He now has a couple of months behind him in the new role as CEO of the competence center ACE, which is run by Luleå University of Technology, Northvolt, Skellefteå Kraft, RISE and, Skellefteå municipality.
– I am old enough to have experienced the IT boom in the late 90s. At that time, I felt a bit left out and not really in the thick of things. When this opportunity arose, it felt like I could finally be part of the action. Skellefteå is an emerging hub for much of the ongoing transformation, says Vahlne when we meet on Campus.
In 2021, the decision was made to establish ACE in Skellefteå, an initiative that will now accelerate with Vahlne on board. The center's goals include developing northern Sweden as a global leader in innovative working methods, solutions, and technologies for sustainable energy conversion based on renewable sources. It also aims to enhance expertise and knowledge in fields such as transportation, industry, and buildings with renewable energy systems.
– I have met many people and started laying the groundwork for the various areas we will be working on. One element involves identifying crucial gaps in research and determining mechanisms to support and collaborate on different projects. Another aspect is understanding the educational initiatives underway, figuring out how to make them more intelligent and efficient, and determining how they can be supplemented, Vahlne explains.
– Just as we travel to Paris or Milan for fashion or Silicon Valley for tech, Skellefteå is to be developed into the epicenter for the societal shift in electricity, he continues.
Currently, the operation is in a building phase, but the goal is to get started quickly.
– My plan and ambition are to have the major cornerstones in place before midsummer. After the summer, we should be operational, even though there will be much more to come, he says.
One part is currently named ACE Academy.
– Education is a crucial factor. We have a solid foundation to build upon through our three partners, LTU, RISE, and Skellefteå Municipality.
At the same time, Vahlne acknowledges that the world of education is vast.
– The current plan is to build a hub of educational actors that we support and to whom we offer added value. We will coordinate the educational needs among the partners. We're talking about the full spectrum: from adult and vocational education to academic programs and training for people in the workforce.
Attracting students to Skellefteå presents a challenge.
– Ultimately, we want people to study in Skellefteå, but not all stakeholders are here. With the various actors, we aim to create a funnel that guides people onward. It may involve spending a couple of years elsewhere and completing the final year here. It's highly likely that we'll have professorships in this field in Skellefteå.
– At some point during their career, people should have passed through Skellefteå, whether it's for a week or ten years. Ideally, they'll stay.
In the future, there will be strategy workshops with key industries to analyze educational needs, as well as strategies around thematic areas such as e-mobility, smart buildings, and industrial applications.
– The question is: how can we quickly convey the industry's needs to educational actors? It's one thing to have the right education, another to get people to attend. That's why we're trying to build Skellefteå as a hub with an appeal beyond education: exciting projects, entrepreneurs, innovators, and job opportunities.
In parallel, construction will begin on the seven-story building that will house ACE.
– We are now working to design the building as an exciting meeting place with innovative environments for education and research on electrification. The construction project itself also has very high sustainability ambitions. The goal is for the shovel to hit the ground in the autumn, with the building set to be completed in 2026, says Sanna Orellano, Arctic Center of Energy, who has taken on the role of process manager to develop the concept and strengthen interest in the competence center. She is responsible for coordinating activities and tenants for the new environment and developing the building into a testbed for new solutions related to Campus.
The building is intended to accommodate partners, startups, education providers, researchers, and others connected to the energy transition.
- The idea is that everyone in the building will support our visions, says Vahlne.
Background: Most recently held the position of senior business developer at KTH. Tobias has a background in the IT and finance industries, has run his own business, coached Swedish startups onto the global stage, and built strategic collaborations between academia and industry.
Current: CEO of Arctic Center of Energy in Skellefteå since March 1st this year.