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Helsinki’s natural instinct to collaborate, share, prepare and digitise makes it a natural role model for the rest of the world when it comes to the future of energy.
The Nordics already meet more than three-quarters of their electricity needs with renewable sources, while more than half of the energy consumed across the region for heating and cooling are renewably sourced.
It’s not necessarily surprising among a cluster of countries renowned for their social leaning, penchant for sustainability and ability to channel investment into social good.
And yet, it is technology that can perhaps be thanked most of all for this world-leading position when it comes to energy. In this regard, targeting innovation towards the world’s most pressing challenge seems obvious, but it requires pioneers and trailblazers. Helsinki sits at the tip of this iceberg as a pioneering city, in a pioneering country, driving a pioneering region.
This status was brought to the centre stage during May’s World Economic Forum in Davos. Over the course of the week, Helsinki’s leading digital players and innovative scale-ups sought to offer solutions to the rest of the world in the areas of education, business management and smart city development.
Energy represented the final frontier, to showcase the city’s role as a regional and global driving force. “The Nordic region has a vision to be the most sustainable and integrated in the world by 2030, and is promoting a transition to a green economy, climate neutrality, a sustainable circular economy and the bioeconomy,” said Kristiina Siilin, business development manager at Helen, a Finnish energy company operating across the full spectrum of energy services and helping the country with its decarbonisation goals.
“This requires a lot of digital intervention and automated tools,” she said. “At Davos, we shared our transformation vision to explain why it cannot happen without the adoption of new technologies, new methods for system design, and innovative tools to optimise energy and material flows.”
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Ambitions include phasing out coal, new approaches to heating and cooling, the building of energy platforms reliant on digital modelling, the championing of solar and the exploration of various renewable sources’ integration into the country’s grid.
“Underpinning this, however, is the role of data, which is absolutely key in energy,” said Siilin. “We need to know the amount of energy produced, when and where, as well as where, when and how much is needed for energy consumption. The whole energy system is moving towards a real-time system, so the balance between energy produced for the network, and energy consumed across homes and businesses is impossible to maintain manually.
“Energy management software tools to optimise and control the system are required in this green transition and are a crucial building block for the future energy platform.”
Much of this focus around data pertains not to countries, grids or power providers, but to customers. By giving them more visibility and control over their energy output, they are more likely to become invested in the bigger picture.
It is a collaborative and socially motivated strategy that epitomises what Finland and the Nordics are all about.
“We have a service called Kiinteistövahti (building watch) which again brings people on this journey – this time for property owners to have better visibility of indoor conditions so residents are more comfortable,” said Siilin. “The service collects data and adjusts the heating of the building – it improves quality of life, while optimising energy efficiencies and reducing costs and emissions.”
Connecting a complex matrix
Finland’s tech-driven approach to its energy transition is best represented by its centralised data platform, Datahub. Bringing to mind other familiar Nordic traits – collaboration and openness – it is operated and administered by a subsidiary of Fingrid to collate and store all customer and electricity consumption data in one location.
“When the same data is available for everyone at the same time, it encourages new and exciting innovators into the market as they can see exactly what they’re getting into,” said Siilin. “This only goes to help the end customer – the energy user.”
What such transparent insight also helps to achieve is a link between all strands of the energy matrix that need addressing.
St1 is a Finnish energy company that has adapted and evolved over the course of 25 years, and, as such, has one of the best overarching views of this complex ecosystem. It is an ecosystem in Finland that includes a vast forestry operation, an intensive transport and industry reliance on power, and a need to connect strands of hydropower, nuclear, wind and solar to offset fossil fuel usage.
“Overall, when thinking about energy sector, digitisation and improved digital applications to enhance the efficiency and balancing of the power grid together with battery storage are pivotal to enabling higher shares of stable, renewable power,” said Timo Huhtisaari, director of sustainability and future business at St1. “There is also an increasing number of servers to consider, which will cause excess heat that can be integrated into the heating network.
“Finally, due to the increasing supply of renewable power, there will be moments when there are vast amounts of electricity available. This can be optimised, to be used as a ‘feedstock’ for renewable hydrogen production.”
Put simply, with so many interconnecting parts, from the energy matrix, to business use and industry, to people’s homes, an overarching picture is needed: a picture generated through technology that can inform the best next steps to take.
Change cannot be done alone
Such openness and collaboration also leads to ambitious targets. The country’s climate policy laid out by the government aims for a climate-neutral nation by 2035. Understandably, Helsinki’s innovative crossover between tech and energy will be largely responsible for this effort moving forward, but thankfully, they’ve already had a head start.
“Finland is well known for being prepared for events well in advance,” said Siilin. “We’ve known for a long time that renewables and electrification are going to require a lot of investment and innovation, while also preparing the market and regulations for the future transition.
“However, this process is made easier by the fact that energy efficiency and energy access are already characteristics of our sector,” she said. “Digitisation is simply a way to accelerate the process, better meet this vision and increase energy awareness among the country’s population.”
At Davos, the city’s trailblazing innovators were all too happy to share this model with the global population.
“We’ve seen in other European countries how high energy prices can get and how renewables integration can hit bottlenecks,” said Siilin. “Flexible services and common data sharing platforms are developments that would help them in their energy transitions, and we share this knowledge by realising that change cannot be done alone.
“It is why we welcome partners to Finland and to Helsinki, to build this future of energy together,” she said.