Reporter's Notebook, Helsinki -- The Midnight Sun. That's not just an expression, I've learned.
This week, I'm in Finland talking to entrepreneurs, engineers and government officials about the country's attempt to build its green industry. Although a relatively small country in terms of population, the emphasis the nation has placed on energy efficiency over the last several decades has made it something of a living lab on the subject.
Finland has set a target of getting 38.5 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, mainly through expanding wind and biomass resources and rolling out more efficiency programs. The overall EU target is 20 percent by 2020.
"We're now at 27, 28 percent, so it is possible within 10 years," said Santtu Hulkonen, executive director of Cleantech Finland, which promotes the industry. "Coal, natural gas, oil -- we don't have those and we have a lot of heavy industry. To remain competitive, we've had to invest in energy efficiency."
Over 50 percent of the country's 16.4 billion Euro greentech industry is based on efficiency and nearly 90 percent of the country's top 100 clean companies specialize in it, Hulkonen added.
It's a notable achievement, but the one thing you really notice about the country this time of year is the sun. It sets after 11 p.m. At 10 p.m., it is still about as light outside as San Francisco at 7 p.m. on a summer evening.
The sun then rises at just before 4 a.m., and when it does, it's noontime bright. Combine that with the usual transcontinental jet lag and the nightlife shenanigans that go along with the World Cup in a European capital and you're talking about several straight days of sleep deprivation. I haven't got a full eight hours, let alone five, even once yet.
To block out the light in my hotel room, I've tinkered with putting books on the ends of curtains to get the maximum light blockage and sleeping with a spare pillow over my head. The light gets through the curtains and the pillow -- with nothing to hold it on -- falls off. Three different pharmacies did not have sleeping masks for sale.
"Put underwear on your head," my daughter suggested on a call home. More on that experiment in a later post.
So what will we look for here? The potential for the country's greentech industry seems somewhat promising. Finland has a strong educational and university system with the stated goal of commercializing its lab results. The country ranks number one globally in per capita R&D spending, according to Hulkonen. The World Economic Forum has selected Finland three times as the top nation when it comes to sustainability cross-referenced with competitiveness.
Finland is also in the process of imposing incentives and tax credits to encourage domestic demand. Wind capacity will grow from 200 megawatts to 2,000 megawatts, and the government is currently mulling feed-in programs and other incentives.
Additionally, Nokia and other IT companies want to transfer the expertise gained in developing networks and software to the smart grid, solar and wind markets.
Finnish companies, however, have faced a historical disadvantage when it comes to attracting venture capital. Silicon Valley VCs usually like to invest close to home so they can keep in contact with management. A 13-hour plane flight with one stopover makes that challenging.
Marketing also is not a strong suit.
"Finns are not very good at selling stuff. They are very technically oriented," said Kari Herveli, senior technical advisor to Tekes, a public agency which has a 600-million-Euro budget to foster startups.
More later this week. It's time for some herring snacks.