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SS: Hello and welcome to this podcast by Lorn and ONS future talks. My name is Sylvia Seres, our topic is energy and my guest is Fritjof Unander an executive director from research council of Norway. Welcome Fritjof.
FU: Thank you very much.
SS: Your division really is the resource based industries research space?
FU: Yes, our division is focusing on research and innovation related to what we call the resource based industries in Norway. That would be the energy industry, the oil and gas industry but also the fishery industry and aquaculture, harvesting these resources of the oceans .
SS: Stuff that Norway is really good at.
FU: Stuff that Norway is really good at absolutely.
SS: Cool job.
FU: That’s a cool job, but I also have the responsibility or we do have the responsibility for climate and environment research. So that’s very important in order to also harvest the opportunities that they have in these resource based industries of course you do that in a sustainable way.
SS: Yeah, so are you also think Norway has some of the best researchers in the world in these areas and I hope we can say a few words about that but before we do that could you say a little bit about who Fritjof is and why he does what he does?
FU: Yes, I have been with the research council for about 10 years now and that’s a great job but before that, I was a researcher and analyst myself. I worked with energy technologies but I worked with seeing sort of how energy technologies are such good change energy markets and reduce emissions. So in other words, looking into how we can read policies and investments push the energy technology so that we will have a more sustainable future to put it like that. So that was part of our interesting years and I contributed to quite a lot of interesting studies both in Norway and then also international. This was at a point when technologies were not rapidly developing the same way they are now and there was less focus on technology development in policies and as well know, we need to have new technologies in place if we are going to meet climate target, so that was a big change that happened maybe 15 - 20 years or 10 - 15 years ago I will say, but energy technology come more at the forefront which of course makes my job very interesting because today, I have all the research council where I work. We have the responsibility for investing in research and innovation that leads to technology developments and potentially then also value creation and business opportunities for those who succeed.
SS: I just want to highlight something that you did not mention. You are techie by trade? You were trained at the Norwegian Institute of Energy Technology?
FU: Yes, exactly
SS: Then also, you are in my head one of this perfect hybrids for the future. Techie by training and then global outlook by trade where you work for the international energy agency, because I think the sort of both research and problems and regulations that you are dealing with are global in nature.
SS: And I think sometimes we struggle, we can’t really fix climate one by one country or one by one research silo so one of the areas that I think would be interesting to understand is how you do you get these research silos to collaborate better? How do you get the materials people to work with the oil people, who work with the battery people.
FU: Well, to put it simple, sometimes we say if you don’t do that you don’t get something. You don’t get money. So we have some direction in the way that we organize a course when researchers want to have funding or even industry, when businesses apply for funding they have to answer to the calls we put out. Sometimes we put emphasis on what we need to have a collaboration between for example, social scientist and technologist in order to get the right projects and then the project proposals are then evaluated on the basis of this and we see through that we do manage to stimulate research works to collaborate more both within institution and also among institutions and I think this is also very important internationally. It’s not just in Norway that we’re trying to do that. I think the international trend to look at this technology and interaction with society and the economy in a more interactive manner. It is a very important international trend and we need to understand that and work on that if we are going to solve the climate challenge.
SS: I am very, maybe politically incorrect on this, but I think for all the young researchers we have to basically force them into two slight diversions. One is having international experience and the other one is to have a good experience with the project that’s strongly footed in a field not your own, because I think this cross functionality diversity call it what you want it, is necessary for the future and I’m smiling because looking at your mini CV I see you were also in UC Berkeley for a while.
FU: Yes, I was.
SS: Which means, you must be a little bit of a hippy as well you don’t look like one but you know ..I mean big heart for society I guess.
FU: Absolutely and being at Berkeley I was there both as a student and also a visiting scientist. It was really an eye opener for me because at that time when I was a student in the early 90s, it was a little bit subject and the disciplines were a bit more segregated than I felt in Berkeley. In Berkeley it was more that, we the researchers and students work together in a group to solve the problem and it didn’t really matter where you came from, the point was to find a solution and to work on that and I was very inspiring. I learnt a lot from that, whether it turned me into a hip or not, that’s a different question but I guess there is some hippy ish to...
SS: I think what they were known for during my time at Silicon Valley but very close to the Sanford gang was these were the techie nerds and those were the three huggers and I think being that is super important now. Because I think some of my super technical nerds are a little too one dimensional in the sense that you will create the best technology for the efficiencies that we are creating. But having this much more wide radar in terms of how, what's the second derivative of the technology that I create on society. I think is one of the really important questions we need to think about. Funding, research but also supporting projects.
