Energy infrastructure innovation from Estonia

Joonas Vänto
Director of Estonian Investment Agency
Estonian Investment Agency, Division of Estonian Business and Innovation Agency
Republic of Estonia

Europeans have lived a very comfortable life by being one of the richest continents and one of the biggest consumers in the world. The damage from this fossil based old economy has deepened to the extent that The European Parliament declared a climate and environmental emergency in 2019, urging all EU countries to commit to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Today it is estimated that roughly 75% of EU emissions are generated from the use of fossil-based energy. The electrification of our economy is now on full speed, both on the energy production and consumption side. EU member states have set ambitious goals in this and so has Estonia. We have constantly exceeded our renewable energy goals and in 2022 our government officially set a very ambitious target to reach 100% renewable electricity consumption by 2030.

The success of rolling out solar and wind parks on land is now being followed with large scale offshore wind farms deployment. In the 2022 The Estonian Maritime Spatial Plan was approved, and the country is now fully geared up to kick-start large scale wind energy production on the seas as well. With all that capacity securely planned and ready, another easily reachable goal has been agreed: to become the largest producer of wind energy per capita in the world.

The electrification is one of the biggest infrastructures overhauls a nation can have. Because of the vast scale and cost of it, the electrification of our economies needs a deep dive in the technology innovation and fast. Governments can initiate a lot here with subsidies, tax breaks or by just being a role model. For example, more than ten years ago Estonian government established the world’s first nationwide electric vehicle fast-charging network and developed the smartest and most innovative energy distribution grid. That was achieved by a very good public and private sector collaboration both with foreign and local companies.

In partnership of the government, local IT software companies Codeborne and Net Group, nationwide grid operators and Swedish foreign investor Ericsson who has around 500 R&D staff in Estonia, the joint world leading grid innovation was completed from R&D to roll-out in an extremely short time. Another great example is how freshly established drone startup Hepta emerged from local accelerator and government opened its nationwide power line infrastructure for their fast-track R&D. As a result, they now have one of the best power lines inspection and analysis drones in the world and by now have exported this technology to nearly 20 countries in less than 4 years.

These are great examples of how international cooperation and openness from both public and private sector can bring very quick innovation and climate goal wins. It is crucial for private and public sector to offer their infrastructure to researchers, scientist, and engineers as a sandbox of novel solutions. I believe Estonia as a R&D sandbox has nailed it quite well and can be a role model for other EU countries with its agile, open, transparent, and progressive environment for such innovations. We should all seek more of that type of open collaboration both locally and internationally and join efforts in this common environmental challenge.

Shortly there will be a third electricity grid connection built between Finland and Estonia to calm price fluctuations and increase energy trade with Scandinavia. But basic hardware investments are not enough. Estonians have acknowledged that we cannot just focus on lowering our local carbon footprint with old or foreign technologies. We must also take responsibility and leadership role in the technological R&D as well. With those needs we have taken a third clear goal in this green transition: to become the top greentech development center in the world.

There is great evidence that we can really achieve that because there is already a lot to offer to the world. Our local tech scene includes Elcogen that is the most advanced fuel cell producer with the highest rate of energy conversion efficiency in the world and Skeleton Technologies that is the global leader in ultracapacitor and supercapacitor energy storage systems. There is great innovation ecosystem to support it such as Estonian based European center of excellence for energy technologies, world’s first nationwide hydrogen valley or the emerging offshore wind tech port hubs.

We are aware that becoming a technology leader in any field is very ambitions, but I believe that in this climate crisis when our house is on fire, we should all try to champion the greentech innovation as well as possible. We are all together in this great challenge of green transition and I believe collaborating and uniting the efforts is the key. By being open, flexible, collaborative and ambitions towards this common goal of electrification we can really achieve the EU green goals and be a role model for the rest of the world.

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