Insights from Almedalen 2023

Trying to gather some thoughts about Almedalen. For most it is associated with politicians, but it is actually a lot broader. Almost all industries and sectors have a alot of activiity during this week, and you really meet all kind of decision makers.

Future of commerce

One of the sessions I went to was about the future of commerce, focusing on unstaffed stores and automatic checkout adoption in stores.

The panel, consisting of both people from the big retailers in Sweden (Meta Persdotter at Coop) institutes such as HUI (Erik Bergh) and Svensk Handel (Henrik Ekelund) as well as Urban Höglund from Swish and Sofia Norén from Storekey, who enable solutions.

Some data shared during the talk:

  • In Sweden now more customers prefer self-checkout at stores to “traditional” checkout.
  • Reasons for prefering self-checkout vary however. One thing that was unexpected was that around 20% of young people prefer self-checkout as to not needing to show what they have bought to another person.
  • Un-staffed stores are becoming more common, but have some adoptation challenges. One is the feeling of security, as there is no staff present. This can be solved by either technology  (cameras) or by have the unmanned store close to other things where there are people (such as next to a restaurant or so)
  • New trends that would be tested soon where to make staff at a clothing retailer take payments directly using mobile phones, and not having any cash-register at all – instead just interactions on the floor between staff and customers.

Main take away is that e-commerce and “regular” commerce are really starting to blend in ways that make them indistinguishable. And is there actually any point in making a difference between them?

I have followed this field for a long time, ever since our coworker Robert started what is now Honestbox at Mindpark. We will see a lot more progress on this field I am sure!

Solar power discussions

Another session at Almedalen was about solar power and the energy transition. I do not have any direct business interests in this field (but we have some fun coworkers at Mindpark that work in this field). But I have a big personal interest in this, as some of you know.

There was, not unexpected, a lot of talk about sustainability at Almedalen (of the 2000 sessions about 500 contained the word “hållbarhet”!)

This one, about solar power, I found very interesting.

On stage where Axel Alm from Solkompaniet and Magnus Häggström from Helios Nordic Energy, representing the industry. But it was combined with both landowners (Tove Lönstad from LRF) and builders of “big boxes with lots of roof” (Matthias Kettelhoit from Logicenters). But also Peter Wigert from Svenska Kraftnät and Martin Sjödahl from Länsstyrelsen Kronobergs län. Both Svenska Kraftnät, who operate adn build the power lines and Länstyrelsen, who give permissin for building new power sources, are often seen as obstacles when it comes to enabling the energy transition.

Some interesting insights:

  • Solar power is viable in many parts of Sweden on a similar level as Denmark and northern Germany, some of the areas where the most is build in Europe.
  • In sweden it takes roughtly 1 years to get planning and approval going, and 1 year to build a solar power plant. That makes it the fastest form to build
  • Solar and wind have strong synergies – often when it is not windy, the sun i shining. Almost perfect correlation.
  • Energy storage is becoming more common, and 50% of solar plants build in germany now have solar storage as well.
  • The interest in building solar power plats in Sweden has grown a lot: Länsstyrelsen Kronobergs län hade during 2020 1 application, during 2021 one application a month, and now one application a week. And the applications are for bigger and bigger plants as well.
  • They have also now made cases of reversing former solar plats to fields again, and it showed that this is no problem at all, and the soil is even better after solar power cells are removed.

There are some bottlenecks however:

  • Permits still take longer then the industri feels they need to take
  • There is a legal issue with having a limit of 500 MWh, above that you need to pay taxes even if you consume the electricity yourself. This is a rule most European countries do not have, and would enable a lot of industri and logistics buildings to be covered with solar cells.
  • Connecting the solar plants to the grid takes time and planning, often on a regional level.

Svenska Kraftnät was also clear that there are obstacles: we can build a lot of solar power, but the national grid will not be able to cope with it all. Most of the energy consumption from solar power needs to be close to where it is generated. Currently they are paying about €1000 per MWh for somebody to increase demand when there is over-production, which larger amount of solar power will lead to.

Another insight I did not know: power lines are not deemed a “riksintresse”, which makes building new ones get harder, as it competes with a lot of other interests when it is about getting permits.

