At the end of the year – how did we do?

The winter solstice has passed, the days are getting longer and we are heading towards summer again. But at the end of the year, as we enter the holiday season, many of us look behind, nervously, and wonder, where did this year disappear again, did it make a difference? In January we had started the New Year bustling with energy and new ideas, with promises, how to make it different this time, but only seldom we seem to succeed and meet all of our goals. Sometimes we set the bar just far too high, overestimate our capabilities and resources. After all, there is just 24 hours a day, in each one of those 365 of them.

We started our project in last January under similar circumstances: lot was to be done, schedules were to be kept and goals were to be reached. The first months were spent with setting up of the project within partner organisations, assigning people for the project and other practical matters. Many questions were in the air. Organisations, many of which were unfamiliar to each other previously, had committed to do something together. Individuals within these organisations, who had been just names in your e-mail directory and recipient list started to gradually emerge as voices and images on Skype. Then in March the kick off meeting of the project was organised in Oulu, Finland, where, many of the partners met each other for the very first time in person. The partnership became a reality. Time was taken to get to know each other, ice was broken, though not under our feet on the surface of the frozen Gulf of Bothnia. From these fledgling beginnings the bounds have grown stronger, as the partnership has come together and met in person in Inverness, in Galway and most recently in Enniskillen.

During the kick off meeting and in the months that have followed it, the application has been read thorough from the first page to the last one countless of times. It has been the guideline, to which we have returned to get a confirmation that we are on the right track. It has told us what have we committed to do, what is expected from us by the partnership, the programme secretariat and managing authority, and ultimately – by the tax payers, what needs to be done. The challenge at hand was daunting back then, and has at sometimes cast a shadow on ourselves. How would we reach the ultimate goal of the project, provide a service, which would support SMEs working with energy innovations, and do it better than others, as we had promised. Only actions speak for themselves, so it was just to roll up your sleeves and get to work.

As in all EU funded projects, dissemination and communication have a central role. We need to keep the financiers and general public informed, what we are doing with their money, but also to attract the attention of our target group and end users, the SMEs. Setting up a website, creating an image, logo or even a brand for the project and planning of our communication strategies and activities were some of the tasks implemented in this work package.  For some of us these tasks meant leaving our comfort zone and entering the uncharted waters of social media, where we had to establish ourselves and maintain our presence. Social media is becoming even more important medium in project dissemination and communication, and the power of the tweet is mighty indeed. Our social media activities have been increasing towards the end of the year and we have managed to attract considerable attention during the last part of the year. What a difference 140 character can make. Staff changes at the WP leader organization led to some delays in implementation of these tasks, but as always, plans and reality do not always meet, that’s just how life goes on. Expect the unexpected, hope for the best, prepare yourself for the worst. Finally our first newsletter was published, which traces our activities from most of the year. It can be downloaded from our website.

WP 3, Municipal needs review, was started shortly after the kick off meeting in March as well. This WP forms the foundation for our whole project. Stakeholders, countless business support organisations, SMEs and other organisations were approached and interviewed, as we established the state of energy innovations in the regions, the SMEs working with them and the needs related to them. This work has now been mostly finished and the results are available in printed form. The first report about Energy innovation needs is already available from our website and others will be released shortly after the holidays.

WP 3 has paved our way towards WP 4, Innovation tender process, which is set to start in earnest in the beginning of next year. Based on the work done in the previous WP, we will seek energy innovations from SMEs, which target specific innovation needs that have been recognized in the regions. Companies will be asked to submit their proposals and winning bids will be granted money to set their innovations up and running. Innovate Energy 2016 Conference, which was held in Enniskillen on 8th of December, acted as a pre-launch event for the Invited to Tender call, which will be opened officially in the course of January. The event offered a forum for participating companies to present their energy innovations and attracted considerable attention among interested parties. Detailed overview of the event has been published on our website and we hope to have the presentations online after the holidays.

As I have traced the events and activities, which have taken place during this past year in FREED, I dare to claim that despite some delays we have managed to achieve what we set to do. The foundation has been made, on which to build the upcoming activities and tasks. We are on our way towards the ultimate goal and will involve our end users, the SMEs, in increasing numbers in next year. A few companies will be given funding for their ITT proposals, which are going to serve as pilot projects. Other SMEs will be involved in WPs 5 and 6, which will commence later on in 2017, where the focus is on providing business planning and fund raising support for them. And judging by the buzz that energy, both renewables in general and the emerging innovations, have received and what has actually happened in 2016, there is plenty of demand for this kind of support. Renewable energies are increasing their importance and are becoming more and more mainstream, but we must keep our focus on distance, on the future solutions, which need a little help from a friend to get there. Our pledge is to continue work for this also in 2017.

But before we get there, stop, slow down, enjoy your holidays and share it with your loved ones. With the tunes and words of popular Finnish Christmas carol, En etsi valtaa loistoa (I Seek No Gold Or Majesty) by Sakari Topelius (words) and Jean Sibelius (composer), Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

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