If the wind will not come to us, we will go to the wind

An innovative idea to produce wind energy in the Arctic for use in southern Finland received a significant boost in the Committed community.

The challenge with renewable energy sources like solar or wind is that they are intermittent. They produce power when the sun shines or the wind blows, not necessarily when it is demanded. But there are a few places in the world that are the holy grail of renewables: they can produce lots of clean energy cheaply and reliably.

The Arctic Energy Initiative is a plan to make use of one of these golden areas for renewable power generation: the Nordic Arctic region. The region has high average wind production and low wind variability. In effect, it solves much of the “intermittent” issue with renewables.

“In about 2015 we were thinking at St1 about making a big impact with renewable energy,” says Thomas Hansen, Head of Wind at St1. “The Arctic region of Norway was very interesting because it had fantastic wind resources.”

Refining the plan at Committed

The Arctic region looks like the perfect place to produce wind power, but there is limited infrastructure preventing both regional development and the utilisation of this resource further south where there is a high demand for renewable energy.

“The problem was the lack of infrastructure and the need to connect to consumers,” Hansen continues. “Committed was a natural place to take this problem. The community is working to decarbonise value chains. They also have connections to Finnish industry who need this energy.”

St1 took the idea to the other Committed members Fortum, TietoEVRY, Wärtsilä and Demos Helsinki. The plan sounded good, but there were major practical issues to consider. The plan included multiple players in several countries in a highly regulated industry. Realistically, what would work?

“I think that is one of the major benefits of the Committed community,” says Jussi Laine of Demos Helsinki. “You are able to get a broad perspective. You get challenging arguments from external parties which can help you validate plans and discard ideas that are less useful.”

Major step towards decarbonisation

The advantages of the Arctic Energy Initiative were simple but compelling. It could provide extremely cheap power which was clean. The total system costs would be incredibly low allowing for industry to decarbonise.

“You always give something away when you build a project like this, so we need to look at areas where you get the greatest return for what you are giving away. We focus on areas which aren’t suitable for reindeer grazing and with low biodiversity but at the same time have high and stable winds, meaning what we get for what we give is maximised.”

After the idea was validated in Committed St1 was ready to take it forward. The Arctic Energy Forerunners is a group of organisations advocating for the infrastructure to be built to allow clean energy to be generated in northern Norway and used in the southern Nordics and in continental Europe. The planned first phase of the Arctic Energy Initiative is an 800 MW project, but still they need to get regulators, grid operators and industry players to sign up. It is a major endeavour, but Hansen is optimistic it will succeed and is grateful for the boost it got in the Committed community.

“It was great to present this idea in Committed,” Hansen says. “We had the opportunity to be challenged and to test ideas, to see what could work and what couldn’t. Then when we were ready to take the initiative forward, we were able to pursue it together with other Committed members.”

David J. Cord