When Sweden’s global soft power is mentioned, it is usually with regards to IKEA or the well-known music export. Since Ericsson became a major technology power, however, the Scandinavian country is more and more associated with hi-tech products. This has been even more emphasized in the wake of the clean-tech hype rolling over the world since Al Gore told us that global warming is something that we should probably worry about. It is often Swedish companies that are supplying the demand for everything from expanded cycling schemes to wind power. ESW decided to look deeper into this growing industry.
By 2030, West Sweden intends to be completely free from fossil fuel dependency and a very important part of this ambition is wind power. In a country which is among the best in the world in terms of clean energy production (thanks mostly to extensive water energy and nuclear power), the Western part is one of the most ambitious. It is also arguably the biggest center for the industry driving the development to a clean Sweden.
Currently, about 4 percent of Sweden’s energy production comes from this clean source and the number is expected to grow rapidly. It’s sort of a staple joke in Gothenburg that it’s windy all the time, the Western winds tormenting the port city during the winter. But it turns out that the wind situation along the West Coast could be worth a lot. The wind conditions in the area are ideal for wind power – possibly the best in Europe. This means there is a great potential for building wind plants and attracting all the side-business which follows: foreign engineers moving in, regional small suppliers starting up and so on.
But it’s not only for domestic demand that wind power is expanding. Companies big and small from the region are profiting from the prolific business environment and the Swedish reputation for being modern and efficient engineers. The most established of these is SKF, one of the handful of industrial giants that, together with the port and Volvo, built the modern Gothenburg. The company is exporting parts and ball-bearing technique to clean-tech productions on a huge global scale.
SKF is also involved in a historical project uniting West Sweden actors from different sectors, called Göteborg Wind Lab, trying to take advantage of the uniquely well suited region. The ambitious scheme kicked off formally only recently and involves both public and private backers, the latter including American giant General Electric. The overall aim is to make West Sweden a major actor in the global wind power industry and the first significant step was the recent rise of Sweden’s biggest wind turbine yet, with wings reaching some 145 meters and named Big Glenn – a joking reference to the many football players of the city’s golden generation who were all named Glenn and forever associated the name with Gothenburg.
Another supporter of the Göteborg Wind Lab is one of the few private Universities in Sweden, located in Gothenburg. Chalmers is an institution in the city and one of the best technology schools in northern Europe. It also has an entrepreneurial approach and many if not most of the hundreds of smaller companies in the Swedish clean tech industry have a connection to the school, in one way or another. It is impossible to travel to Gothenburg without being exposed to the University and its effect on local business.
Biogas is another green-tech area in which West Sweden is exceeding. It is an energy source coming from biological breakdown of organic waste, basically meaning that what households and businesses would otherwise throw out can fuel for instance public transportation or produce electricity. Especially the transport side is a key area for the region and here we find the world’s first regional project for biogas as vehicle fuel. Many buses, and one train (!), are fueled by biogas and it’s possible to fill up your private gas-fueled car at some 50 stations in West Sweden, giving the region one of the best infrastructures for biogas in the world. Achieving the American Environmental Price a few years back, the project to expand biogas transportation has now spread to California, South Korea and the EU. Much like with wind power, the success in building an exporting clean industry has been achieved in cooperation between public organizations, major global companies, municipalities, universities and small entrepreneurs.
With public support, several clusters of smaller companies and institutions are mushrooming all over Gothenburg. Lindholmen Science Park is maybe the best example of this. Housing research facilities from both the public University, Chalmers and some collaborations between the two, the relatively new area on Hisingen Island in central Gothenburg is mainly a creative environment for small companies. The possibility to combine cheap office rentals with access to world class research, while having lunch with collaborators and competitors alike, has made the Science Park (only a few minutes by biogas bus from downtown Gothenburg) a hub for companies developing electric cars to biogas systems. The region is indeed boiling from clean-tech business and there is a lot of evidence suggesting that West Sweden will in fact be free from fossil fuel in 18 years. But what is more, given the exporting rate and the Swedish green-tech brand, companies from the region will probably help cities and communities all over the world to do the same.