Estonia has rapidly picked up the pace in tackling climate change by implementing green transition strategies and making sure, no Estonian, nor region of the country is left behind. Proof of that can be found in the private initiatives that have been kicked off even before a bigger plan has been formed.
Vast number of pilots are taking place right now across the nation. For example, 15 different public and private sector companies and institutions are in a pilot programme looking for ways how to become greener – and how to transfer the model. On a citizen level, a cooperative has been created which helps to find financing for communities that are interested in using renewable energy but don’t have the means for it.
All of the private and public projects in place are working towards one goal – making Estonia greener.
PM Kallas: We have chosen to be the front-runners
Prime minister Kaja Kallas sees that the green economy requires not only the development and adoption of innovative technologies but also the restructuring of whole business models.
“In the transition to a green economy, we have two choices – whether to buy and use technologies that are developed by others, or to be front-runners who develop and introduce innovative technologies and services to other countries. Our government has chosen the second option,” Kallas said in a statement to Invest Estonia.
In cooperation with researchers and entrepreneurs, the government will establish the directions of research and development where Estonia can be the frontrunner of the green transition. “We will support the solutions of the chosen direction and the export of know-how. Here we have very clear opportunities to do something great,” she added.
Estonia on its way to become a leading GreenTech R&D and production centre
Business Development Manager at Estonian Investment Agency, Raido Lember, who currently advises foreign GreenTech investments worth 3 billion euros, said the foundation is laid to make Estonia the top GreenTech R&D and production centre in the world.
Already in 2012, Estonia established the world’s first nationwide electric vehicle fast-charging network and also developed the smartest energy distribution grid. For nearly a decade we have supported local early stage green technology developers, such as Elcogen and Skeleton Technologies. By now, Elcogen is the most advanced fuel cell producer with the highest rate of energy conversion efficiency in the world. Skeleton Technologies has become the global leader in ultracapacitor and supercapacitor energy storage systems. These two now have large partnerships with leading industry players in automotive, wind power and in many other industries to accelerate the green transition across the world.
Foreign investors have used Estonia as a testbed and a development environment for decades. To name a few, Neo Performance Materials has Europe’s only significant rare earth elements’ laboratory and processing plant located in Estonia. Nilar is expanding its battery production plant, Enics has produced turbine controllers and ABB wind turbine modules in Estonia for over a decade. With local universities, centre of excellences for energy systems and collaborative cleantech ecosystem, this value chain has solid grounds in Estonia. Estonia’s strong vision to solve the global environmental challenges has made the country strategically opt for becoming one of the top GreenTech development regions in the world.
“While GreenTech R&D and manufacturing is our heart and soul this decade, Estonia has also set a goal to become the number one green energy producer per capita in the world,” Lember noted. “Our vast length of sea border, favourable wind conditions and big infrastructure ambitions on land allow us to achieve that. Number of huge green energy production projects are being prepared from off-shore electricity to hydrogen electrolysis, from distributed battery grids to gigantic hydropumps,” he added.
Furthermore, Enefit and Ørsted are planning to build a multi-billion-euro offshore wind farm (read more), Van Oord became a shareholder in Saare Wind Energy (read more) and Port of Tallinn chasing a half-billion euro investment in its hydrogen project (read more).
“The GreenTech revolution is inevitable and the question is how fast we will get there and who will be the winners,” Lember said, finding that Estonia’s green-thinking, engineering mindset and super entrepreneurial ecosystem has all the potential to play a major part in this race.
Green Tiger is looking for green solutions that can be moved over to other companies
Green Tiger (Rohetiiger in Estonian) is a collaboration platform that is designed to boost environmental awareness and create a basis for a green economy in Estonia. The creation of the platform confirms the point raised by Lember – that Estonians are interested in going green.
Eva Truuverk, the Project Manager at Green Tiger, says their mission is to devise and implement environmentally friendly practices in all economic sectors. To achieve that, a pilot programme was initiated last August with 15 different public and private sector companies and institutions. The programme is run like a course yearly and from this autumn four Estonian universities will help to manage it.
The participant selection for the Green Tiger programme was based on the notion that the involved parties should be from different sectors and with a scope of reaching all Estonians. Before the programme started, the participants’ environmental awareness was evaluated and it will be re-evaluated again at the end of the programme.
