Finnish Greens propose burning more forests as alternative to more nuclear

Here in Finland, the energy conversation has heated up considerably in the last months. This, of course, is a good thing: energy is very likely one of the key questions of the 21st Century.

The discussion largely revolves around whether or not to build new nuclear power, the Fennovoima power plant, as short-sighted that discussion by itself is. Predictably, the Green Party is dead set against any new nuclear, and has lately latched onto Fennovoima’s Russian connection as a key argument why. Make no mistake: this is just an argument of convenience, used simply because many Finns hold the Russians in less than stellar regard.

Yesterday, the Greens published their own idea of how to provide energy without Fennovoima’s AES-1200 reactor. That reactor is supposed to go on-line in about 2025 (although I have my doubts as to whether the funding can be found), and provide between 9 and 10 TWh of almost carbon-free electricity per year. Since even most of the die-hard anti-nuclear Greens acknowledge that combating climate change will require massive additions of carbon-free energy, opposing massive additions of carbon-free energy presents somewhat of a problem.

To get out of the dilemma, the Greens now propose the following measures, to be completed by 2025:

  • The addition of about 2-2.5 TWh of wind power, in addition to 9 TWh already signed for in the government’s Energy and Climate Strategy (2013).
  • Electricity co-generation, from wood-based biomass, to be increased by 2 TWh per year (i.e. 6 TWh thermal power).
  • Solar PV to be increased by 1 TWh per year.
  • Replacement of electric heating by wood-based pellet heating to the tune of 1 TWh per year.
  • Additional energy efficiency measures above and beyond those already mandated, so that approximately 4.7-5.4 TWh of electricity per annum are saved. The savings are to be achieved in the domestic and service sectors.

The targets, as such, are not wildly ambitious and probably are realizable, although there is surprisingly little in the report about costs, and renewables are just assumed to be competitive on their own even when average electricity price remains well below 40 €/MWh. But the real problems are twofold: first, as predicted, much of the increase in power generation (in fact, the largest single component) comes from biomass burning. It is just arithmetically impossible to reduce emissions by promoting burning, at least for as long as carbon capture and storage isn’t commonplace. Which won’t be the case by 2025.

Second, the report is entirely mum about the key issue: what if the aforesaid energy efficiency measures are taken in addition to building Fennovoima’s reactor? 

There are no laws of nature that prevent energy efficiency measures being taken together with nuclear energy. In fact, the Swedes (which the report lauds) have done exactly that. It is clear that if the energy efficiency measures were to be taken together with 9 TWh increase in carbon-free energy generation, we would be farther along the decarbonization track than if the addition of carbon-free energy remains at 2.5 TWh, and we increase wood burning by 7 TWh (thermal).

A climate warrior’s solution would have been to push for energy efficiency measures in addition to nuclear power plant. Perhaps they could have been made a condition for plant’s acceptance. But the Green’s dogmatic opposition to nuclear has robbed us of this chance.

There is also a problem as to where, exactly, the biomass shall come from. Even the extremely pro-forestry, pro-farming Center Party has recently recognized that the Energy and Climate strategy will likely exhaust easily available, relatively carbon-neutral (i.e. maybe not much worse than natural gas) feedstocks of forestry residues. That’s a source of no more than 15 TWh thermal – and now we’d need 7 TWh more. Not to mention that recent research suggests that even the former figure may actually increase Finland’s emissions over short and medium term, even compared to coal burning!

One could also note that it’s very likely that the issue is not whether to achieve climate goals with nuclear power or with energy efficiency and renewables. The recent reports coming from IPCC indicate that we very probably need nuclear and renewables and energy efficiency and carbon capture, and even that will be a close shave. Squandering away valuable renewable resources and energy savings simply to oppose a particular form of low-carbon technology is more than irresponsible: it is reckless gamble with the safety of the future generations.

PS. The party that has claimed “finlandization” due to Rosatom deal has no problem proposing, in the same report, that energy taxes should be reoriented to promote the burning of cleaner fuels instead of coal. Such as natural gas. Which happens to come entirely from Russia, which isn’t stored in Finland, and which has no plausible alternative sources of supply in the medium term.

