Five from Finland
Green energy has become the topic on everyone’s lips, with Finland moving from words to actions.Julia Helminen
The global energy sector is going through a major transition from fossil-based to zero-carbon energy, with Finland actively supporting the push toward a greener future.
A small country on a global scale, Finland has big ambitions to become carbon neutral by 2035 and carbon negative by 2040. Passed into law by the Parliament, these impressive climate targets, paired with the rise in energy prices and phasing out of Russian fossil energy, are prompting local businesses, institutions and interest groups to find new and more sustainable energy solutions.
According to the World Economic Forum, Finland is already well positioned in the transition to sustainable energy, and the country has been reporting further advances on the way.
Read on to discover some of what’s up in energy.
Much has been said recently about green hydrogen as a key enabler of the global transition to sustainable energy and net-zero emissions economies. Interest in green hydrogen is skyrocketing worldwide, with Finland leading by example.
Last month, the Finnish Government’s Ministerial Committee on Economic Policy announced its decision to mandate state-owned Gasgrid Finland to promote the development of a national hydrogen infrastructure. Gasgrid has been responsible for gas transmission in Finland, and, in future, the company’s strategic interest will be extended to include the transmission of hydrogen and its gaseous derivatives, as well as the establishment of the national hydrogen network. A subsidiary, VetyVerkko, will be founded by Gasgrid for this purpose.
“I am very pleased that the creation of a foundation for Finland’s hydrogen economy is now getting started in the right order and that a national transmission network for hydrogen is established,” commented the Minister of Economic Affairs, Mika Lintilä.
Meanwhile, Helsinki-based specialist in hydrogen and power-to-X technology P2X Solutions is busy with the construction of Finland’s first industrial-scale green hydrogen and synthetic methane production plant in Harjavalta, Western Finland. The 20-megawatt plant is expected to become operational in 2024, utilising renewable energy to electrolyse water into hydrogen and oxygen, and refine some of the hydrogen into renewable synthetic fuels, such as synthetic methane.
“In Harjavalta, we are implementing our first project in good co-operation with the local industry and the city of Harjavalta,” said Herkko Plit, CEO of P2X Solutions. “Green hydrogen and its downstream products contribute to Finland’s energy self-sufficiency, as well as the green transition of land and maritime transport and industry.”
Finland is also encouraging domestic and international businesses, research institutions, investors and municipalities to take joint action to build a greener tomorrow together. One example is BotH2nia, an international initiative for building a large-scale hydrogen economy around the Gulf of Bothnia and the Baltic Sea. Launched in 2021 by the open innovation ecosystem Green Electrification (GreenE2) led by CLIC Innovation, BotH2nia brings together dozens of partners from Finland, Sweden and Estonia.
The value of the European battery market is predicted to reach 250 billion euros by 2025, owing largely to the growth of electric traffic and renewable energy. As the only country in the world capable of managing the entire battery value chain, from mineral extraction to recycling, Finland has all it takes to establish itself as a competitive and sustainable player in the global shift towards electrification.
“Finland meets all the requirements for creating an important battery cluster that will enable us to create added value in Finland and promote the international growth of companies,” executive director of Business Finland, Teija Lahti-Nuuttila, commented after Finland unveiled its national battery strategy in early 2021.
Indeed, Finland saw a number of significant international deals and collaborations in recent months. The City of Vaasa and Norway’s FREYR Battery in May signed a fixed-term lease agreement for a battery cell plant being constructed in the region, while Germany’s BASF chose Harjavalta as the location of its first battery materials production facility in Europe.
Also in Harjavalta, Finnish majority state-owned energy company Fortum is building a state-of-the-art battery material recycling facility. With the first deployment testing expected later this year and the construction works scheduled for completion in early 2023, the plant will significantly increase the recycling capacity of battery materials in Europe.
With so much going on in the industry, Finland is creating an attractive opportunity not only for businesses and investors, but also for international talents looking for career hot spots. Read our interview with staff scientist Ben Wilson to learn more about the battery research community in Finland. Hailing from the UK, Wilson is helping Finland to position itself as Europe’s leading battery hub.
DIGITALISATION AND AI
Nowadays, digitalisation, the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) have an impact along the entire energy value chain, covering generation, transport, distribution, supply and consumption. One of the forerunners is Vaasa-headquartered software company Wapice, which has been supplying IoT- and AI-based solutions for over two decades. Earlier this year, Wapice’s award-winning IoT-TICKET platform became an integral part of UPM Energy’s BeyondSpot, a new smart energy management service developed with the idea of mitigating risks, creating cost savings and getting revenue from energy trading.
