Bente Hagem has huge experience in the Nordic and European energy sector, including leading positions in Equinor and Statnett – where she was Executive Vice President for 14 years. She also chaired the Board of ENTSO-E for four years, an EU organisation coordinating 43 Transmission System Operators for electricity. More recently, she’s been advising the EU Commission on sustainable energy strategies like offshore wind and hydrogen. Now, as Non-Executive Director for Norge Mining, she describes her passion for fighting climate change and Europe’s need for critical raw materials to fuel green energy industries.
Q. Why did you pursue a career in the energy sector?
Bente: The energy sector in Norway is huge and I could combine my industrial and commercial competence with my commitment to climate change. I have been very fortunate to work with electricity, natural gas and hydrogen energy infrastructure – and now, also critical minerals. I have tried to use my skills to support the energy transition. When you read about what will happen if the temperature exceeds four degrees globally, you definitely do not want your grandchildren to experience this. Through industrial engagement, I can help support the fight against climate change.
Q. What has been your career highlight?
Bente: If I look back, I have had great challenges and a lot of fun during my long career. It was certainly a male world, but my mother was my role model. She was an engineer at Borregaard Norway’s largest company up to 1970. She combined family life and industrial commitment successfully. If I had to pick one highlight from my career, it would be developing the European spot market for electricity. Every day between 1200 and 1300 CET, a common European auction is performed and prices for all countries are cleared, including volumes for imports and export between countries. It gives Europe lower electricity prices, more liquidity and competition and less pollution. It reduces CO2 emissions and makes sure the infrastructure – which is costly and often controversial to build – is used in an optimal way. The International Energy Agency (IEA) stated in a report in 2019 that if China established a market like we have in Europe it could reduce its cost of electricity by 15% and reduce the CO2 emissions by 750 million tonnes yearly. So, we must have done something right.
Q. And more recently, you’ve been advising the EU Commission?
Bente: In the last year, I worked with the EU Commission and it was a great experience to collaborate with so many competent people and see from the inside how the European Union systematically develops strategies and decides on regulation needed for the energy transition. The EU is the pilot that is driving the transition – and member states are responding. For example, Germany has for many years used €25b yearly on wind and sun energy and has been instrumental in bringing down costs. My main focus was as a national expert on offshore wind strategy and also for decarbonized hydrogen, either green or blue. The demand for electricity will double towards 2050 and offshore wind production in the EU is estimated to become 300 GW with an investment of €800b. Direct use of electricity is the cheapest solution, but hydrogen will play a vital role in sectors like heavy transport and industry. While green ammonium from hydrogen can be used for shipping and aviation. The European Union will deliver a Fit for 55 package this year which is new, adjusted regulation. The EU doesn’t just talk about goals, they also make sure they are implemented. I like organisations that implement strategies, not just talk about them.
Q. When did you become aware of Europe’s pressing need for minerals, if our green transition is to truly succeed?
Bente: Following Covid and the debate about China and our value chains in Europe, there’s definitely been a push forward to see if we can be more self-sufficient in the region, especially regarding raw materials. We can’t just import them. In Norway, at least, this knowledge is not so common. I’ve been in the industry for 25 years and it’s not been a huge part of the conversation. According to the IEA, if you develop an Electric Vehicle, compared to a fossil fuel car, you use about six times more minerals. If you build a windmill onshore, you need nine times as many minerals as you’d need for a gas power plant. The green shift, therefore, gives us much more dependency on minerals in the region. The geo-political situation has also affected supply chains and created a more pressing need for Europe to find its own minerals. Within this picture, Norge Mining fits perfectly.
Q. Where do you think your experience most benefits Norge Mining?
Bente: My competence in energy industries in Norway was attractive to Norge Mining and my experience on different Boards, as well. This is an Anglo-Norwegian project, but you also need a local eye. I have been warmly welcomed. We’ve had a great trip to the South-West of Norway to the Dalana District, where we met Mayors and other stakeholders there. It was great to hear that everyone at the meeting wanted us to succeed and gave us a lot of good advice. I didn’t expect that; not one said they didn’t need this. It’s a great industrial engagement for the region and Norway.
Q. What precedents will help make Norge Mining’s endeavours a success?
Bente: First of all, we need to be transparent in our development of the project. We need to be open and available to communities, neighbours and authorities. It is very easy to lose support if things aren’t dealt with right. Secondly, the mining needs to be handled in a sustainable manner. However, this is a another article in itself! But, the whole value chain that we are a part of needs to have this ambition. Knowing Norwegian environmental authorities, I am sure this project needs to be according to best practice and a good step beyond that. Thirdly, the values from the mining activity need to be distributed in a balanced manner. Norway has a long tradition of successful distribution of values from oil production, electricity from hydro and so on. This is how Norway became prosperous. Finding a balanced distribution between investors, landowners and central and local authorities is a key to success.