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.