forest, and a destination that people wants to visit. Cross-country ski tracks and biking trails will lead straight from the train station and all inhabitants will have a maximum distance of 200 meters to the forest.

4. Circular economy

The zero-emission society is inspired by natural ecosystems where waste does not exist – everything is a resource. We will design and develop solutions where the technical world can learn from the biological systems, where everything will circulate and make us less dependent on non-renewable raw materials. 

One of the key success factors in this project is that we will also develop a strong collaboration model between the government, the academic world and research sector, investors, the business sector, and the local community; the so called Penta helix model – and through this collaboration develop smart and sustainable solutions based on sound process management and design thinking methodology.

More about the project  (Norwegian).

Cities are biggest driver for productivity growth 

All of the technology we need exists, the political will is there in words, and the ambitions of the property developers are sky-high. But only when the partnership between local government, industry and academia, and the politics are resolved and the investment are in place, can we move from vision to reality.

Our cities are the biggest driver for productivity growth. However, they also represent a huge threat to the climate in the way they are designed today.

We believe that a condition for success is to invoke completely new principles when we build cities for future generations. Only when these move from vision to reality, through a willingness to invest, new collaborative models and breaking down silos, can smart cities become a major export stream and create a smarter, more sustainable society.

How can the nordic region contribute to building the cities of tomorrow?

Video: Nordic Innovation and CPH Film Norway