Trade mission perspectives on the U.K. and Finland clean energy transition
In mid-November, Virginia Mooty Rutter, CEEM’s Manager of Community Relations traveled with the Minnesota Delegation on the Governor’s Trade Mission to the United Kingdom (UK) and Finland. She was joined by a strong contingent of Minnesota clean energy businesses and policy professionals. You can read about her main takeaways here.
We are pleased to share three more perspectives on the trip from CEEM members Eric Pasi (Impact Power Solutions), Don Weinkauf (St Thomas School of Engineering) and Ken Smith (Ever-Green Energy). In their own words:
Eric Pasi, Chief Development Officer & Co-Owner, Impact Power Solutions
It was an honor to join Minnesota Governor Tim Walz on a trade mission to Europe in mid-November. The delegation was filled with experts from various fields including ours, energy and environment. I was only able to join for the UK portion which was jam-packed with productive meetings, conversations, and idea-sharing.
There were multiple references to the “special relationship” enjoyed by the US and UK. In terms of climate goals, Minnesota and the UK share an outsized ambition to significantly curb GHG emissions over the next few decades. Our common interests include the accelerated adoption of cold-climate electric heat pumps, electrification of our transportation industries, and the advent of offshore wind technologies in the US, much of which has been pioneered in the UK.
Several event highlights included visiting start-up accelerator Sustainable Ventures, whose offices boasted an incredible view of parliament and Big Ben. We toured London’s greenest office building at Southworks and learned about AI technology for autonomous vehicles at the Smart Mobility Living Lab. My favorite part of the trip had to be the briefing and social hour at the US Embassy, which played host to most of our UK collaborators.
At the conclusion of our trip I was thankful to have had an opportunity to share my relevant experience with counterparts in London. The intersection between clean, but intermittent resources like wind and solar, and flexible loads like electric cars, green hydrogen, and heat pumps can improve the grid and reduce costs. The orchestration between generation and loads will be absolutely critical. Several contacts I met specialize in different facets of these value chains; fostering further innovation in this space will help ratepayers, utilities, and the planet. I look forward to building on these relationships and ideas in my development role at IPS.
Don Weinkauf, Dean School of Engineering, University of St. Thomas
Last month, the Minnesota Higher Ed Delegation joined First Lady Gwen Walz on a packed schedule exploring partnership opportunities in the UK and Finland. Reps from St. Cloud State, Mankato State, University of Minnesota, Concordia, University of St Thomas, among others visited multiple universities, the Fulbright Foundation, and the Education Ministries in each country. And as one might expect, we also enjoyed the idea exchange among many of our fellow Minnesotans representing the state, ag, med-tech, and environmental delegations on the Trade Mission. With discovery and workforce development at the core of our work, we found real connections within each of the groups.
The power of Brexit
For our higher ed visits in the UK, there were a few big takeaways. Number one is Brexit, Brexit, Brexit! (Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!) The UK is untangling itself from everything that it didn’t anticipate with the move, including issues with trade, workforce, and education. But where there is disruption, there is opportunity. With the EU-centric-Erasmus international exchange program now sun-setting, the UK is launching the 110 M GBP/yr “Turing Scheme” to promote UK students studying abroad, anticipating that the US will be a top destination. The Education Ministry reps were crystal clear that the best way to engage with this program is to establish firm relationships with individual UK partner institutions. It was also made clear by the US Embassy team that there is no stomach in the country to even entertain a reversal of the Brexit decision, so folks should be pretty certain moving forward that the UK exit is firm.
Impressive findings at Queen Mary University of London
One of the more interesting visits in the UK was to Queen Mary University of London. For those in higher ed working on addressing the incredible demographic shift that we are facing across the nation, Queen Mary may have some answers. Look at these student statistics: 52% First-Gen, 75% BAME (the UK acronym for BIPOC), and 25% from families making less than US$15,000 per year. When asked about the “secret sauce” to their success, the President of the university talked about a hyper-level of student/community engagement and, even more interesting, a granular level of understanding about the health, education, and background of each individual student. Again, this is a university that I will definitely follow-up with. There are some answers there.