Truuverk sees the programme as a course that helps organisations to get a feeling of being classmates and that they are working on a joint project with a common goal. In the end, a case study will be published about the participants’ experience. She gives the example of a private general education school Rocca al Mare Kool which is asking questions about what sustainability means and how to implement sustainability in education. The findings will also be used to give suggestions to the policy makers. In total there are about 50 companies that have joined the Green Tiger, a remarkable achievement as the platform started only about half a year ago.
“Concentrating under one roof helps to make the green leap happen faster and more efficiently. Every small step in the right direction is significant and important,” Truuverk said.
The Economic Affairs Committee of Green Tiger is run by Jaanus Purga. For 16 years of his life, Purga worked for Viru Keemia Grupp (VKG) which focuses on oil shale mining, shale oil, combined heat and power production.
Purga told Invest Estonia that shale oil once was a source of wealth and value creation for Estonia but those times are over now. “It must be acknowledged that background systems are changing. Things are not as they were 30 years ago,” he said. At Green Tiger he runs a think tank that is working on an economic vision that would be nature-friendly and realistically achievable for Estonia by 2035.
Once a month, the committee convenes and debates on topics on how they can make the Estonian economy greener. Purga sees that going green is viable only when the energy industry makes the shift towards greener solutions.
There are 13 different topics, the committee is debating on, including the energy sector, transportation, agriculture, waste management, etc. Just as with Green Tiger’s pilot programme, the committee drafts up a vision that can be used by the government to achieve the green goals even faster.
Purga sees that VKG and Estonia as a country have been able to benefit greatly from oil shale mining. However, during the interview, he emphasised repeatedly that the time for using oil shale has passed. Nowadays he ends his phone calls, wishing the conversation partner “lots of sun and strong winds”.
Energy cooperative helps to set up renewable energy parks
Märt Helmja, CEO of Energy cooperative (Energiaühistu), has the same mindset as Purga: going green is only viable when the energy sector takes it seriously. The co-op is a solution for people that are interested in renewable energy options but don’t have the means for it themselves.
Simply said, if you are building a new house and are planning to put up a solar roof, the co-op gives you another option. Gather your neighbours together, join the co-op and you can finance the building of a larger solar park nearby that the whole neighbourhood can use. As the park is nearby, you don’t have to pay network service fees to use the electricity produced from the park. As service fees make up a big amount of the monthly energy bill, the financial savings are immediate.
The co-op has just started, but the number of members has grown rapidly. Helmja says they plan to finance the projects with payments from members who are willing to invest in particular renewable parks. If you can’t find enough neighbours nearby being interested in going green, you can be an investor in the co-op.
Bolt takes going green seriously
Another green example from the business sector is one of the Estonian unicorns, Bolt. The company offers ride and scooter sharing, food delivery and soon car rental services. Their environmental strategy was launched in 2019 with the medium to long term plan of accelerating the switch to only providing green ride types on their platform.
“In the short term, it means taking actions we can. For now, this includes investing in initiatives that deliver environmental and social benefits around the world,” Bolt’s Head of Sustainability Sandra Särav described.
She sees that sustainable mobility does not only mean going electric. With electric vehicles, the same problems as with internal combustion engine (ICE) cars remain prevalent – mainly cars taking away city space and contributing to congestion.
“Electric vehicles alone do not solve the problem of motorisation. Bolt strives to find efficient alternatives to replace individual car rides with more sustainable options, including multimodality by integrating transport services for different needs in one app,” Särav said.
At the same time, Bolt Food, the company’s food delivery department, is trying to figure out ways to package food more sustainably. According to Särav, Bolt is the first e-scooter platform to operate climate positive e-scooters as of December 1, 2020. That means, Bolt is removing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than caused by manufacturing, shipping and operating the scooters.
All of the mentioned initiatives, projects and ventures have occurred organically, meaning without the broader involvement from the government or any incentives for green solutions in place. However, the Estonian government has just announced the national budgetary strategy for the years 2022-2025 and has allocated 1.8 billion euros for the green transition. Now, when the government has plans in place to speed up going green, you can only imagine where Estonia will reach in the coming years.