I truly believe solar power will be the main energy source in the future. It has too many advantages and will get only even cheaper. However it will take many years for the transition. But if the transition just continues at the current rate, a bit after 2040 the total global energy consumption would be met by solar power alone…. (I wrote about that recently: solar energy consumption trends globally)

The future if offices and work

Maybe not unexpected, but more the one session of Almedalen i was part of was about real-estate and especially the future of offices and work.

One panel, with Helene Lidström from Castellum, Paulina Brandberg, Jämställdhetsminister & bitr arbetsmarknadsminister, Peter Hellgren, CEO at Consid and Leif Denti, researcher in innovationspsykologi at Göteborgs universitet, focused a lot on remote work – a topic that is super relevant and where we with Mindpark see interesting development.

Insights from this topic was amongst other:

  • That most people in Sweden want flexibility for themselves, but at the same time they want that their collegues are at the office when they choose to be at the office as well…
  • There still seems no concesus on how remote work should actually be structured. So far it is only clear that there is no universal rule that works for everyone.
  • Many long term effects are still unclear, such as how gender equality at the workplace is affected by remote work.
  • Research clearly shows remote work improves people job satisfaction.

Peter Hellgren shared some specific insights from Consid as well, such as that they could measure that men aged 25-30 who were not in a relationship where a lot less happy with remote work compared to other groups. They could also now see a higher degree of participation (over 70%) compared to before the pandemic (around 64%) when it comes to social activities with colleagues.

Besides remote working, there where also a lot of discussion related to sustainability and real-estate. A thought that stuck with me was when one person, working as a sustainability manager at a big real estate company said it has been very challenging for her to go from being seen as on the good side, the side that is seen as the builder of the future for our society, to being on the bad side, the side that is responsible for a big part of Swedens carbon emissions.

And this is very true, and having talked to many sustainability managers in this sector it is clear: a person working with sustainabiltiy on real-estate has really had their roles transformed over the last decade, from social sustainability to much more focus on environmental sustainability.

In general within sustainability circularity was of big interest now, how to build with recycled material. But in discussions some interesting thought where raised as well: what if the houses being build and planned right now are the last houses being build? As it will be harder and harder to build new houses when emission targets need to be met…

Overall as always, lots of interesting perspectives and thoughts that emerge from sessions at Almedalen.

Trains and railways

Almedalen truly is so many different fields and industries at one place, which is one of the reasons it is relevant for many different people around Mindpark. One topic I myself find fascinating (and where I am involved a little as backer of All Aboard), is trains and railways.

There where many sessions on that at Almedalen, but one that I attended was about trans-european railway and challenges in going by train from Sweden to different destinations in Europe. Having recently been traveling from Venice to Helsingborg by train, I wanted to listen to what is in store for the future.

The panel, consisting of Jakop Dalunde, EU politician, Caroline Åstrand from MTR, Susanna Elfors (who founded the facebook group “tågsemester” with 170.000 members) and Mats Almgren from SJ. This was in the agenda 2030 arena, moderated by Mattias Goldmann.

Some insights:

  • Train are truly the most green travel solution for longer distances. 90% less emissions if you go by train in Sweden. Even in not so green countries, such as Poland, where a lot of energy is from coal, still 60% less emissions if you go by train.
  • It will get more expensive to fly in future, with new regulation and taxes. Probably 500 kr more for a flight within Europe.
  • Night trains are not really profitable for train operators at the moment.
  • The reason phone connectivity is bad on trains is because the windows are not “radio transparent”! New trains will have more transparent windows, which should make that better.
  • SJ is working on making it easier to book trains across countries.
  • Another insights: everything with train and infrastructure takes time. When someone working with trains says “this we already are solving”, they mean it is maybe done by 2024, but maybe first 2025 or 2026… (such as those radio transparent windows, or easier train booking even if that one actually might be done by fall 2023 already….)

A better booking experience is truly needed. This is why I am a backer of All Aboard, because they have built the technology to be able to have smooth booking system that covers almost all of Europe – which is what I believe will make it more accessible. They also have an interesting take, making it possible to find different routes, not just the quickest one – which is something you want to consider when going on holiday instead of traveling for work for example.

But the main insight is that there are many obstacles for making trains in Europe better. Most of them are national, as a lot of rules are set nationally, and small things such as traindrivers needing to be in the language of each country, computer systems for trains are set national, railway standards are set nationally etc. As Jakop put it: on of the best solutions here is actually to give more power to the EU, so that not every country makes their own decisions, which are not always informed about what decisions other countries are making at the moment….

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