Vaasa EnergyWeek opens strong: “Finland should be a leader of change in the green transition”

Vaasa EnergyWeek audience finding their places
4 min

The highly anticipated Energy & Climate Seminar kicked off Vaasa’s annual EnergyWeek today. This national event is held every spring and brings together over 200 energy sector decision-makers from both the public and private sectors to engage in discussions on current industry topics.

This year, the opening of Vaasa EnergyWeek coincided somewhat unfortunately with a Finnish Railway Union (RAU) strike, which stops train traffic from Monday 20 March until further notice. This means that visitors who intended to arrive by train had to rethink their travel plans, and some quick changes in the list of speakers had to be made when speakers could not come to the venue.

Visitors filled the ballroom of the city hall to the tune of inspiring music, which intensified as the clock on the stage screen counted down to 12 o’clock.

Securing investments is key

What makes Finland an attractive investment destination, and how can we sustain our appeal in the future? Today’s discussions focused on how companies could leverage future investments to propel their business and drive innovation.

Securing major investments in Finland is crucial to enable the European green transition; a comprehensive plan by the European Union (EU) to achieve a sustainable and low-carbon economy by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the use of renewable energy sources. The EU aims to become climate-neutral by 2050, which means that the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced is balanced by the amount removed from the atmosphere.

The green transition is an important step towards mitigating the impacts of climate change, reducing pollution, and protecting the planet’s natural resources. It also presents opportunities for creating new jobs and promoting economic growth while reducing the environmental footprint of economic activities.

The mood was optimistic, or rather typically Finnish in its reserved positivity, which was further reinforced by a slideshow featuring positive news from the energy cluster scrolling on the stage screen.

Finnish optimism leads the way

Paula Erkkilä
Paula Erkkilä delivers the opening speech.

Paula Erkkilä, the CEO of the Ostrobothnia Chamber of Commerce, emphasized the pivotal role of free trade in attracting the investment surge that is currently sweeping across the nation. She underscored the green transition as an opportunity for companies, but also highlighted the need for a collaborative effort between private operators and public decision-makers to accelerate development.

Notably, Erkkilä referenced the upcoming spring elections, emphasizing their potential impact on the future direction of Finland. To achieve climate neutrality in line with the nation’s climate goals, Finland will require a robust economy, top-tier expertise, and efficient logistics.

Hannu Linna
Hannu Linna represents Finland’s national transmission system operator Fingrid.

Hannu Linna, Chair of the Board of Directors at Fingrid, spoke about the impact of large investments on energy transmission and the main grid. At the industrial level, the amount of investments are at an all-time high. The industry requires a lot of electricity and, according to Linna, wind power could be the cheapest solution. However, solar energy is the fastest growing form of renewable energy.

Hannu Linna noted one important aspect of the Finnish electricity market, in comparison to its closest neighbours. The market price of electricity is always the same throughout the country at the same time. In contrast, Sweden has four different price areas and Norway has five. Linna sees Finland continuing as one price area, developing the whole of Finland as one.

Strong expertise and cooperation in the energy cluster

Sabina Storbacka, Program Director at Merinova, hosted a discussion panel on the topic of responsible investments as an accelerator of innovation. Participants were Matti Vaattovaara, CEO of Hitachi Energy Finland, Juha Päivike, Project Director at Wärtsilä’s Sustainable Technology Hub and Olli-Pekka Aalto, Head of Global Energy & Power at Danfoss Drives.

The central theme of the discussion was Finland’s ambition to become a global leader in bioeconomy and the means to accomplish this goal. Participants expressed confidence in the energy cluster’s extensive expertise and proven track record, as well as in the Fingrid system.

Collaboration emerged as the critical factor in this pursuit. While the energy cluster is capable of producing the necessary products, proactive infrastructure development and flexible project pathways are crucial for expediting progress.

Education was identified as another vital component. Companies lay important groundwork by interacting with students from the higher education institutions and being present already in the school environment. In Vaasa, the EnergyAcademy is one platform that enables this sort of close interaction between business and education.

Vaasa Energy Week 2023 panel - Matti Vaattovaara, Olli-Pekka Aalto, Juha Päivike, Sabina Storbacka
From the left: Matti Vaattovaara, Olli-Pekka Aalto, Juha Päivike, Sabina Storbacka

Amid fierce international competition

During the seminar, Ben Talus, Legal Counsel at Etha Wind, spoke about how Finland can compete internationally. Talus highlighted the issue of slow bureaucratic processes, which can be improved but are not currently a significant obstacle in the grand scheme of things. He emphasized the importance of implementing a proactive strategy that can anticipate potential obstacles in advance, thus avoiding delays.

Risto E. J. Penttilä, the CEO of Nordic West Office, participated via video link due to the train strike. When asked how Finland is dealing with international competition, Penttilä answered: “not very well”. He strongly suggested that Finland goes in for creating a sustainable region of green industry, which Northern Sweden currently has a strong lead in.

Penttilä also mentioned physical inactivity as a main driver of the decreasing study results in Finland, ultimately affecting the whole country negatively.

Coffee and networking

The intense first half of the opening seminar was followed by a coffee break, which many participants took as a precious networking opportunity. We caught some of these social interactions on camera.

Networking at Vaasa Energy Week 2023
Networking at Vaasa Energy Week 2023
Visitors enjoy the coffee table at Vaasa Energy Week 2023
Visitors enjoy the coffee table at Vaasa Energy Week 2023
Networking at Vaasa Energy Week 2023
Networking at Vaasa Energy Week 2023

Energy in politics activated party representatives

The second part of the opening seminar featured an energy policy debate between representatives of most Finnish parties, fired up for the upcoming parliamentary election. The participants were:

  • Janne Sankelo – Member of Parliament, National Coalition Party (Kokoomus)
  • Kim Berg – Member of Parliament, Social Democratic Party (SDP)
  • Mauri Peltokangas – Second Vice Chair, Finns Party (Perussuomalaiset)
  • Lotta Alhonnoro – Parliamentary candidate, Green League (Vihreät)
  • Mika Lintilä – Minister of Economic Affairs, Centre Party (Keskusta)
  • Jouni Jussinniemi – Second Vice Chair, Left Alliance (Vasemmistoliitto)
  • Joakim Strand – Member of Parliament, Swedish People’s Party (RKP)
  • Peter Östman – First Vice Chair, Christian Democrats (Kristillisdemokraatit)
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