Clean energy opportunities abound in Minnesota’s relationship with Finland
An upcoming visit
The Finnish Minister of Trade and Development and Finnish Ambassador will visit Minnesota in October and are planning to meet with Governor Walz and other businesses and trade representatives. This visit has been planned for months, given the shared objectives of the clean economy and renewable energy.
The Finnish government is bringing business leaders from U.S. subsidiaries of Finnish businesses to Minnesota due to COVID-related international travel restrictions. Finns have made strides in battery development, energy storage, and sustainable mining practices that appeal to Minnesota businesses.
In addition to business partnerships, Minnesota universities have much to gain with research, innovation opportunities and student exchanges in the clean technology space, which benefit Minnesota business leaders because high-tech labor is hard to find.
Why is the Minister and Finnish Ambassador visiting with a delegation in October?
The timing is right given the 2017 visit from the Finnish President for celebrating 100 years of Finnish independence. Even though the global pandemic threw a spanner in October 2020 event planning, the Finnish government’s investment arm, Business Finland, followed up with an online roadshow event earlier this year focusing on energy, sustainability and IoT.
Since then, preparations for the Minister and Ambassador’s visit have started in earnest. Bringing a delegation to Minnesota is very important for the Minister and Ambassador because Governor Walz will be visiting Finland later in November.
In any industry, the Finnish focus on the environment and sustainability including health and wellness, is prominent. Minnesota consumers already know the Finnish brands in the U.S., such as Puustelli (kitchen cabinets), Fiskars (gardening tools), Rapala (fishing lure), and TyloHelo (sauna and steam bath products). Uponor, a Finnish “intelligent plumbing and climate solutions” company, has North American headquarters in Apple Valley, Minnesota. Minnesotans already know Finns, hence this is a long-standing relationship.
Minnesota’s clean energy focus has caught the eye of the Finnish government
The Finnish government realizes that Minnesota is poised to play a leading role in the U.S. on reducing carbon because according to CEEM’s Minnesota State Energy Factsheet (produced by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF):
- There are more than 18,750 battery-electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles on the road in Minnesota
- There was a 17% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in M.N.’s power sector from last year
- There was a 24% boost over ten years to Minnesota’s energy productivity score (defined as the ratio of GDP to electricity demand)
For the first time, Minnesota’s renewables were the largest source of electricity generation in the state. Renewable sources provided 29 percent of Minnesota’s electricity, including wind, solar, hydro, and biomass. Renewables have accounted for 84 percent of all new electricity generation capacity added since 2010, totaling 3.6 gigawatts.
Wind power is the cheapest source of new electricity in Minnesota, even on an unsubsidized basis. Last year Minnesota power imports fell to their lowest level in over two decades. This power import reduction is thanks in part to the addition of new wind and solar. These are all the reasons why Minnesota appeals to Finnish clean technology business leaders.
Finns have entered into agreements with other states such as Michigan and Maine
We know that Finns are visiting with a purpose because Finland entered into a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) with Maine (bioeconomy) and Michigan on clean technology, including smart mobility, battery technology, and sustainable bioeconomy. If Michigan is home to the top three car manufacturers in the U.S., Minnesota has snow removal and snowmobile companies such as Toro, Polaris, and Arctic Cat.
But what is unique about Minnesota is that Minnesota has a large Finnish immigrant community, with more than 50% in the northeast part of the state, 30% concentrated in the Twin Cities metro area, and the remaining spread over the state. Mining was a key reason for Finns to immigrate to Minnesota in the late 1800s.
What do Finns bring to the Minnesota table? Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS)
Distributed energy production and Electric Vehicle (E.V.) charging leads to a need for real-time status monitoring for different devices, energy flows, and energy system optimization, including storage. This real-time monitoring is the future of the energy ecosystem, and Finnish companies are at the cutting edge of the technology. Hence CEEM members can benefit from Finnish experience with the Internet Of Things (IoT) sector.
Finland is reshaping the entire smart mobility ecosystem, Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), in demand-based traffic, private and shared traffic, and scheduled traffic areas. Finland’s MaaS Global and Whim mobility app was selected to the top 10 in the European Startup awards category.Many CEEM members can learn from Finnish MaaS experience.
CEEM solar and other renewable energy companies interested in battery storage should know that Finland has built an entire battery ecosystem that includes testbeds in harsh winter conditions. Finns have businesses in raw materials including sustainable mining, battery manufacturers, companies that test batteries under various applications, companies that reuse batteries, and leading research for recycling batteries.
