The first person who raised the need for a technology centre was Esa Pekkola in 1987. Pekkola at the time worked as a production director at Stömberg Oy (later ABB Oy) factories. Merinova was founded by the city of Vaasa and Vaasa University in 1989, but the industry and businesses were important and owners from the beginning. In contrast to other technology centres and regional development companies in Finland, Merinova was owned mainly by the industry and companies from the very beginning.
Sundom Smart Grid
ABB, Vasa Elektriska corporate group, Anvia and the University of Vaasa are testing the newest smart grid technology in Sundom village in a pilot project. Merinova works as a leader and a main applicant for the project, which is funded by the INKA programme.
The project is unique, also on a global level, and aims to improve the security of the supply of electricity distribution and create conditions for households in areas where wind and solar power can be used.
In Sundom there is a closed optical fibre network which allows the measured information to be moved in digital form in real time. The information is collected in a service centre, where all of the stakeholders of the project can utilize it. Thanks to this, it allows the University of Vaasa a unique way of researching the effect of underground cables and network automation in a real environment. The goal is for customers to get their electricity as economically and reliably as possible.
EnergyLab (current VEBIC)
When the EnergyLab (now currently VEBIC) is completed, it will offer unique opportunities for universities and companies to be able to research whole energy systems. The aim is that the laboratory will strengthen the Finnish Energy Cluster’s position globally, and increase research cooperation.
The laboratory building was completed in June 2016, and the infrastructure for research is expected to be completed by the end of 2016. At a later date, the laboratory will be complemented with units such as research in bioenergy, geothermal energy, renewable energy, smart grids, electricity transmission and communication between devices. The laboratory plans to represent technology areas where Finnish energy companies already have a strong position.
“VEBIC strengthens research skills and resources within the University of Vaasa, but at the same time, the unit is also a boost for the whole of the Finnish energy expertise. The goal is that in Finland we will not start to develop projects or structures that compete against each other. Hopefully the new laboratory attracts top equipment and also foreign bodies, “says Anna-Kaisa Valkama from Merinova.
Significant projects in the INKA-programme
It was only natural that Vaasa was elected the bearer of the largest energy cluster in the region, under the theme sustainable energy solutions in the INKA programme (innovative cities). Merinova stands for practical implementation of the Energy-INKA programme, which Vaasa is responsible for.
The INKA-programme will continue until the end of 2017.
Within the INKA-programme, Vaasa has started many major projects, one of which is EnergyLab, which is one of the most important platforms for research and development, alongside Sundom Smart Grid and Wasa Station.
TEKES has granted funding within the INKA programme for the Wasa station project, to investigate innovative energy solutions and energy companies, which will be responsible for the entire block.
In the project, we are looking for total energy solutions for the new block. The solutions must be both innovative and beneficial to users. In addition, a business model for the company that will manage the energy system will be planned. The project is interesting also from an international perspective, and when Wasa Station is complete, it will serve as a show case for the know-how of Finnish energy technology companies.
Through INKA, stakeholders in the Vaasa region have assigned several million euros. The total budget for the project is around 9 M€, over 5.5 M€ of which is support from TEKES.
As the industry in Vaasa was internationalised, and exports began to rise, the importance of higher technical education was understood. This education is a prerequisite for staff within companies to survive against international competitions from countries like Switzerland, Germany and the United States, who have a strong culture of education at doctoral level. In the 1990’s, a plan for a technical faculty at the University of Vaasa began. During the first OSKE-period, a work group led by Esa Pekkola suggested that Vaasa should have a modern laboratory.
Naturally, the technical education needed a modern laboratory. The University of Vaasa established themselves in the old factory building that was previously used by the Vasa cotton factory, and also the Swedish and Finnish Polytechnic schools located themselves on Brändö. Thus the idea was born to unite all three educational industries laboratories. Furthermore, when the regions industry decided to also support the arrangement with a donation and laboratory equipment, the cities strong support could be utilised to build a modern laboratory called Technobotnia. The laboratory also serves the faculty of Engineering at the University of Vaasa, which was founded in 2004.
Expertise Programme 1995-2014
From the time that Merinova was founded in the mid 1990’s, the focus was primarily on providing advice, training, and support for the supply industry. When the Employment and Economic Development Office started a skills programme in the mid 1990’s, Merinova joined the programme, due to the content of the programme fitting so well with the Vasa energy profile. During the first years of OSKE, Merinova took the initiative and led three programmes – Enertekno, Ekoenergia and Innovation Management. These various projects were included within this programme.
At the end of the OSKE activities, 2007-2014, Merinova worked as a national coordinator of the national energy cluster, under the Ministry of direct financing.