Unpacking Arctic Energy

Unpacking Arctic Energy

With planning begun for the 2017 Arctic Energy Summit, to be hosted in Helsinki next September, it is an important time to reflect on what is meant by “Arctic” energy. While Arctic nations take full advantage of their role in the region – to protect the environment, advance sustainable development, and strengthen international cooperation – most communities and companies based in Arctic nations (or even outside) are left wondering what part they play.

When it comes to energy, there’s a lot to unpack. First, energy as it is used here applies to oil, gas and coal exploration, production and transportation; it includes renewable energy – biomass, hydro, wind, solar, and geothermal – development; residential and commercial power and heat, including utility generation and transmission; and it includes the shipping, pipeline and rail infrastructure that is necessary to move molecules.

We’re really talking about a whole of system support structure that delivers fuel, power and heat from local or distant resources to consumers. This system transcends latitudinal lines, and reaches down into markets that include the EU, Asia, and the United States. What we’re searching for is those intersections the system has with either taking resources from, or delivering heat and power to, Arctic states (Finland, Sweden, Norway, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, Canada, US/Alaska and Russia).

Companies based anywhere in the world may have technological, technical, process or experiential expertise to apply to northern energy development. This can include long-time experience in making things work in remote environments or cold climates, where logistics are extremely challenging. It can also mean the application of emerging and innovative technologies or practices that are new to the Arctic or developed specifically for northern regions.

Communities most often feel either part of the Arctic, or left out, and generally base it their geographical position. However, the high degree to which many Arctic nations’ GDP is related to the region indicates that actually all northern and southern communities have some stake. Often it is Arctic resource development that facilitates government investment in infrastructure or the delivery of public services like education and healthcare. Similarly, any community located within an Arctic (or even non-Arctic) nation that experiences challenging cold climates, distance from population centers, resource development or transportation occurring nearby, off grid utilities, and/or geological occurrences such as permafrost or sea ice will find that the topics addressed are extremely relevant.

Government agencies have responsibilities that span the Arctic region to an entire citizenry, and here we see special priorities outlined for use in the north. Each Arctic state has an Arctic policy – and many have strategies, implementation plans, etc. – that call out specific priorities in the region, all of which reference sustainable development. As a project that has in the past been convened under the auspices of the Sustainable Development Working Group of the Arctic Council, it is worth highlighting the variety of activities that government agencies are involved in, which may relate to northern energy issues. Here we can search for what we have in common, what might be considered a best practice or lesson learned, and work toward addressing challenges and opportunities.

The 4th biennial 2017 Arctic Energy Summit is a multi-disciplinary event expected to draw several hundred industry officials, scientists, academics, policy makers, energy professionals and community leaders together to collaborate and share leading approaches on contemporary Arctic energy issues. The 2017 Summit will be held in Finland, the incoming Chair of the Arctic Council (2017-2019). The three-day conference will focus on a comprehensive set of themes, including: oil and gas; geothermal, solar, wind, hydro and tidal energy; utilities; microgrids; energy policy and regulation; community impacts; energy finance and investment; climate change; and energy security. Hosted by Alaska’s Institute of the North, in collaboration with the Finnish Ministry of Employment and the Economy, the Arctic Energy Summit will highlight the Arctic as a leader in renewable energy development and integration, and exporter of world-class knowledge and expertise.