FU: Absolutely, and I think also given how fast things are moving particularly in terms of digitalization, it opens up new doors and it impacts society much faster than it has previously done. And it maybe some ways more complicated manners so to understand the implications of new technology, it’s more important than ever.
SS: How does one do research and then later commercialization of this research in private or public companies in the energy sector? What are some examples?
FU: Well often, there could be issues for later if you want to develop for example batteries, there could be some technical things that you really need to do some hard core research on and then you would have a research project, where for typically researchers at universities or research institutes would work on that and then they get basically 100% funding from us. That part can be very important for value creation or for business opportunities in the industry and often industry wants to work with research groups in looking at how this technology can be applied. Then we can typically support projects where industry and researchers can work together and often every industry would then pay for some of the research themselves but it is a collaborative project. That’s sort of the second category of projects we have and then the final step if you like in the research funding chain is what we call innovation projects. These are projects where there are industry themselves or businesses themselves can get money to research on the technology before it's ready for commercialization. And of course this sounds like a very linear process which it isn’t and so the whole point is that you built up a number of projects and researchers will be involved in the different types of projects. Some of the projects may be close to commercialization and others more basic science oriented and then you get this interaction, hopefully overtime, you get more clusters of industrial actors, businesses new and unestablished, to work together and from that generate innovation and we have quite a few examples.
SS: I have a confession to make, a confession of a converted academic. I used to be in academia ages ago and what I have fallen in love with in the private and industrial sector is the sense of agency and so I'm really fond of your innovation project. I know it is very important to think very long term but sometimes I think that universities might use this long term as an excuse not to be paranoid about the speed of change in a way.
FU: That’s a very important point because today it is urgent, if we think of the climate challenge but also all the sustainable development goals, there are in as they link to 2030, we are going to achieve a lot in the next total 12 years. We have to, but that means we have to also make sure that research delivers in shorter time frame which is why very helpful to couple research to industry or businesses because they cannot wait 20 years making money, so the sense of urgency that businesses have in generating money or business is indeed also consistent with what we need in order to meet climate challenges for example. So we do work a lot on that in terms of now putting more emphasis on research that can of course contribute in the longer term but at the same time deliver solutions that can be implemented very quickly and hence further working within the industry.
SS: So I think you have one of the most exciting jobs in Norway, globally, I don’t know, because you are working in a space where Norway is super good. I think process technology, materials technology, energy technology we’ve proven historically, culturally that we love doing this well and then you are at this crucial time in history where so many things are becoming suddenly possible and you have to give direction and so I have a question with regards to that direction, because there are two ways to think of this. We should support more of what we already do extremely well or we should look for holes in the market and in our research space and create good research to fill those holes? Do you do both? Do you do more of one or the other?
FU: We do both and I think it's not so easy to say that this is a hole and this is established because it all works together and we find new solutions also based on existing technologies . So it's all interlinked, but yes absolutely. We also provide advice to the government in terms of where we need to have more research funding and in doing that we also work on looking into where are the holes, I mean where are the critical components, we need to have to do changes? It could be for example to succeed with CO2 capture and storage technologies we may need to do more research on membrane technologies, basic research, it could be some areas that they have...
SS: ...give us an example, why does one do research on membrane technologies? Who needs that?
FU: For example in capturing CO2 from flue gases from power plants that could be one way of capturing CO2. If you don’t have the right membranes you cannot pursue that technology the same way as you could do if you didn’t have the membranes. That’s just one example.
SS: So it's one big important cog this whole decarbonization journey that is necessary for us to reach our climate goals.
FU: Yes and then another example is understanding material, how we produce materials for example silicon for the solar PV industry. It’s extremely important because that’s the basis for producing solar cells. So the PV cells and having research on for example how you could start this a very ….exactly and understand the basic materials, this is basic research but it's also extremely important for the industry to produce to be enlightened on solar PVs. This is an example where basic research leads to innovation and value creation. Almost a day after or not all of almost a day after; but it's not a lag of 10 years from basic research until you commercialize, so solar the PV industry is a good example of that where things have been moving very rapidly.
SS: Solar photovoltaic.
FU: Photovoltaic, yes!
SS: So what you are talking about here are examples of projects and research done which I think are super examples of this cross functionality that’s required. Is it chemistry, physics, engineering, is it electrical, I don’t know even playing with stuff? I was at the Norwegian Technology University in Trondheim and the stories they told me about their solutions to data storage, it's some biology in there. There is some synthetic nanotechnology. Its an amazing mix and I think you are kind of providing incentives to mix.
