A changing energy landscape requires changes in behavior

From chemistry to medical IT and innovation to the final destination, energy - Meet Maria Bolin Anvill, the multifaceted CEO of Utvecklingsklustret Energi AB, who has a career as exciting as the future of the energy industry. We meet Maria to explore the challenges and opportunities driving Sweden's energy changes. With a passion for implementing new technology and creating real benefit, Maria talks about the need for behavioral changes and smart solutions. We cover everything from the electrification of transport to political initiatives and the importance of research and education. Join us on an exciting journey straight into the future of the energy industry. 

The office at DoSpace in Linköping vibrates when Maria steps through the door. With a radiant energy and with a smile that goes all the way up to the ears, we understand that this will be a rewarding moment in the subject we love, energy! 

Maria Bolin Anvill is today CEO of Utvecklingsklustret Energi AB, which started in 2018 and was asked to step into her current role in the fall of 2019. 

- They needed someone who could build up the company. You knew roughly where you wanted to go and why you wanted to do it, but you didn't know how. There I got to enter and start an incredibly exciting journey. There is so much happening in the industry and we have to work quickly and efficiently with both technology and business models in order to meet the needs that arise, says Maria.

The Utvecklingsklustret Energi AB is a strategic investment to be able to meet the challenges of the future with digitization and constant changes in the energy sector. The cluster includes five regional energy companies; Tekniska Verken, Jämtkraft, Umeå Energi, Jönköping Energi and Öresundskraft who work together to achieve sustainable energy management. The cluster targets two different customer segments, private households and property owners. Maria and her team in Linköping focus a lot on finding new solutions to drive the market forward and to constantly try to meet the customers' needs.

- We have a special role here, because we do not sit in the customer interface itself, but we sit under the hood of the energy companies. We figure out our own solutions for our customers and also invest in companies where we see that they have a technical solution that helps what we focus on. My niche is really getting new technology to market. I think new technology is really exciting, but I don't think it's interesting until it creates benefit, says Maria.

How do we tackle the future?

The conversation quickly leads into the future energy market and what the forecasts look like. The goal of a fossil-free Sweden by 2045 is heavily dependent on the electrification of transport and the transition within the industrial sector. This will undeniably change the energy landscape and our conditions. According to the Swedish Energy Agency, Sweden's electricity needs will increase to 240–310 TWh in 2045 compared to today's level of approximately 140 TWh. Will we be able to cope with this increase and what will it take for us to catch up? Could it be that it is going too fast? 

- From a climate perspective, absolutely not. We are far behind when it comes to reducing emissions. At the same time, the changes can be considered too fast from a systems perspective, because we are not used to them. In the past, energy has been a stable game piece in society, but now that we are moving towards fossil-free energy and have double energy needs and power needs, there will be a lot of changes. We will never be able to return to the stability we have had. What we see now is just the beginning and we need to learn to adapt to these changes, says Maria.

We continue the conversation by discussing the challenges with the electrification of transport and partly how it affects the infrastructure of the electricity grid. Maria mentions that when more and more people start driving electric cars, the power grids are not adapted to the intermittent use of power that occurs when charging. This can lead to bottlenecks and affect both the establishment of new areas and the expansion of the industry. Maria also believes that it will be necessary to work with bilateral agreements, where heavy industries buy energy directly from, for example, wind farms to secure their effect and investments. 

- Since the industrial sector will gape for energy, it is important to secure its position in the market. Hence, I think we will see completely new approaches to trying to store one's energy and the desire to perhaps produce one's own. LKAB, which is now developing its own hydrogen to be able to store and then use when the electricity grid is strained, is an example of what it could look like, says Maria. 

The industry is changing

- According to the forecasts available now, they will be our biggest energy users. That has not been the case before. Their role will be as an actual actor in the energy system. Before, you have been an active user. Now you are a user and producer and someone who can help control and influence how the outcome will be. In the past, people have been guided by how to optimize their own production, but now part of the financial profit will actually be how well they can use the energy and in what way. It has not been such a clear item in their income statement before, says Maria. 

Energy optimization and flexible use of energy are central elements in managing the changes the industry is facing. Among other things, Maria talks about adapting work processes and working hours to minimize energy consumption and avoid power tariffs. Charging vehicles and trucks during optimal times can be a strategy to use energy more efficiently. Becoming more aware of your power usage and being flexible in your energy consumption will be necessary to meet the demands of the future.

After periods of expensive electricity costs, it is impossible to avoid the question of how Maria thinks things will develop in the future. 

Maria predicts that the fluctuations will be significantly more noticeable now and over time, but the baseline for the electricity price will probably be lower than last year, but the total price tag for energy consumption may increase. She describes how wind and solar power can give rise to unexpected price phenomena and how today's energy system needs to be adapted to handle these changes. She emphasizes the need to find financial instruments and storage solutions to deal with the increased peaks and troughs in electricity prices. Becoming more flexible in the use of energy becomes a decisive factor. 


Policy measures and behavior change

Today, we are faced with a series of changes that need to be made in order to meet future electricity demand. One of the least expensive processes that we can all do is to be more energy efficient and flexible in our use. We need to be careful with the energy we have and take care of it in the best way. Small changes in everyday life can lead to big changes for the whole society and here the politicians play a big role.

Maria believes that politicians must use incentives and facilitate the establishment of new production facilities to promote energy efficiency and flexibility. She points to the importance of creating a political framework that favors investment and infrastructure development for electrification in transport and power grids. Maria also questions today's electricity subsidy and suggests that the money should be invested in system improvements instead of favoring large-scale energy users. She emphasizes the need to focus on changing behaviors and reducing, or optimizing, total energy consumption. 

- Energy is such a crucial part of society and for the whole innovation wheel and therefore it is extra important that we think about how we treat it. Another important aspect is to stop discussing what kind of energy or effect to have. It should be focused on the fact that we need it, and based on that develop smart solutions. Today, instead, it becomes a battle for prestige as to whether we should have nuclear power or not, and then the discussion is about the wrong things. It becomes prestige instead of needs-driven and that stops much of the expansion we need, says Maria. 

Competence is key

It is, to say the least, a changing and complex industry and just as Maria emphasizes, energy plays a super important role and is one of the pillars of our entire welfare. The energy industry is crying out for competent people and when we talk about possible solutions, we get into education and research. Something that Maria believes plays a central role in the development of the energy sector. 

- We need basic research as well as applied research to develop new innovative system and technology solutions. Before, individual energy companies or Swedish power grids could solve the problems, but now we have to build a dynamic ecosystem of many different actors who can collaborate and find new value chains. The traditional linear business model no longer works. There will be completely new arrangements here and that type of phenomenon is what quite a few startups, luckily enough, are drawing into society. They are distributive and make others look up, which is an incredible power, but research and development are also needed to create future-proof energy management.

The conversation is coming to an end and Maria's strong energy is still just as palpable. It is noticeable that her burning interest in business development and solutions in energy and technology is truly genuine and the ambition seems to have no ceiling. The last question we ask her is directly linked back to the first impression of the interview. It is a smiling Maria Bolin Anvill who answers the question; Is it fun then?

- It's crazy fun and crazy hard! Energy is really clever. On the one hand, it is politics and regulations that are complex, then it is based on an infrastructure that is not so easy, and finally, energy itself is advanced physics that is also very clever. Add market behavior and social movements as additional parameters and you get the answer straight away. It's super fun because it's so incredibly complex and challenging, concludes Maria.

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