Espoo is Finland’s second biggest city. With close to 300,000 inhabitants, it is home to many education and research institutes as well as global corporations including Nokia. Interestingly, all Finnish unicorn startups have emerged in the city. Read more about what makes Espoo smart!
Co-creation and innovation Made in Espoo
Espoo is known around the world for its innovative environment for science, art, and the economy. The country’s second-largest city lies right next to its largest one, the capital Helsinki, in the south of Finland. Aalto University, VTT Technical Research Centre, Nokia, Kone, Fortum, MySQL, Supercell, and Rovio are just some of the companies and startups coming from the city. It seems that Espoo understands very well how to offer an innovation ecosystem that encourages experimental culture and co-creation. The city says that its goal is to “be an active partner to citizens, NGOs, research institutions, companies, and other stakeholders”, providing testbeds for piloting new solutions.
The slogan of these co-creative efforts is “Make with Espoo”, which includes the role of municipalities as well as communities and companies. The city is inviting everyone to co-create, including residents, professionals in the public sector, companies, and research and development institutes. Urban living labs are one of the playgrounds for innovation: They consist of limited urban spaces dedicated to experiments and the co-creation of information and innovation to refine old services and innovate new ones – together.
Smart energy, mobility, and networks
Already, many building blocks of future smart cities are in place in Espoo. For example, autonomous vehicles are part of traffic. 5G networks will soon ensure faultless connectivity all throughout the city. And the stable smart grid ensures a smooth and safe transmission of data. This explains why big companies, startups, students, and researchers like coming to Espoo.
According to the city, the three main smart city elements in Espoo are across the sectors of energy, mobility, and 5G and IoT. In terms of energy, Espoo already has smart grids and works with renewable energy wherever possible. Smart buildings enable residents to save energy and heat their homes efficiently, while energy storage mechanisms support the city during the icy Finnish winter. The city has the ambitious goal of being carbon-neutral by 2030. Unlike most other cities, it has already met some goals earlier, reducing greenhouse gas emissions per inhabitant by 28% from the 1990 level four years earlier than planned in 2016.
Mobility-wise, Espoo boasts shared mobility, autonomous vehicles, electric mobility, and Mobility as a Service. Together with neighbouring cities Helsinki and Vantaa, Espoo has developed one of the first Mobility as a Service platforms with a standardised app interface, benefitting both public and private transportation service providers. Since 2022, the city has also been experimenting with autonomous buses. It aims at making autonomous public transport part of its low-carbon mobility.
And with excellent infrastructure for 5G networks and Internet of Things applications, Espoo positions itself further as a city of the future. The Internet of Things (IoT) is present in many smart sensors and devices throughout the city and in private households. Importantly, the city also focuses on sustainable architecture and living environments that are fit for the future, celebrating the Finnish tradition of wood construction and experimenting with new materials.
Smart city projects in Espoo
There is an abundance of smart city projects happening in Espoo. For example, Microsoft and Fortum have recently announced a partnership, working on a data centre project in Espoo that will provide zero-emission district heating for 250,000 people in the city. The idea is to convert waste heat from Microsoft’s planned Espoo data centre into district heating, providing over 40% of the area’s heating needs. The heat will be distributed to homes and businesses through a 900-kilometre network of underground pipes. This will be the biggest ICT investment that Finland has ever seen.
Another experimental project launched in Espoo in April 2023 is a robotic food delivery service by Starship Technologies. This makes Espoo the first Finnish location for Starship’s delivery robots. The zero-emission robots use GPS positioning, computer vision, a voice feature, and 12 cameras to scan nearby areas for obstacles. They are autonomous and already provide services to 8,000 local households that can make grocery orders and follow the robots’ progress through the Starship Food Delivery app. Each robot can carry two to three bags of food and select the best delivery route.
And VTT, a research and technology company, will build Europe’s leading clean energy piloting centre in Espoo. This is designed to be a new research and testing environment where companies can scale solutions to production quickly and cost-effectively. The Finnish company will invest 18 million Euro to build this centre, which will be completed in 2024.
Circular Economy: Smart and Clean Kera
Another example for Espoo’s smart city efforts is the development of Kera into an urban district where clean and smart solutions dominate. The area will be an example district for a circular economy based on a digital platform. Resource-friendly construction, innovative and low-emission energy solutions, and new types of digital services and applications will form part of this new urban district, making it a pioneer for sustainable development, digitalisation, and the circular economy.
Together with partner companies, residents, and other stakeholders, the Smart and Clean Kera project will be based on a new network-based cooperation model, creating solutions related to energy, transport, and urban food production. In participatory processes, as many residents as possible will have the opportunity to co-create the new area in terms of digital platforms, energy solutions, design and construction, housing and work, mobility and logistics, urban production, circular economy, sustainable lifestyles, and well-being and related services.
Read more: In 2018, Espoo was already recognised as the Intelligent Community of the year. The city has come a long way since then – take a time travelling trip here!