FU: Absolutely and I think we have in Norway the oil and gas industry, that industry has been very sort of mission oriented, they are building huge oil platforms. You need to get them finished and construct it and it’s extremely complicated and also you have subsea production so on and so forth. So these are tremendous starts that has required also that different scientific fields work together. So I think we have a long experience in Norway in combining technology areas and disciplines when it comes to this industry and where sort of where project oriented goal oriented from the oil and gas industry and I think that’s something we can utilize also in other areas that we think that we have the picture of actually building huge oil platforms where we try to develop new technology. Think of this is a huge mission, huge task that we need to succeed in.
SS: Mission oriented research is always more inspired I think than…FU:...yes and I think it’s very important now because of the urgency we have when it comes to climate and the need for rapidly developing technologies and as we already talked about that this is also important for industry because they need to move fast in order to gain access to markets and to succeed in markets. SS: But listen the whole area, energy, is a broad field as we said and it’s a complex field, where should people go to start learning more about the trends and about the most important developments?
FU: There are lots of publications out now and there are lots of news letters stating how things are moving in different technology areas. Maybe I recommend that the International Energy Agency have lots of different publications. They have one publication that comes out every other year that is called energy technology perspectives that gives sort of a status description of important energy technologies and also they put into context into future scenarios, long term scenarios and look at how these technologies fare in different scenarios. That could be one example if you want to have a reading list all over the information access now on internet related to energy technologies of course, massive but it’s important to find the right sources and the focus. Yes
SS: Would you like to leave people with a quote, something as a little gift?
FU: Yes, I think actually one, if you look at energy, it's been looking most, lots of companies they look at energy as energy markets . You’re selling coal, oil or gas. You make money from selling energy. I think it’s a big shift now that instead of selling, you’re selling energy technologies. We have renewables technologies in hydrogen supply, in batteries and so on. So when you analyze this you see there is a shift towards making money from oil, gas and coal towards making money from selling energy technologies. Of course it's not a one step overnight, but it's moving in that direction. So from energy markets to energy technology will be my quote.
SS: What do you think people should have as a picture in their minds or the most important takeaway from our conversation?
FU: I think that it's clear now that there are a lot of things happening when it comes to technology. Some technologies are developing very rapidly; solar, photovoltaic industry for example and batteries, so that’s very good but at the same time it is going way too slow when it comes to meeting the climate challenges. This year, unfortunately, global CO2 emissions are higher than ever. It’s the highest ever. So despite that we feel that things are happening in a positive way, it’s not going by far fast enough, which means we need to find new ways to push technology development in all areas. It's not just solar, PV and batteries that can save us. It's more efficient buildings, it’s industry, so we need to really look in all areas...
SS: Step it up...
FU: Step it up and then the thing is that, once we step it up, those who are smart and see the opportunities that come from this can also make a lot of business. So technology can deliver a lot. It's urgent, we need to push but for those who succeed this opens up big opportunities for businesses.
SS: Also for researchers!
SS: Thank you so much for coming here and inspiring us about energy Fritjof Unander from research council of Norway.
FU: Thank you
SS: And thank you for listening
What are you doing at work?
Financing research and development, providing strategic analysis, advising the government, and picking the right projects.
What are the most important concepts in energy technology?
To foster development of technologies through stimulating research and innovation to harvest value creation opportunities.
Why is it exciting?
To see results – that our projects leads to changes. We are in the middle of a massive shift in the energy sector, things are going extremely fast. We have a completely different conversation about the energy sector now than 10 years ago. This type of dynamic landscape presents huge opportunities. We are trying to help the sharpest Norwegian researchers and businesses do well in this landscape.
What do you think are the most interesting controversies?
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) – some still see it as an excuse for prolonging coal use. There can certainly be some truth, but as the latest WEO points out, this is the harsh reality. We are now locked into an emissions pathway that includes significant coal-based emissions from newer plants in Asia. If we get CCS commercialised, we have much more wiggle room for the really hard emission reductions in long distance transport and industry.
How do you usually explain energy technology?
Technologies that either produce energy, transport energy or use energy in buildings, transport and industry.
A favourite energy technology quote?
Meeting the 1.5 °C target means that we move from energy markets to energy technology markets.
Most important takeaway from our conversation?
The view on the role of energy technologies has changed significantly over the last couple of decades. Some technologies are showing rapid improvements and are about to radically change parts of the energy markets. However, by far not fast enough and by far not in all the areas we need. Global emissions are still increasing and are at a record high this year.
IEAs Energy Technology Perspectives publications
CCS (carbon capture and storage)Changes in the energy marketResearch and innovation in energy techClimate challenges