Development through cooperation
Cooperation between electricity companies, manufacturing companies and public authorities is mportant for work within Elforsk. There are 800 positione on Elforsk’s advisory and decision-making bodies. These places are occupied by experts from electricity companies, manufacturing industries, public authorities and other interested parties. Programme teams within Elforsk draw up the strategic approach or the programme area in question. New R&D programmes are launched when interested parties decide on funding based on offers from Elforsk. Under the agreed programme, the interested parties then decide how funding should be employed for specific activities during the programme. A key task for Elforsk’s staff is to ensure that decisions are implemented in time and with the required quality. Another, equally important task is, together with interested parties, to formulate new research programmes and implement the results from these so that they are of benefit. This approach creates effective cooperation between business and industry, society and the academic community.
ELFORSK – SHARED FINANCING FOR JOINT R&D
Elforsk’s work is carried out in the form of coordinated framework programmes and as individual projects. Proposals for R&D come from our customers, from Elforsk staff members, and from external parties with whom we work. Proposals are evaluated in various ways, such as with the support of our programme council, and developed in conjunction with possible sources of funding and performers. The R&D proposals are then submitted to our clients – owner group companies, authorities and other possible interested parties – with a clear description of the expected benefit. When project funding has been secured, Elforsk commissions execution of the work from companies in the owners group, from institutes of technology or from manufacturers or consultants, and manages the quality of the resulting projects.
The final task for Elforsk is then to transfer the results of projects to the customers so that they can be applied in an effective manner. Certain results with an innovative content may lend themselves to commercialisation. For this, Elforsk cooperates on the “KIC Inno-Energy” initiative. Only those projects that are guaranteed sufficient funding can be carried out. Elforsk has no underlying basic finance for its work, or for its personnel costs, which is a relatively unusual situation for an R&D organisation. The overall purpose of this arrangement is clear: only work directly requested by customers must be carried out. Elforsk’s method of working attracts attention, and not just in Sweden. It is cited in various contexts as a possible model for other sectors, which do not have the same systems for how the various parties from institutes of technology, public authorities and industry can work together towards common objectives.
CLEAR BENEFITS THROUGH JOINT WORKING
The economic benefit of participating in Elforsk projects consists partly of direct application of the results (e.g. for increased effectiveness, reduced environmental impact, new business opportunities), and partly of reduced project costs resulting from shared financing. The establishment of a project is in some cases totally dependent on achieving a cost-sharing relationship, not least with parties outside Elforsk’s owners group. It is therefore gratifying to be able to note that well over half the costs for the company’s project activities are covered by funding sources from outside the owners group.
This shows that the economic benefit of working together through Elforsk, rather than in the form of company-specific efforts, is clear. Representatives from the stakeholder parties around Elforsk are active members of programme advisory groups, management groups, reference groups and work groups. In all, there are 800 positions within these fora. Valuable networks are formed between stakeholders, and there is evident enhancement of skills through cooperation and the exchange of experience in the various groups.
ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES STILL IN FOCUS – NOT LEAST WITHIN THE HYDROPOWER SECTOR
The energy sector has long had a strong link with environmental issues because energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are a matter of global importance. Sweden has made great progress on phasing out fossil fuels from the energy system. Electricity production is virtually carbon dioxide-neutral – nearly half of Swedish electricity production comes from hydropower during a normal year. The climatic impact of hydropower is very small per kilowatt hour of electric power. Nevertheless, its local environmental impact is coming increasingly into focus. This is happening at the same time as hydropower is assuming an ever more important role in balancing out the variable supply of renewable electricity in the form of wind power. Hydropower is thus of double benefit, both by generating renewable electricity and also by creating good conditions for other renewable electricity. The question is how to value hydropower when it is effective on the climate, but at the same time exerts an influence on the natural environment locally. Another key aspect of Elforsk’s activities is the climatic effectiveness and resource efficiency of biofuels.
Europe, like also other parts of the world, is seeking increasingly effective solutions for the climate. Biofuels are important in achieving the targets of near-zero net emissions of climate gases. But the question is whether this approach could bring about other environmental problems. Biodiversity and sustainability in the extraction of biomass are key issues, but so too is climatic effectiveness. This is because the aim is to create a society with very low net emissions of climate gases within a few decades. Some assert that the transition to more intensive burning of raw materials from slowgrowing forests could lead to carbon dioxide problems. Views differ on this, and it is important to understand the context. It is not enough to think from a national perspective because resources are traded freely and environmental targets are becoming increasingly international.
AN ELECTRIC-POWERED FUTURE
Electricity will have a definite place in our future energy system. Using electricity as an energy carrier enables energy systems as a whole to become more efficient. The Swedish Government has set a target date of 2030 for the country to be independent of fossil fuels for its vehicles. A switch from fossil fuels to electricity is a possibility in the transport sector, and the large automotive manufacturers are now launching electric vehicles. The expansion of wind power is also continuing. One challenge with wind power is the variability of wind strength.
Sweden is fortunate in that hydropower can be used to smooth out variations in wind power, but an even better way would be ensure that electric vehicles can be recharged at times of high wind power production. Smart grids are still a subject of topical interest. Electricity grids are already largely smart, and continued development is delivering greater reliability and efficiency. An exciting application of the smart grids concept is the possibility of automatically charging electric vehicles when the availability of electricity is good. In a similar way, heat pumps may increase output when the price of electricity drops below a certain level. Information technology is needed for this. Sweden has world-class companies and expertise, not only in electric power but also in information technology – areas in which we can promote development through cooperation between these disciplines.
he time for smart grids and smart homes has arrived, when a growing number of hardware items are connected to wireless networks. The electricity market was deregulated in 1996, with electric grid operations being separated from the trading of electric power. Development is needed in order to create flexibility of electricity use; not only of the technology, but also of the rules that electricity users, electricity producers, electricity traders, grid companies and the national authority responsible for the system have to follow. Benefits need to be seen at all levels if development is to take off. This is an area of particularly interesting challenges and opportunities.
HIGH AND CONSTANT TURNOVER
Elforsk’s economic results continue to develop satisfactorily. With the right approach, and soundly based projects and programmes, it can clearly be seen that cooperation is developing even in business areas subject to competition.
Shared financing of R&D projects thus makes it possible for the individual companies making up Elforsk’s ownership group to participate in extensive programmes with a substantial return on
Magnus Olofsson, Managing Director