About J. M. Korhonen

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8 Responses to Finnish Greens propose burning more forests as alternative to more nuclear

  1. Now, I think you can figure out how mad debates involving nuclear energy can be in France. The grist of it is that what the finnish Greens propose here is expanded to enable an exit from nuclear power. Of course, France does not have a large boreal forest to cut and a much higher population density, although the winters are way milder down here. But the proposed alternatives rely on the same stuff: more biomass (produced mainly through organic production methods but this goes without saying), more energy savings, nearly only intermittent electricity production. And there you go!

  2. kap55 says:

    Welcome back, JMK, we’ve missed you.

    The even-worse calculus is that energy efficiency, while laudable in its own right, doesn’t actually reduce total energy demand at all, because of rebound effects (aka, the Jevons Effect).

    If we do Activity X, which requires a certain amount of energy (hence a certain cost), and energy efficiency reduces the energy use from Activity X, it will also reduce the cost of Activity X. Therefore, after the efficiency gains, there will be greater demand for the now-cheaper Activity X. And with greater demand, the amount of Activity X increases, so the total amount of energy devoted to Activity X increases too.

    So increasing the efficiency of Activity X just means that we do more of it, but it does not mean that total energy devoted to Activity X declines. If lighting becomes more efficient, every city will look like Las Vegas.

    A formal proof of the Jevons Effect in a thermodynamic frame can be found in this paper, which I highly recommend:

    Garrett, T. J. (2011). Are there basic physical constraints on future anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide?. Climatic change, 104(3-4), 437-455.

  3. Rami Niemi says:

    25$/MWh! Would you believe. (No you would not)

    • Perhaps you can then explain why there is only 2.5 TWh (max) wind in the Green’s proposal? Surely, if wind in Finland were about 20€/MWh, there would be no problem proposing to replace entire 9 TWh with wind alone, with no need for problematic biomass?

      That’s the problem here. If the Green’s proposal were to be 9 TWh of truly low-emission energy, like wind, I would have been far less critical. Even if there had been, say, 6 TWh of wind. But at 2.5 TWh wind, and the rest coming from biomass… it’s not a recipe for emission reduction, it’s a recipe for emission increase. That’s arithmetically certain: if you increase burning by about 7 TWh(t), emissions will rise.

      • Rami Niemi says:

        I’m glad that I dont have to explain no nothing. But you are the sensible academic here. You do the arithmetics and you draw the conclusion what does it mean if wind power costs 30€/MWh. (25$/MWh does not include tax break, so more like 40$/MWh)

      • If.

        The problem here is not so much what the static LCOE of wind- or solar-produced MWh may be in most optimal locations. (Most estimates give rather higher LCOE than $40/MWh.) The problem is how to create an energy (not just electricity) system that can replace at least 90% of fossil fuel use, and do so as soon as possible. We do not have such system anywhere yet; the closest we have are the energy systems of France and Sweden, which have long ago accomplished what renewables only-advocates hope to achieve by 2050. The problem is, we need more, sooner. And if the plans of RE only-folks don’t pan out, as plans are wont to do, we’re royally screwed.

        Low static LCOE of wind and solar certainly helps, to some extent, in this task. But electricity market dynamics and limitations of technology mean it’s not probably going to be so simple as you make it seem to be.

        In any case, you’re barking up the wrong tree. At this moment, in Finland, I have no beef whatsoever with more wind power. You should be campaigning the Greens to drop biomass use in favor of just about anything else. That’s the beef I have with non-nuclear proposals.

    • That $25/MWh is the average of PPA (power purchase agreement) prices. It is NOT levelized cost. The difference is significant, because the PPA is more than just a straight money-for-energy swap. It also transfers marketing risk from the seller to the buyer. Thus the buyer is willing to sell energy at a discount because he is shedding risk, and the seller will demand a discount for accepting that risk. Essentially the PPA is about what the levelized cost would be, if the discount rate were zero.

      For that reason, PPA prices will ALWAYS be lower than the levelized cost.

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