“I have learned how to take an idea all the way… and make it happen!”

Morten Christensen is working on his PhD in the living lab project by EnergyLab Nordhavn (a car-free neighbourhood in Copenhagen) and soaking up as much knowledge and interaction with fellow candidates that he can at InnoEnergy.  His goal is to keep learning to better understand the world we share and the fantastic people we share it with – to ultimately make it a place worthy for his sons to inherit.

Why did you choose the InnoEnergy PhD School?

The idea of acquiring business and entrepreneurial skills was quite a good match for me – and the company I work for, Balslev Consulting Engineers in Denmark. They are sponsoring my PhD education together with the Danish Innovation Foundation.  The courses are tailored to match precisely the goals of what I had in mind to go back to university for – so I can bring this new knowledge back to industry!

On a personal level, the idea of travelling and meeting people from all over the world – talented and driven people that are hoping to change the world for the better and have proven that they are made of the stuff to be able to do that – wow, what a great opportunity. I still often think to myself just how lucky I have been to be accepted into this fabulously talented bunch!

What have been the highlights so far in the programme?

Meeting the students and hearing about their work while attending intensive courses, far removed from our daily environments. I like being thrown together to meet new people, and learn things from each other. The non-engineering skills have also been a real highlight, such as focusing on personal communication skills. That is not something that would typically be a big part of a PhD. While yes, working as a consultant I have picked up a lot of useful abilities – but getting the chance to diver deeper has been great. And there is always something to keep you that extra bit motivated: small elements of friendly competition, encouraging the students to take responsibility and engage in the learning activities, workshops, etc.

What are your ambitions for the future?

To do something that will make my sons proud – but without removing myself from their lives in that process – since having my children was a big motivator to focus on sustainability. It used to be that I wanted to make a mark on the world. Now it is more that I would like to help make some part of the way we run this planet a bit more fair, clean and pleasant.

A major part of my working life has been in what we call triple helix projects in Denmark – led by academia – with partners from industry and public sector. That is really challenging but also a rewarding experience. I would like the chance to head one of those, but with a European outlook and with a more diverse group of partners – including a lot more non-engineers. I believe we have all the tools we need for a complete transformation of the energy system – then we can argue over what ways are more cost-effective than others… but the choice to do it comes first.

How will your skills and knowledge gained in the programme help you achieve this?

The practical tool for change, for making an impact, is to take the idea or vision all the way and make it happen somehow. This is what I’ve learned here. How to take it all the way. I think I have a great possibility to help bring new ways of thinking into the company that I work for now, an ‘intrapreneur’ perhaps?! Such as a spin-off more focused on changing the way we do things.

What are the most important things you have learnt so far?

The communication and also entrepreneurial skills. Plus, a broader understanding of the energy markets in Europe (beyond the national borders, in fact) is a real eye-opener for me. And that people are really amazing and different yet fundamentally the same, wherever you go. I use the skills that I pick up from the InnoEnergy experience on a daily basis since research, even for engineers, is ultimately also about people. You have to work well with fellow researchers, supervisors, company management and industry partners, etc. I feel very skilled in this now!