PoDoCo Enabled Unique Multi-sectoral Research Collaboration on Finnish Energy Markets

Sini Numminen received a one-year PoDoCo grant in 2020 for working with VaasaETT.

Sini Numminen received a one-year PoDoCo grant in 2020 for working with VaasaETT, one of Europe’s leading energy market consultancies, in a market study on distributed energy sources in Finland. Sini, D.Sc (Tech.) in Engineering Physics from Aalto University, has been broadly interested in the sustainability of energy (both on the consumption and production sides) in her research career. The initial initiative for the PoDoCo programme application came from Sini, a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Design at Aalto University, who wanted to conduct a study on locally produced energy among regular Finnish residents’ housing contexts. VaasaETT was known for Sini through her former project employment and decided VaasaETT would be an excellent collaborator in this type of a project.

Helsinki-based VaasaETT, (Vaasa Energy Think Tank), has twenty-years of experience in conducting energy market studies with private and public customers (including the European Commission and European state governments), and has also participated at several demand side focused European research projects, including the household energy poverty research and alleviation project ASSIST. Current tasks include monitoring energy prices in Europe that are collected to collected in a publicly available database with visualizations.

Energy crises shaped the energy market study

The initial goal of the PoDoCo project had been to research Finnish markets for distributed energy (heat pumps, solar energy, demand response etc) and future pathways for their broader utilization. However, the first winter energy crisis in 2021 made it obvious that the actual research gap lies in the customer and household end, particularly in their capacities (such as economic, knowledge, willingness etc.) to adopt distributed energy technologies and flexible demand. Therefore, the envisioned methodology to interview market experts was shifted to survey regular Finnish citizen. It would be interesting how regular homeowners in Finland view themselves in the changing energy markets, and how increasing energy prices impact their behaviours e.g. in terms of updating the heating systems in their homes. Therefore, a comprehensive energy survey was designed, and a Finnish NGO, Finnish Home Owners’ Association and several universities were involved in the collaboration. The survey was launched in August 2022, and it attracted 5000 respondents.

The timing of the survey occurred at a uniquely uncertain energy market situation. The spring 2022 energy crisis had skyrocketed the prices of all forms of energy, and there was even a talk of potential disruptions for household electricity supply. Survey respondents – mainly detached home owners – reported being highly concerned with the situation. The analysis of different respondent groups’ responses clearly demonstrates that certain groups, such as lower-income households, are more vulnerable to energy market shocks than others. However, results also show that many Finnish detached homes are already quite well equipped with various heating technologies, and no longer dependent only on one fuel source or heating technology. The large survey data set allows many meaningful analyses made. Preliminary findings of the study even raised media attention.

Knowledge production in both company, public and decision-makers’ interest

The PodoCo project, funded by the The Finnish Foundation for Technology Promotion, enabled unique company-university-NGO collaboration. Citizen surveys, when made appropriately, require careful conceptualizing and designing and hundreds of hours of work. The set of survey questions is a result of brainstorming sessions and many review rounds with VaasaETT’s market experts, housing experts of the Finnish Home Owners’ association and university researchers. The association and the research project ORSI network assisted in disseminating the survey for Finnish households which was elementary and resulted in the high response rate. Data analysis is still ongoing in collaboration with VaasaETT data scientists and Aalto University researchers. Several publications are in preparation or under review.

This PoDoCo project resulted in the development of knowledge regarding the Finnish detached house sector and the transition of the energy market. This is knowledge that is urgently needed. The knowledge is not only beneficial for research and the company, but also for the public, Finnish decision-makers and other public and private stakeholders in Finland and more broadly around Europe. The results have already been presented at a seminar of the Finnish parliament in March 2023 and far more publicity is being planned. Sini will continue collaborating with VaasaETT and is planning future projects. It is obvious that more studies are necessary to better understand the changing positions of households under changing energy markets.