Finland is the only country in the European Union (EU) that produces all three primary minerals that go into batteries – Lithium, Cobalt, and Nickel.
CEEM members should note that Finland offers a compelling location for Minnesota companies aspiring to meet the growing European demand for battery components and cells. The EU has given Finland a leading role in battery recycling research as proof of Finnish competencies.
What are Finns looking for in CEEM members? Willingness to explore new ideas and technologies
If we take the example of Ever Green Energy (EGE), a CEEM member, EGE would be interested to know that District Heating (DH) has a market share close to 50% in Finland, and >90% in the biggest cities. Power production by Combined Heat & Power (CHPs) has been ~15% of total Finnish power production.
In this Finnish power sector, the base-load system is undergoing a major transformation as fossil-based CHPs are phased out and replaced with distributed energy production, different types of energy storage, and energy efficiency improvements like integrating waste heat sources into DH networks.
The other key change is sector integration with electricity networks, where storage is the first combined asset. These are the energy system changes that Minnesota might see shortly, given that we are already at 30% renewable energy penetration. Hence Finns are interested in sharing their experiences with the energy transformation with CEEM members like EGE.
EGE and other CEEM members might be interested in knowing that Finnish company Silo.AI is at the leading edge of Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven district heating and cooling system optimization solutions leading to fewer emissions and less fuel with the same or more production while enabling power market optimization.
Minnesota’s mining industry should note Finland’s sustainable mining practices produce minerals for batteries
Minnesota’s mining industry should note that Finland’s energy storage ecosystem leverages the E.U. Battery Alliance’s goal of 10-20 Giga battery factories in Europe due to the growing demand for batteries in the electric transportation sector.
Finland is a prime location for battery component and cell manufacturing because of its natural resources and business environment. Many battery minerals and chemicals in Finland, such as nickel, cobalt, and lithium, are produced in a robust environmental and stringent sustainable method. That focus would appeal to sustainability-focused Minnesota mining companies.
Minnesota companies such as Toro, Polaris, and Arctic Cat can also leverage Finland for testing and piloting a new generation of electric vehicles and machines running on battery power.
Minnesota utilities would need more batteries because Feds mandate Grid-scale battery participation in Minnesota’s energy markets
The timing of the Finnish Minister of Trade and Development and the Finnish Ambassador’s visit in October is even better, considering that the transmission grid operator in Minnesota is opening up a new market participation model for energy storage in June 2022.
This new electric storage resource mandated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) opens the door for more batteries to participate in the energy markets. Minnesota utilities and renewable energy companies will have grid-scale batteries tied to the same transmission grid that traverses 15 states from Minnesota to parts of east Texas.
Businesses are not the only ones to gain. Universities can partner too!
In addition to the business leader delegations and discussions, Finns are intentionally meeting with universities in Minnesota such as the University of Minnesota to collaborate and share research insights in sustainability, energy, bioeconomy, and the environment.
Enabling partnerships between the Finnish universities such as the University of Vaasa, Aalto University and the University of Minnesota leads to research grants and additional high technology skills development, which benefits both sides’ business interests.
Minnesota and Finland have a long standing relationship
Aside from a large Finnish population and similar weather for business opportunities, there are similar traits that both Minnesota and Finland share. Since the Finnish president’s visit in 2017, Minnesota and Finland have been strengthening their relationship to promote a green economy and future technologies.
Potential sectors for more structural cooperation include sustainable technologies such as clean energy, IoT, sustainable bioeconomy, and digital technologies, which are all sectors in which Minnesota and Finland thrive.
Minnesota Governor is visiting Finland in November
Following the visit in October, in November of 2021, Governor Walz will be traveling to Finland with a U.S. business delegation focusing on several of the industries mentioned above. This visit will allow both Finnish companies to meet with U.S. companies on shared interests and potential business opportunities.
The Finnish Minister of Trade and Development and Finnish Ambassador’s visit to Minnesota in October is a testament to the success of Clean Energy Economy Minnesota members. In November, the Minnesota Governor’s visit to Finland tees up the opportunities to develop relationships with business leaders who share similar interests in the clean energy and renewable energy space.
This blog was guest authored by Rao Konidena, founder of CEEM-member consulting firm Rakon Energy.