Sharing energy innovations through an international network

The results from projects related to renewable energy and energy efficiency are now being highlighted in an international cluster project.

Innovations and experiments related to wind power, heating and the recovery of waste are presented. The cooperation between nine countries and 20 implementers has been smooth and productive.

In July 2021, the University of Oulu, Centria University of Applied Sciences and the Irish ERNACT network launched a project to promote regional energy efficiency and awareness. GREENER (CLUSTERING REMOTE REGIONS for ENERGY RESILIENCE and GROWTH) aims to provide information on the latest energy solutions and best practices to households, public bodies, businesses and authorities, increasing regional competitiveness and well-being.

The project is coordinated by the ERNACT network. In addition to Centria and the University of Oulu as partial implementers, the project involves 20 other partners from Sweden, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Iceland, the Faeroe Islands, Norway, Germany and Canada. The aim of the partnership network is to connect end users between regions and increase cooperation between countries.

Good collaboration

The cooperation is running smoothly. Finland and Ireland are similar democracies: small EU countries the population of which lives in small and medium-sized cities and in rural areas, with the exception of the capital regions. Both countries have areas covered by the Northern Periphery and Arctic (NPA) programme. Tertiary education is also very similar. Finnish technology universities are of the same size as the corresponding Irish institutes of technology. This gives us the opportunity to collaborate on similar projects, combining our resources. Technology production, tourism and culture are important sectors for both of our countries, says Programme Manager Anne Marie McLaughlin

Our Finnish colleagues are reliable partners and very proactive in the digital transformation and innovations. For ERNACT, Finland has been an important source of good practices. In particular, we have learned a lot from the innovation ecosystems created in Finland that involve close cooperation between higher education institutions, companies and the public sector. The expansion of high-speed broadband connections to rural areas also set a good example for Ireland, McLaughlin praises.

The objective of the cluster project is to disseminate the information accumulated in three projects to a wider audience than would be possible in a single project. This will further increase the international awareness of our research team and project partners. By monitoring the procedures, research work and good practices of other partners, we will gain new perspectives as well as a boost to our own activities. Networking is a prerequisite for working as a researcher. The project also connects the networks of other partners to our network either directly or indirectly, says Project Manager Markku Kananen from the University of Oulu.

We were very pleased when ERNACT and the University of Oulu contacted us and asked us to participate in the joint project. It has been nice to note that the LECO project, focusing on energy communities and previously carried out by us, has been noticed both in Finland and around the world, and people have appreciated the work we have done. The transfer of good practices related to energy efficiency and the promotion of the use of renewable energy are very important, and now the GREENER project offers us an excellent opportunity to do so. By combining the results achieved in three different projects, we will increase impact and reach stakeholders more extensively, says RDI Coordinator Heidi Kanala-Salminen from Centria University of Applied Sciences.

It is interesting to hear our project partners’ examples of the development and implementation of renewable energy. We hope that the target groups of our projects will be inspired by these examples and continue to use the information they have received also in our own region, Kanala-Salminen continues.

Making heating sustainable

Markku Kananen has been monitoring the energy consumption of a detached house. After the installation of a geothermal heat pump, the electricity consumption in the property in Oulu dropped to less than half. Thanks to solar collectors, it is not necessary to use other means to produce domestic hot water for a four-person family living in Ylivieska from late spring to early autumn.

Before this, wood was burned in the boiler to produce warm domestic water also in summer, and the burning process unnecessarily increased the temperature inside the building. Thanks to the solar collectors, wood is also saved for the actual heating season, house owner Mika Puirava says.

At the spring water drinking plant Finn Spring in Toholampi, in turn, holes have been diligently drilled in the rock under the grain field, where the waste heat produced in the summer is stored for the purposes of heating during the winter. On hot days, the additional advantage is that the internal temperature of the factory building decreases, as the transfer of waste heat to the underground storage cools the property. As a result of the pilot project, the company is considering giving up district heating.

Electricity from biowaste for the entire village

The gasification equipment installed on the trailer of the University of Iceland converts organic waste into synthetic gas. The gas is used to run an internal combustion engine that drives a generator, producing so much electricity that it could, at its best, meet the needs of a small village. The heat produced by the internal combustion engine is used to heat the premises and, if this is not needed, it can be used for purposes such as drying waste for incineration. Waste was previously incinerated in remote areas. Professor Rúnar Unnþórsson explains that the Icelandic incinerators have been closed for several years due to dioxin pollution. Dioxins have been found to cause liver damage and cancer, among other things, and they have very long environmental persistence.

