During the last decade, Innovation Norway was one of the most visible sources of financing for energy projects in Romania. This is rather peculiar, when considering other financing originators such as European funds, governmental schemes, or large international banks. Its “Energy Programme in Romania” totaled 151 projects, mostly for supporting renewable energy and energy efficiency efforts. We discussed with Magnar Odelien, the Programme Director within EEA Norway Grants – Innovation Norway, what is special about this kind of financing.
Mr. Magnar Odelien, I suggest we start with some explanations about why Norway involves itself in supporting such projects on energy topics in Romania. Many of us know about European structural funds meant to support the convergence process at a continental scale, but not so many about the Norway Grants.
The starting point is that although Norway is not a member of the European Union, we are very closely connected to the European Union through the agreement on the European Economic Area. What that means is that, alongside Iceland and Lichtenstein, Norway is part of the internal market and part of the EU programmes. For instance, we participate in Horizon Europe and in other important EU programmes. Also, part of the agreement, through the EEA Norway Grants we also contribute to the cohesion effort with the same amount that we would have been contributing to the budget of the European Union for structural funds if we had been a member of the European Union.
At the same time, a very important thing about the EEA Norway Grants is that it have one additional component, which is the objective of strengthening bilateral relations. Thus, yes, we are funding projects, but we are also doing a lot to connect Romanian companies, authorities, and other entities with Norwegian partners.
This also means that we are working more closely together with the project promoters and partners. We have been working in Romania since 2007 with business programmes first and foremost, but since 2018 we have also been addressing energy topics in Romania.
Energy aside, what are the other areas in which you have been involved?
In the business development programme in Romania, we are financing basically two kinds of projects. On the one hand, we are financing research and development projects, but we are also financing investment projects for greening production processes. As a joke, I used to say that the European Union started to talk about the Green Deal just a few years ago, while we at the EEA Norway Grants have been talking about that for 10–15 years!
Innovation is yet another topic that is much more in focus now than it was five years ago. Also, in almost all the projects, we use more or less the same indicators; a good example is the amount a business project will contribute to the reduction of CO2 emissions.
Can you give us an example of a project supported by Innovation Norway that led to a business model or a product being adopted by the market?
Our very intention is to try to find projects that will have a long-term impact and bring something new to the market. I think Promateris is a good example. For the project, the Romanian company Promateris worked with BioBag Norge from Norway to make plant-based packaging that is 100% recyclable and reusable. This cut down on their carbon footprint and made the local cycle economy stronger. The project will help Promateris make its production more environmentally friendly by using less energy and fuel and making better use of the materials it uses. Biodegradable and bio-based packaging also connect local food chains. In the end, this cut down on the company’s carbon footprint, subsequently strengthening the local circular economy.
Not only Norwegian businesses have been involved, but also Norwegian research institutes, and there are many examples.
Let’s enter the energy topics! Please give us an overview of Innovation Norway’s involvement in the energy sector in Romania!
I will start with some hard facts. The total amount of the programme is more than 60 million euros. Of course, compared to some of the EU funding, that is not that big, but it still is a considerable amount of financing. We have 151 projects. 70 of them are related to renewable energy, and 29 projects involve a Norwegian partner.
I think that what’s really good about this energy programme is the mix we have between companies, project promoters, and public authorities. We have financed really interesting projects in some of the municipalities and some of the largest cities of Romania. It is true that we have not financed big solar projects; we have supported the installation of solar panels on the roof of companies or public authorities to produce renewable energy for their own consumption.
A good example is IPEC, the renowned porcelain powerhouse in Alba Iulia. With a grant of 523,496 dollars, the Norway Grants marked a pivotal moment in IPEC’s journey towards energy efficiency and sustainability. With this boon, IPEC embarked on an audacious venture, installing a photovoltaic system with a 1 MW installed capacity, poised to redefine their energy consumption paradigm. This wasn’t merely a switch; it was a declaration of energy independence. Moreover, it was a beacon of hope for the environment, as it allowed it to curtail CO2 emissions by a substantial 319 tonnes a year.
Also through the EEA and Norway Grants, e-Laborator became the first furniture manufacturer in Romania to use only solar energy for its operations. The company near Târgoviște used to have power blackouts from one hour to a whole day. The furniture in production was rendered unusable, and often machines needed repair. With funding from Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein through the EEA and Norway Grants, specifically from the Energy Programme in Romania, they were able to install solar panels with a 127 KW capacity and batteries with a storage capacity of 100 KW.
Are there any lessons learned that you might want to share with us?
We have started with a number of focus areas, and maybe there were too many of them. That is the kind of lesson learned in the programme. We have been forced to adapt a little bit in that respect and reallocate some funding between focus areas. However, I think we have ended up with a good programme.
Talking about the future, we don’t yet know whether we will be involved in implementing the same type of programmes in Romania for the next financing period – which is business development, research, and energy. If so, I think we have some rather clear ideas about what we would like to simplify even more, in order to make the calls for projects, the application process, and the follow-up of the projects even simpler.
We are actually developing for Innovation Norway a new tool for how to deal with applications in general. That would definitely be a target.
Already, what is different when working with us is our capability of being closer to the promoters of the projects. Thus, thanks to our local teams in Romania and speaking the same language, we can understand, discuss, and modify those elements that might otherwise impair or delay the implementation of a project.
Of course, all funding schemes must have the kind of formal rules you have to comply with, because we also need to be sure that the money is spent as intended. However, we try to be flexible and lean and keep the requirements as simple as possible. We understand the promoters, hopefully, in a better way than a faraway EU representative might do. And I would also add that all our documentation is submitted online and not on paper, which is also a big difference
The communication platform Energynomics, the Romanian Fund for Energy Efficiency – FREE and the Directorate for Energy Efficiency in the Romanian Ministry of Energy were supported by the Norway Grants 2014-2021, in the frame of the “Energy Efficiency for Energy Transition” in Romania programme. The programme benefits from a 200,000 euros grant from Norway.
The goal of the programme was to raise awareness of energy efficiency and renewable energy in the general public, industrial environment, and public authorities, to inform, educate, trigger awareness, and empower the decision-makers in the Romanian public authorities and companies, as well as the general public, with a focus on the young generation, to take positive actions for contributing to the green energy transition through energy efficiency and secure integration of renewable energy.