The Regional Council of Ostrobothnia has emerged as an active participant in international cooperation, assuming a significant role in numerous organisations and initiatives dedicated to advancing regional development and fostering collaboration across Europe. Among these initiatives, the Horizon 2020 funded RIPEET project stands out as a transformative undertaking.
The RIPEET project’s overarching objective is to facilitate an accessible, inclusive and customised energy transition that aligns with the unique needs and aspirations of Ostrobothnia’s residents. It serves as an exemplary model, showcasing how international efforts leverage ongoing discussions at the EU level to drive the green transition through regional catalysts.
The project establishes connections between regions that share similar ambitions and challenges, effectively translating its objectives into tangible outcomes within the Ostrobothnia region through robust regional cooperation and targeted pilot initiatives. The project is carried out in cooperation between the Regional Council of Ostrobothnia, Merinova and the University of Vaasa.
Engages diverse stakeholders to implement concrete actions
Focusing on enhancing regional innovation ecosystems, RIPEET assumes a pivotal role in Ostrobothnia’s journey towards renewable energy. The project aims to identify necessary innovations, conduct research and implement measures crucial to this transition.
By engaging diverse stakeholders such as public organisations, companies, universities, colleges and citizens, RIPEET endeavours to map the region’s specific requirements, develop a cohesive vision, establish priorities and implement concrete actions to facilitate the energy transition.
Ostrobothnia is one of three pilot regions in the project, Extremadura in Spain and the Scottish Highlands and Islands being the other two. Recently, project participants from the three regions met in Vaasa at the Wasa Innovation Center for an open seminar on energy communities and local energy initiatives.
The key takeaway from the seminar was the need for a deepened discussion to increase knowledge about practical energy solutions among the residents.
Knowledge needed to establish local energy communities
The RIPEET project seeks to encourage citizens to share their insights, experiences and proposals on how to advance renewable energy adoption and foster community-driven sustainable energy practices in the region.
Small-scale renewable energy production carried out on the initiative of residents will become increasingly common in Finland. In the Ostrobothnian village communities, interest is now rising in increasing the degree of self-sufficiency of locally produced energy. Mainly solutions with biogas and hydropower are of interest.
One of these villages looking to become a ‘smart village’ is Älvbyarna, located in the east area of Mustasaari.
Small-scale renewable energy production carried out on the initiative of residents will become increasingly common in Finland.
Technical and financial challenges slow down the process
In rural areas, common interest was traditionally organised as cooperatives. It fostered a strong sense of community engagement and shared decision-making that we lack today in society. However, for residents looking to establish small-scale renewable energy projects today, a limited company may provide greater flexibility, legal protections and access to financial resources, making them an attractive option for investors.
One interesting idea, project leader Emma Wester explains, is to reopen the village’s old hydroelectric plant, the Voitby rapids, to warm the building. But this has proven a difficult task for the villagers to solve on their own.
To contribute to a faster transition to renewable energy in Ostrobothnia, Novia UAS together with Älvbyarna is carrying out a development project linked to the RIPEET project. The initiative seeks to pave the way for innovative solutions and practical models for renewable energy expansion in the region.
By leveraging the Voitby rapids’ hydroelectric potential, the project aims to demonstrate the viability and benefits of decentralised energy generation.
The idea is to make the shift from consumers to producers. And this is not a distant goal. We want to develop a real model for this within 10 years, or else it may never happen.
Second-life batteries could be key to local renewable energy
Another local development emerging from the RIPEET project is found in the village of Esse, where a pilot project towards becoming a smart village is taking place.
Esse, located in the northeastern part of Pedersöre municipality in Ostrobothnia, is home to approximately 3,300 residents. The cooperation in the village is strong and there are many associations in various fields. There are several ongoing energy projects in the municipality who want to collaborate locally, such as Esse Elektro-Kraft & Autocirc’s battery project and PK Biogas.
Esse Elektro-Kraft is the local producer and distributor of electricity in the area and Autocirc the owner of several vehicle-dismantling units around the Nordic countries, of which one is located in Esse. In early 2022, Autocirc and Esse Elektro-Kraft started a project with the purpose of investigating how batteries from electrical and hybrid vehicles could be reused and repurposed.
Ingvar Kulla, Managing Director at Esse Elektro-Kraft Ab, confirms that the Esse area is now in the phase of entering the RIPEET project.
It will be very interesting to participate and see what this project can lead to. The project has a strong backup from Action Österbotten and the University of Vaasa. As a result, we are currently in the exciting phase of constructing our inaugural full-scale energy storage system.
Energy storage systems can for instance be used for energy trading, for stabilising the electrical grid or for balancing production from renewable production sources like solar and wind.
“The availability of second life batteries from vehicles is expected to grow rapidly within the coming years,” expresses Kulla optimistically.
Kulla adds that the reuse of batteries not only contributes to a significant reduction in CO2 emissions but also aids in the minimisation of waste resulting from vehicle dismantling operations.
“We hope that there is a role to play for our energy storage systems within the RIPEET project, as it will be implemented in the Esse area,” he says.
Co-creation the most important success factor
For the Regional Council of Ostrobothnia, the international cooperation stretches across three core activities: international political activity and networks, participation in international cooperation platforms and international project activities.
“International projects are specifically important for development inspiration, accessing new knowledge and exchanging concrete experiences with others facing similar challenges as us,” says Johanna Dahl, Regional Development Expert at the Regional Council of Ostrobothnia.
According to Johanna Dahl, these projects hold significant importance not only in generating evidence to inform decision-making processes but also in actively seeking to influence the ongoing EU-level discourse. By producing compelling evidence and insights, the Regional Council strive to shape and impact the current debates at the European Union level.
“Joining forces with other regions gives us the possibility to more powerfully highlight the regions’ work, role and needs in, for example, the energy transition,” Johanna adds.
International organisations in which the Regional Council of Ostrobothnia participates:
Association of European Border Regions (AEBR): AEBR has been dedicated to fostering cross-border cooperation in Europe for over 30 years. Steven Frostdahl, First Vice President of the Board of the Regional Council of Ostrobothnia, is Vice President of the Board of AEBR.
Baltic Sea States Sub-regional Cooperation (BSSSC): Ostrobothnia actively participates in sub-regional cooperation among the Baltic Sea states, contributing to collaborative efforts in various domains.
Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions of Europe (CPMR): Being one of the oldest associations that brings together regions with common interests, CPMR encompasses more than 150 regions from 24 states, both within and outside the European Union. The organisation aims to promote balanced development in the European Union, emphasising economic, social and territorial cohesion. This year, the General Assembly will be co-hosted by Västerbotten and Ostrobothnia on 19-20 September 2023 in Umeå and Vaasa.
Kvarken Council EGTC: Ostrobothnia is a member of the Kvarken Council EGTC, an association dedicated to cross-border cooperation between the Ostrobothnian regions in Finland, the province of Västerbotten and the municipality of Örnsköldsvik in Sweden. The Kvarken Council primarily focuses on issues related to the food industry, university cooperation, culture, traffic, tourism and the environment.
In addition to these organisations, the Regional Council of Ostrobothnia also actively engages with the Smart Specialisation Network S3, which focuses on promoting smart specialisation strategies in the region.
The four regions of Western Finland have a joint office (West Finland European Office) in Brussels, Belgium. The office is administered by the Regional Council of Ostrobothnia. As its main tasks, the office promotes the interests of its four regions to the EU, European networks and other EU regions, monitors and reports daily on the EU policy and funding programmes and supports project building and European partnerships for its stakeholders.