These combustion plants were located in cold areas with little or no geothermal energy. They are located in places such as the Westman Islands, Kirkjubæjarklaustur and Ísafjörður. Combustion plants were previously used to produce hot water. Today, when the plants are closed, people must drive a long distance to landfills, which are already burdened with waste mountains caused by tourism. Waste from the landfills is shipped to Sweden for disposal in modern, appropriate incineration plants, resulting in additional costs and emissions. It was therefore important to tackle this problem here in Iceland and challenge other communities also outside Iceland to solve their waste problems locally, says Unnþórsson.

By gasifying the waste at a high temperature, the dioxin concentrations are significantly reduced in comparison to incineration. To top it all off, the waste gasification process is carbon negative – in the positive sense – because the biochar produced as a result of gasification can be used to improve soil, for example in gardens and on cultivated land. Due to its permanent structure, biochar remains in the soil for a long time, increases soil looseness, evens out moisture and increases water retention capacity.

A similar, more efficient plant is in use in a closed-down village school, transformed for multi-purpose use in Alpua, Vihanti. The woodchips used by the power plant are obtained from the area nearby.

A wind farm brings enough profit to meet the needs of an entire community

The project is also studying the activities of a communal wind farm. Point and Sandwick Power is a commercial enterprise, 100% owned by two village communities. It operates and maintains the UK’s largest wind farm on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. The company generates a profit of almost £1 million a year and invests it entirely in community projects through its charity, the Point and Sandwick Trust. For example, the organisation funds a project in which more than 100 000 saplings have already been planted on the Isle of Lewis, which is otherwise almost bare. In addition to protecting the environment and heritage sites, support is directed at areas such as education, disadvantaged people, art, culture and recreational activities. The 9MW carbon-neutral wind farm reduces annual carbon dioxide emissions by 12 000–25 000 tonnes, Kananen says.

International exchange of information collected in previous projects

The cluster project combines and disseminates information about the results from three projects funded by the Northern Periphery and Arctic programme.
The aim of the SMARCTIC project is to increase the use of energy efficient and renewable energy solutions in housing and public infrastructures in remote and sparsely populated areas through smart energy solutions. The three-year project will end in June 2022. The project is coordinated by ERNACT from Ireland.

The LECO project responded to the needs of remote municipalities and residential areas for sustainable energy supply. The aim was to combine new innovative technologies with locally available natural resources and raise awareness of energy efficiency and renewable energy use. The approach was based on the local model of circular economy. The project was coordinatd by CENTRIA from Kokkola. The project ended in December 2020.

The H-CHP project mapped out low-cost, renewable biofuels for combined heat and power (CHP) systems for single-family houses. The project ended in December 2020. The purpose was to secure the supply of electricity in areas where houses or facilities are already heated using wood from the nearby area in the form of logs, pellets or chips. The equipment converts part of this energy used for heating into electrical energy. The development of bio-waste gasification equipment at the University of Iceland was part of the project.
The aim of the programme was to bring vitality and prosperity to the peripheral areas of the northern and Arctic regions by helping to create competitive and sustainable communities, applying innovations, expanding entrepreneurial capacity and making effective use of the unique growth resources and opportunities of the northern and Arctic regions.

Foundation for future projects

For the sake of sustainable development, we need more pilot projects of this kind that contribute to saving nature and energy. The sparsely populated areas in Finland have forests that can be used as energy sources, but, for example, in Ireland, this is not the case. Ireland is politically committed to completely abandoning the use of peat, and in Finland, its use as an energy source shall be halved by 2030. In Finland, nuclear energy is the solution for securing the energy supply, but its introduction has been seriously delayed due to technical problems. Ireland has invested in wind power instead, says Kananen.

This winter, the price of energy has risen dramatically throughout Europe, partly for political reasons, but also as a result of natural phenomena, such as Norway’s low hydro energy yield. The Covid-19 pandemic taught us a lot about how fragile and vulnerable our society is at the end. For example, there has been a lack of availability of components, which is why the prices of technical building equipment have almost doubled since a few years ago. As our challenges are global, we need international cooperation in terms of energy solutions to safeguard the well-being of people also in remote areas. This cluster project contributes to this. A new multi-annual project application will be drawn up during the one-year project. By combining our expertise, different perspectives and networks, we are more likely to receive funding, Kananen says.

Updated on 14 February 2022: added comments from Heidi Kanala-Salminen, a photo of Centria’s R&D Specialist Matti Ojala carrying out tests on the liquefaction of agricultural biogas, and a photo of the construction phase of the energy storage at the Finn Spring plant.


Markku Kananen, Project Manager, University of Oulu Kerttu Saalasti Institute, Future Production Technologies (FMT) research group

Minna Kilpeläinen, Communications Specialist, University of Oulu Kerttu Saalasti Institute

Read more:

GREENER website
Project description