“Smart energy is a very timely theme, and it will be definitely in the core when cities invest and rebuild after the COVID crisis. It’s a key element of cities building a sustainable future.”
With the words above, Markus Kühn, Chief Strategy Officer at City of Helsinki, highlights the mutually beneficial partnerships between cities and energy companies. These relationships are indispensable when developing solutions that address sustainability and climate issues. Ties to broader ecosystems and other cities take these partnerships to the next level. The opportunities for smart energy companies enabled by a city-to-city partnership – in this case, between Helsinki and Fukuoka – and new innovative projects and solutions were presented at a webinar, organized by HBH with partner organizations from both cities.
Climate targets create opportunities
For a smart energy company, it’s essential to work with cities that are committed to sustainability and carbon neutrality targets. Both Helsinki and Fukuoka have profiled themselves as sustainable smart cities, and Finland and Japan alike have set ambitious climate targets.
“[Helsinki] has agreed to a very ambitious carbon neutral target to become carbon neutral by 2035”, remarks Sonja Malin, Senior Business Advisor at Helsinki Business Hub. “This also pushes innovation, it enables companies to develop new solutions, brings them new opportunities, in creating the Helsinki of the future.”
The input from companies helps Helsinki transition to a carbon-neutral city in concrete ways. Sumitomo SHI FW is one of the companies contributing to the transition by providing Helen, the energy company of the City of Helsinki, with a bioenergy plant. Maria Hartikainen, Innovation Manager says, “We are especially proud to have our technology as one of the steps in Helen’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2035.”
Watch the recording in Japanese here.
Test the cities
Major innovations are born in the public innovation and piloting platforms that bring city organizations and companies, both large and small, together. Helsinki supports urban piloting projects with open testbeds (find them all and apply at Testbed.Helsinki), and Fukuoka also has an institute for research and partnerships: Institute of Systems, Information Technologies and Nanotechnologies (ISIT). The cities invite companies and startups from all over the world, and especially those located in the other city and looking to test their solution in a different urban environment, to join their piloting and partnership programs.
“As a platform, Helsinki is small enough to be very fast but large enough to test things on a global scale,” Markus Kühn remarks. He continues, “The characteristic feature of Helsinki is our strive for functional solutions, a certain kind of pragmatism. The functionality [–] covers many attributes of our city from safety to cleanliness, to transparency and a balanced well-being.”
Active and engaged cities spur innovation also by creating new incentives and opening calls for solutions to specific problems. Recently, Helsinki organized Helsinki Energy Challenge, an international competition with an attractive €1 million grand prize to find a new “future-proof” decarbonized heating method for the city. The importance of a networked approach and the flexibility of the heating system were highlighted in the final analysis, and the city plays an important role in enabling cooperation.
Smart energy is more than electricity bills or heating options
Working together in an environment that retains optimism despite challenges and setbacks bears fruit in the form of great innovations. And if you ask Antti Vasara, CEO of VTT Finnish Technical Research Centre, it appears the scientific field in Helsinki is far from desperate.
“Every crisis is an opportunity for radical renewal”, Vasara says. He’s certain that science and technology will help us bounce back from difficult times and improve the economy, sustainability and the well-being of people. New inventions have the potential to create a positive loop of accelerating progress. To kick-start the loop, “We can motivate the sense of urgency and actions the best by creating hope.”
And numerous people are acting, be they researchers or entrepreneurs or both. Three startups presented their technologies and business models at the event: Kapacity.io offer a solution for optimizing energy consumption of buildings, Solar Foods revolutionize food production with an alternative protein produced utilizing power-to-X technology, and P2X Solutions are working to produce hydrogen for commercial use and transportation. For them, smart energy is a tool to solve problems and create a better future.
Shuhei Ishimaru, Director General of Fukuoka Directive Council, invites companies from Finland and Japan to collaborate to develop better cities. “While the Japanese government declared in October last year that it would aim to realize zero greenhouse gas emissions and a carbon-free society in 2050, it is also a new normal including carbon neutral in the Fukuoka metropolitan area. We are aiming to create a new city, and we would like to connect this event to business matching and future collaboration between Helsinki and Fukuoka.”
Helsinki x Fukuoka Designing Better Life: Smart cities, smart energy webinar was part of The Finnish Design for Everyday Life – Patterns and Forms Inspired by Nature exhibition produced and curated by Helsinki Art Museum that will tour four Japanese cities in 2021-2022.
HBH and Fukuoka Directive Council, our counterpart in the Fukuoka metropolitan area, will deepen cooperation and create business opportunities for the two cities. Read FDC’s report on the event here.
Read more about smart energy opportunities in Helsinki here.
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