Another notable player in the field is VEO, which develops automation, drives and power distribution solutions for the energy and process industries. The company has strengthened its position as a trusted energy partner in the Nordic countries after it announced in June that it will provide electrification and automation solutions for the modernisation of three hydropower plants in Sweden and Norway.
It also can’t go unmentioned that Finland is home to a growing number of companies providing solutions for smart housing and energy efficiency in buildings. Harnessing modern technology, the products and services offered by the likes of Fourdeg, Nuuka Solutions, LeaseGreen, OptiWatti and Leanheat are in high demand among property owners, real estate developers and housing companies seeking to ensure optimised energy consumption and improved sustainability.
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, in turn, has combined its profound knowledge of power systems and energy markets with mastery of state-of-the-art AI technology to develop VTT EnergyTeller, an AI-powered software solution that improves the quality of forecasting for applications in the energy sector.
“With the shift towards carbon neutral solutions, the generation of power depends on the availability of renewable energy,” explained Sergio Motta, team leader of the smart grids research group at VTT. “Since we cannot control this, we must learn how to predict it.”
BIOFUELS AND WASTE-TO-ENERGY SOLUTIONS
Finland has vast expertise in waste-based biofuel production, as well as technologies for power plants that utilise waste as feedstock. Recognised as the Bioenergy Industry Leader in 2017, UPM Biofuels has developed UPM BioVerno, a wood-based renewable fuel produced from forest industry residues at the company’s flagship biorefinery in Lappeenranta. UPM BioVerno is a sustainable alternative to fossils helping to reduce the carbon footprint of the road transport industry and polymer production ranging from packaging to automotive applications.
Meanwhile, Neste has developed groundbreaking methods to manufacture renewable biodiesel from any organic biomass, including used cooking oil and animal fats from food industry waste. Chosen as a winner of Fast Company’s 2021 World Changing Ideas Awards, the innovation is a perfect circular solution. The company is aiming high: thanks to its expansion project in Singapore and a joint venture with the US’s Marathon Petroleum announced earlier this year, Neste is on track to become “the only global provider of renewable products with a production footprint in North America, Asia and Europe”.
Elsewhere, Gasum is living up to its reputation as the number one expert in the Nordic biogas sector. The company owns a nationwide network of biogas plants, where biodegradable feedstocks, such as biowaste from shops, commercial garden waste and even spent grains from beer brewing, are used to produce biogas for power generation, transport and shipping.
Another Finnish heavyweight, Wärtsilä, revealed in June that it has agreed to supply its biogas upgrading plant for an innovative mill project in the UK. The mill has been designed to turn grass into carbon-neutral gas that can be used to heat homes.
“The need for low-emission energy solutions continues to become more important,” noted Mika Wiljanen, CEO of Gasum.
WIND AND SOLAR POWER
Being open to the winds of change means Finnish companies are doing great things in wind power, with Fortum being a trailblazer in the field. Over the last few years, the energy company has taken many steps to grow, currently operating 260 wind turbines with a joint capacity of 982 megawatts across Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia (due to the country’s invasion of Ukraine, Fortum in March stopped all new investment projects in Russia until further notice).
Some environmentally conscious businesses have also switched to Fortum’s wind power for their production. The most recent example is Anora, a leading wine and spirits brand house in the Nordic region. Last month, Fortum and Anora signed a wind power supply agreement, which allows up to half of the electricity used by Anora at the Koskenkorva distillery to be replaced by wind power produced at the Kalax wind farm in Närpiö.
“Technological advancements have made wind and solar power the most competitive forms of power generation in most parts of the world,” said Seppo Valkealahti, professor of electrical energy engineering at Tampere University. “Wind power is already commercially profitable in Finland, but solar power is still in its infancy.”
Despite the fact that only 0.1 per cent of the renewable energy consumed is generated by solar power, solar innovations are aplenty here up north, ranging from the world’s first solar roofing developed by Virte Solar to new ways to convert solar power-produced electricity into gas or liquid fuels developed by VTT.
And the future looks bright. According to Valkealahti, in 15 years’ time wind could supply close to 60 per cent and solar 25 per cent of national electricity needs.