A Nordic team of companies and organisations embarked on a Helsinki Energy Challenge journey that created a wealth of new connections. Although the solution did not make it to the final round of the Challenge, work continues to offer it to cities in the near future. Scott Allison from Danish cluster CLEAN and Line Dahlberg from Urban systems urbs AB (urbs) tell us about why assembling a team for the Helsinki Energy Challenge was a win in itself.
Scott Allison is Senior Project Manager at CLEAN, which is the environmental cluster of Denmark. CLEAN is a non-profit whose members include universities, corporations, small and medium sized companies as well as municipalities. CLEAN focuses specifically on innovation and lifting up different opportunities for its member organisations.
Allison works in the international department engaging on relevant international opportunities. He works, for example, with the C40 Cities network, innovation processes, complex climate challenges and match making. We caught up with Scott Allison to have a chat about life during and after the Helsinki Energy Challenge.
How did you hear about Helsinki Energy Challenge and how did you connect with City of Helsinki?
“I heard about the Helsinki Energy Challenge through the C40 Cities network. During the World Mayors Summit in 2019 we hosted a pre-launch workshop with the city of Helsinki: we arranged a C40 City Solutions Workshop where I was a facilitator. We gave some input for the Challenge before the launch. I thought about how we could further support by promoting the Challenge and contribute by putting together a team.
We have a Nordic group of organisations in a project called Nordic Solutions where the aim is to bring Nordic companies together around complex problems to create business opportunities. The concept of the Challenge fit the Nordic Solutions project really well.”
What kind of team did you put together?
“We decided in collaboration with the clean tech network Urban Tech Sweden to put together a team of companies. Companies pitched their technologies and expertise to us online last summer. We had quite a big interest but eventually ended up with a team of 15 organisations.
The team consisted of companies in big energy, big consultancies, several small companies in for example design and renewable energy, district energy suppliers but also financial insurance companies who know how to budget climate change. We had a strong focus on the investment side of the solution.”
What was the team’s solution?
“The aim of the solution was not to just look at production but to how to integrate smart technologies though the Internet of Things to reduce the amount of heat that’s required and to develop a system that’s flexible for changing technology as we go through the decades – making a future proof heating system.
The goal was to make different parts of the city prosumers, meaning that there’s not just an energy provider and an energy consumer, but buildings, for example, can also provide energy to the system. We wanted to integrate the investment side, meaning how this would be done financially.”
What kinds of benefits did your organisation and the participating companies get out of the Challenge even though your team did not advance to the finals?
“The best thing that came out this was to get a group of companies to network, learn and work together. The brainstorming to solution development happened in just four weeks. It was quite an intense process, but it was great to get all these companies working together.
Many of the companies never even engaged or knew about some of the technologies the other companies were involved in. It was interesting to hear those dialogues during the Challenge.
I think the Helsinki Energy Challenge has been a very interesting way for cities to engage different sectors and stakeholders. By having a competition, doing something a bit more provocative and including design thinking, it’s easier to actually mobilise people.
And what I’ve seen is that it really did mobilise companies. It was so much easier for us to get companies involved than what we’re used to because there is that pot of gold at the end. Even though, in the end, we accomplished other things out of it. I’d like to see other cities do similar things, arrange innovative competitions and just ask companies and other stakeholders to come up with ideas.”
What are your team’s plans now after the Helsinki Energy Challenge? How will work move forward?
“The organisation Urban tech Sweden, Urban systems urbs AB (urbs) and partners are aiming to take this idea into different markets and build upon it. There are a number of companies working together on it, which was the goal when we set out to build a team for the Challenge.
There’s been a little bit of talk with the City of New York looking at this through property development and retrofitting buildings, where the solution could fit maybe better than the Helsinki Energy Challenge.
Urban Tech Sweden and Urbs accelerate sustainable transformation in Cities
Urbs is a company that delivers integrated sustainable solutions for real estate and infrastructure to create sustainable smart cities. Urbs is a commercial arm to Urban Tech Sweden, who worked with the Danish cluster CLEAN on getting the Nordic team together for the Helsinki Energy Challenge. Line Dahlberg from Urbs tells us a bit more about Urban Tech Sweden and about their experience in the Helsinki Energy Challenge.
What is Urban Tech Sweden all about?
“Urban Tech Sweden (UTS) is an export platform by the Association of Swedish Engineering industries to accelerate the transformation of our cities into climate neutral cities by leveraging Nordic technologies and solutions. The association was created in 1896. It represents more than 4 000 companies and more than 30 percent of Swedish exports. It holds one of the largest urban tech portfolios in the world.
The UTS’s core mission is to increase industry’s capacity to build and deliver integrated systems for climate neutral cities and enhance trade for the industry - both internationally and within the local economy. UTS brings world class practices, knowledge, financing and technologies.”
What kind of expertise did you seek out in your team for the Helsinki Energy Challenge?
“The initiative to take part in the Helsinki Energy Challenge came from Urban Tech Sweden and was executed by Urbs with support from Nordic Solutions for C40, Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth and ElectriCity. The team for the Helsinki Energy Challenge was carefully put together by the partners, lead by experienced district energy master planners and supported by energy infrastructure architects, structured finance specialists and risk experts.
The combined expertise of the team covered energy production, distribution, planning, downstream conservation, and integration. The team members were AON, Bengt Dahlgren, Cetetherm, Climate Recovery, Durable vision Invest, Envista, Elpanne Teknik, Hexicon, Kirt x Thomsen, Modio, Midroc, Novovision, Techtor, Urban Design & WSP.”
What was the main benefit or takeaway of the Challenge for you even though you didn’t proceed to the finals?
“We have seen a great value in establishing a new collaboration platform for multiple innovators and experts to take part in. Nordic countries have been leading the UN SDG compliance index with development of technologies and solutions over the last decade and can now make carbon-neutral cities possible. However, these mature and proven solutions do not see the export growth reflecting the potential in the market.
The collaboration is UTS first test case in gathering stakeholders to create a common solution to help cities to decarbonize their thermal energy grids. Thus, setting the beginning of the Teams launch of a profitable future-proof system that integrate technology, finance and risk insurance that is also is modular and scalable at every level. Which we consider as a unique opportunity to showcase the collection of innovation and competitive solutions that lies within the Nordics and make them available for the global market.
In addition, joining the challenge has given the participants a new forum to reach contacts within the field for building new partnerships.”
Is the work you started for the Challenge continuing for your organisation in some form?
“Currently, Urban Tech Sweden, Urbs, the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth and Urban Design as Team Leader, are with support from team members initiating new partnerships to further develop the solution to offer it to a global audience. The aim is to export the concept and increase the use of Nordic technology and expertise across the world.”