Speech by Prime Minister Antti Rinne at the SET-Plan Conference focusing on low-carbon energy technologies, Finlandia Hall, Helsinki 14.11.2019

EU2019FIGovernment Communications Department 14.11.2019 9.15
Speech

Good morning ladies and gentlemen! A warm welcome to all of you to the SET-Plan energy technology conference!

It is our honour to host this important conference for the first time in Finland. For more than 10 years now, the SET Plan conference has brought together experts from different fields to exchange views on the development of clean energy technologies.

This kind of exchange is now needed more than ever.

The effects of climate change are becoming more and more visible. This means that we urgently need to step up our action to manage this threat. We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and we need to do it fast.

The EU is a global leader in finding solutions to the climate battle. We already have the most ambitious targets among the industrialised economies. We also have a binding legislative framework that will help us deliver on our existing commitments.

But we’re not going to stop there: As the Presidency of the Council, we’re working towards an agreement on the EU climate neutrality target by 2050.

Our national policies need to be as ambitious – or even more ambitious – than EU policies. My government has set an ambitious goal of carbon neutrality by 2035, and carbon negativity soon after that.

We need to take action in all sectors to achieve this goal. Research, development and pilot projects in new energy technologies are an important part of the solution. Existing technologies provide a good start, but we must improve them and invent new ones.

These new technologies will allow us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They can help us create sustainable growth, jobs and wellbeing for people. They should help keep Finland and Europe competitive.  

During the Presidency, Finland has kept this topic on the agenda of the Competitiveness Council as well as the Energy Council. The SET-Plan conference is also an important part of this discussion.

We are meeting here today in the northernmost and coldest country of the EU. You may have noticed that it is dark at this time of year – and it will be getting a bit darker still.

However, using LED technology is an effective and affordable way to bring light into the dark compared with older solutions. This is how technology development works.

To begin with, new technologies are more expensive, but with public support and increasing production volumes, the price eventually comes down. Solar PV systems and wind power are often used as examples to highlight how drastically the cost of energy technologies can decrease.

There are different solutions for different purposes. Often new technologies are developed and deployed all around Europe.

However, certain specific energy technologies can be more important than others in some countries. For instance, Concentrated Solar Power might make more sense in Spain than in Finland. On the other hand, bioenergy is a natural solution for the Nordics.

This is why technology neutrality is so important to keep in mind when designing energy policies. Besides, every possible low-carbon technology is needed to combat climate change.

We need wind, solar, nuclear and bioenergy. We need carbon capture and battery technologies – just to mention a few.

Since many energy technologies are important across Europe, it’s useful to exchange best practices in their development and promotion.

Finland has a strong and long history in energy technology. We have the ability to develop and adapt to new solutions.

The scale goes from smart meters, high-quality engines - both electric and internal combustion - and paper machines to fuel cells and power-to-X-solutions. And these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Due to climate change and population growth, one of the great challenges facing humankind is the future of food production. Energy technologies are also needed to solve this challenge.

In Finland, the Lappeenranta University of Technology in southeastern Finland does a lot of cutting-edge research on new energy technologies. The university and VTT (the Technical Research Centre of Finland) have developed a new emission-free process to produce protein from air with electricity.

This method frees food production from restrictions related to the surroundings. With it, protein can be produced anywhere, where energy, such as solar energy, is available.

There’s also room for innovation in some more familiar ways of producing food. SITRA, the Finnish innovation fund, is partnering with five companies to experiment with food production in an industrial hall.

With the help of new technologies, food can be produced with less energy and water compared with traditional greenhouse methods.

In practice, this means that food, such as potatoes, mushrooms or greens, will be produced without soil. It means growing plants in air or mist, or using mineral nutrient solutions.

Not only will we be able to eat fresh vegetables all year round, but we’ll enjoy bigger harvests, reduce greenhouse emissions and save energy.

This kind of work usually starts in a laboratory. After that, small pilot projects are needed, later on larger demonstration projects. If everything runs smoothly, a big unit with new technology can be commissioned.

This is also the core of the SET-Plan. To co-operate, to pool resources and to exchange experiences. It is much better to work together than to have each country and company trying to develop everything on their own.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have to take into account that new technologies alone are not enough. We need to invest in energy savings and energy efficiency.

As a result of the electrification of society, the demand for electricity is growing. Therefore, we must ensure adequacy and security of supply of clean energy for our electric cars and for industrial processes.

We must further strengthen EU’s Energy Union and regional energy cooperation – not only developing markets but also discussing ways to cooperate in energy production.

With the help of digitalisation and artificial intelligence, we must optimize and predict our generation and consumption of energy better.

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All of us are needed to make a difference: the research community, industry, investors and citizens.
 
The politicians’ task, above all, is to ensure that research and innovation play a strong role in societies, and that the operating environment favours the development, use and scaling-up of new technologies.

In Europe, we are living in very exciting times. New technologies are emerging. We must learn new ways of thinking. I hope that the SET-Plan can help create and deploy new clean energy solutions in Europe and worldwide.

Finally, I wish you two fruitful days at the conference and in Helsinki. I understand you have a full, long day today. You will all be invited to participate.

I urge you to discuss, challenge and debate ideas in a positive spirit!

Thank you!