Finland: a country and culture of learners
The Finnish Higher Educational system is also fascinating. Free for as many degrees as you want. In other words, it is a country and culture of continuous learners. The country prides itself on education. Even those in prison are put back into the educational pipeline, meeting them wherever they stepped out of the system. In Finland, among other stops and briefings, we visited both Aalto University and the University of Helsinki. The big higher ed theme from Finland was that they are looking for research collaborators through their Finnish Flagship Program which supports research centers of excellence in strategic fields like AI, climate change, forest products, 6G networks, super-computing, etc. There is a strong country level focus on innovation and economic development through their universities. Those interested should see if there is a center that matches their own expertise clusters.
All in all, a great trip! To my fellow delegates and staffers on the Trade Mission, thank you. This will lead to steps forward for our State. Cheers.
Reflections from Trade Mission | Ken Smith, President & CEO, Ever-Green Energy
A tool used in business is the “S Curve” or “maturity curve.” It is used to gain understanding about how a business or industry changes as it grows and matures, and is often used to predict when inflection points will be encountered. As I reflect on the information shared during the trade mission to UK and Finland together with insights gained during a recent Climate Smart Municipalities delegation to northern Germany, identifiable inflection points in the energy transition are becoming clearer to me.
In the early phase of the energy transition, much of the focus is on increasing the percentage of renewable and carbon-free electricity being added to the electrical grid. Energy conservation/efficiency efforts largely emphasize reducing the energy usage of items like lighting, motors, appliances, etc. While the stated goal of these combined efforts is the reduction of GHG emissions, much of the attention is placed on advancing the use of renewables and displacing fossil fuels. I observed this in Germany. While Germany has a very comprehensive framework of goals to reduce GHG emission, much of the initial transition efforts focused on increasing the percentage of renewable energy being generated and used.
Learning about European clean energy transitions
As transition efforts mature, decarbonization increasingly moves to the forefront. Focus shifts to utilizing the increasingly carbon-free electrical grid to electrify more energy loads and even sectors of the economy. Terms like beneficial electrification and cross-sector coupling emerge to explain how renewable electricity can be used to increase system efficiency and reduce GHG emissions. This phase of the transition is currently evident in the United Kingdom and Germany. We have also seen evidence here in Minnesota with policies such as the recently passed ECO and Natural Gas Innovation Acts during the 2021 legislative session.
The next inflection point
The next inflection point that emerges was evident in Finland. In this phase of the transition the application of circular economy principles emerges as being a key strategy to increase the efficiency and productivity of the energy system while multiplying the impact of available carbon-free electricity. Finland recently accelerated their timeline to be fossil fuel free by 2035. A key contributor to their ability to advance their efforts is the application of circular economy principles. During the trade mission we met with the energy companies Helen and Fortum. Both described similar pathways to achieve their decarbonization goals being built on a foundation of circular economy inspired electrification strategies. Similar to Minnesota, the heating of buildings is a large source of GHG emissions in Finland. Helen and Fortum are both actively planning and deploying projects that use electric heat pumps to recover and use significant amounts of wasted thermal energy from sources such as wastewater treatment plants, data centers, and industry for the purpose of heating buildings with carbon free thermal energy.
What sets Finland apart
Delegations like this provide opportunities to learn from other countries and companies. In the UK and Finland, the delegation heard about how both countries are developing and deploying new policies, technologies, businesses, and business models to achieve their objectives. While both countries are progressing towards their climate goals, Finland is actually accelerating their efforts. And more importantly, their results. One reason may be that it is a much smaller country that is nimble, innovative and entrepreneurial. However, multiple representatives from Finland pointed to the importance of using circular economy principles to inform their strategies and actions. They said it is in their DNA to do so. Minnesotans share those traits. The idea that we should use resources efficiently and look for ways to gain as much value as we can before we waste what is left is not new to us.
Minnesota has a long history of careful energy planning, leadership and action. There is much we can learn from our friends in Europe as we progress and mature in the transition of our energy system. Integrating the application of circular economy principles into the effort is a key take away that I hope will gain traction as Minnesota looks to advance and decarbonize its energy system to the benefit of customers and communities across the state.