Text and photo: Albert H. Collett
The challenge in interviewing Peter Støa about SINTEF Energy Research's role as an energy hub in Europe is keeping up with him. This is not because he speaks particularly fast, but it is because he speaks continuously without stopping for an hour. Then the appointment is over and he has to go. There are no pauses to think, no lingering, no chance to come with follow-up questions. The story and his reasoning are in his spinal cord.
For a research director, there is a rather political message from Støa. He compares the Norwegian model with the British one, where energy sources have been sold to private companies and the UK has thus not been able to spread the benefits in the same way as in Norway. Britain has no oil fund that is managed for the benefits of the nation and no publicly owned power company. This is despite the fact that energy has always been a national issue. All nations need a secure supply. They need enough energy to ensure that the wheels go around. In Europe, energy has been seen as a matter of national concern.
That has been the situation until now. Now we have climate change which is a global challenge. As developing countries should be allowed to develop, we must accept the burden of what we have created. The energy supply accounts for 80 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions. We need to remove the CO2.
The EU has responded by becoming more and more active in energy policy, especially with the Strategic Energy Technologies Plan, and the establishment of the 20-20-20 goal: 20 per cent increase in energy efficiency, 20 per cent higher share of renewable energy and 20 per cent fewer emissions by 2020. All member states are committed to this.
The challenge is forcing the EU to search for a sensible dynamic framework that connects the opportunities for innovation and change. The answer is, among other things, the Horizon 2020 programme, which sees kroner spent on R&D and energy in context.
This is somewhat uncharted territory because countries have different traditions. As the EU formally only coordinates five per cent of the R&D activities in the member states many research groups are working in parallel. This is something the EU and the climate cannot afford and it is imperative to find better ways of managing the innovation triangle that comprises the authorities, industry and R&D. This is where Norway and SINTEF can contribute due to the established tradition of applied research.
Broadly based strategy
One example is in relation to wind power, where among others, Germany and the UK are very ambitious. In this context, Norwegian power could have a significant impact on secure supply. Norway has a lot of energy expertise, and is a leader in hydropower and subsea power cables. These are areas where NTNU and SINTEF are the hub of such activities in Norway.
Petter Støa thinks Norway should have a broadly based strategy. We are and will continue to be an energy producer, and NTNU/SINTEF has everything it takes to address the various issues using its historical, financial, ecological and technological know-how and experience. Understanding energy use and the link to prosperity involves a variety of exciting, interdisciplinary challenges. Students and researchers on our campuses in Trondheim should have plenty of interesting material to work with for the next 20-30 years.
Around the North Sea
But being the hub in Norway, does not get us very far without considering the connection to our surroundings. Petter Støa went to London last time he had a sabbatical. The countries bordering the North Sea have common challenges. One of the answers is the North Seas Countries' Offshore Grid Initiative, which is located at ministerial level. The NSCOGI calls himself one of the world's most ambitious projects in renewable energy, and is trying to stimulate research groups to work complementarily. Since no one believes that the EU will have control over more than five per cent of the R&D funds in its member states, researchers must look for other sources of funding. One model is connecting researchers and financial institutions, and it is here that Støa considers the Research Council of Norway could play a role.
A good reason to point to the Research Council is the RENERGI programme. This can be used to enhance the possibilities for establishing an energy hub where Norway and NTNU/SINTEF, for example, can be responsibility for subsea power transmission, hydropower and cables. Other nations have the natural conditions and are in a better condition to focus on solar power, geothermal sources and bioenergy.
Norway's natural role is supported by its positive experience from close links between universities and industry. SINTEF president Unni Steinsmo is on the board of the European Energy Research Alliance (EERA) which illustrates that Norway is taken seriously.
Although Europe is the focus, Petter Støa does not hesitate to draw the lines even further. Northern European companies such as Siemens and Vestas have the challenge to stay ahead of China and India in wind power. Both countries are building up their wind capacity on large scale.
Nepal and Laos
The circle is completed in many ways with Støa’s perspectives on the role of Statkraft in global hydropower developments. Countries like India, Nepal and Laos, and many countries in Africa and South America have large, untapped hydropower resources where the financial benefits can be used to boost domestic development as we have done in Norway. The financial surplus can be the basis for building sustainable prosperity. The condition for this is a long-term presence and the investment in understanding the local culture so that it is possible to create good relationships, not cultural imperialism. This is a field where Norway is well placed to become a global hub.
Salmon and floods
Petter Støa refers to the Centres for Environment-friendly Energy Research (FME) and especially CEDREN (Centre for Environmental Design of Renewable Energy) as good models for clusters of expertise. CEDREN has placed the Gløshaugen campus in Trondheim where most of NTNU and SINTEF are located as the responsible, leading Norwegian energy hub. The FMEs have managed to establish a national team that attracts attention from both industry and abroad, in fact, more than was expected. CEDREN also has links to the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) and the researchers in SINTEF's operation in Oslo. This means that technologists, scientists and social scientists are working in fruitful collaboration. Thus, researchers know how to regulate water levels for the benefit of salmon while avoiding floods that could cause widespread damage prior to a hydropower development.