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Patrik Söderholm
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"I hope my research can be a piece of the puzzle in the realization of the green transition"

Published: 25 February 2022

Patrik Söderholm, professor of economics, is deputy scientific leader for SUN.

Tell us a little about yourself!

- I come from Luleå and live here with my wife Kristina and the twins Ella and Bodil (now 18 years old). The roots are in Norrbotten, my mother came from Älvsbyn and my father from Seskarö. In 1988, I started studying economics at Luleå University of Technology, and I also studied economics at Umeå University. Since 2006 I have been a professor of economics, but have also researched at universities and institutes in Boston (MIT), Vienna (IIASA), and Leipzig (Helmholz-UFZ) over the years.

What are you researching right now?

- I am involved in a number of different research projects, most of which are connected in different ways to the green transformation of the industry. The research is about, among other things, how different climate and energy policy instruments affect the incentives for technological development and innovation, and how such instruments can be designed in an effective way. Together with jurists and historians, I have, for example, studied the conditions for a more appropriate environmental assessment of industrial activities.

How come you started researching your subject?

- I have always had an interest in socio-economic issues, and in the beginning I was most interested in macroeconomics. In the early 1990s, the opportunity was created to pursue doctoral studies in economics at Luleå University of Technology; the focus was on energy, natural resources and the environmental economy and my dissertation from 1997 was about fuel selection and fuel substitution in European electricity production. Since then, research has been broadened in different directions; Among other things, over the years I have written a lot about waste and recycling.

How does your research play a role in SUN?

- SUN is about how the natural resource-based industry plays an important role in climate change and for sustainable development. My research is about how this change can be achieved, and in a way that can unite different goals, such as climate, competitiveness, regional development. The state - as well as different authorities at regional and local level - need to support this development in different ways, and it is important that different policy instruments and legislation are designed in an appropriate way. An important target group for my research is political decision-makers as well as officials in government agencies and public organizations.

What is the most fun discovery / result you have made / produced as a researcher?

- The most cited research I have conducted is about technological development, including so-called learning-by-doing, linked to renewable energy sources, mainly wind power. Among other things, this research has shed light on how the effects of technological development (so-called learning rates) can be measured empirically and how different policy instruments affect this development. I have also, in collaboration with researchers in entrepreneurship and innovation systems, contributed to increasing the understanding of how different types of pilot and demonstration facilities can promote sustainable technological development. These studies have resulted in important lessons both for politics and for the organization and management of such facilities. Finally, together with other researchers, I have developed guidelines for how the environmental assessment of industry can be designed and implemented in a way that can combine industrial competitiveness with tough environmental conditions. This research is directly relevant to the debate that exists today about the possible shortcomings of the Swedish environmental assessment.

What do you want to achieve during your research career?

- An important goal is to have fun, ie to find issues and research projects that you long to dig into every day. I think that is also when the best research comes to light. Right now, I also hope that my research will be a piece of the puzzle in the realization of the green industrial change that is now taking place, not least up here in Norrbotten.

What is the most fun / challenging part of being part of SUN?

- It is inspiring to take part in others' experiences and knowledge, both other researchers but also the members of SUN's strategic council who represent both the industry and the government. It is also fun - but also challenging and difficult - to fully understand other perspectives and from these identify new groundbreaking research.

Why do you think SUN is important?

- SUN is important because the area tackles a challenge that is both important and difficult: natural resources in the form of ore, forests and water are necessary for the transition to sustainable development but also involve difficult trade-offs between different societal goals. This change is not only about climate and the competitiveness of industry, but also about links to other environmental goals, social acceptance and to regional development in general.It is therefore important to conduct research that contributes to increasing knowledge about these goal conflicts, and how these can be handled. In SUN, it is investigated, among other things, how different technical solutions can sometimes contribute to resolving conflicts of goals and interests (for example linked to land use). The research is also about how society's organization and its institutions (ie legislation, norms) affect the possibilities of realizing the natural resource-based green transition and dealing with the goal conflicts that result from this transition.