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energy-transition-interview

Finnish energy experts say: “The energy transition is a necessary reaction to climate change”

If we want to put a stop to global warming, we must increase the share of renewable energy sources in energy production. At the same time, our dependence on electricity is constantly increasing, which is both a challenge and an opportunity. The sustainable cities of the future must be designed with energy-efficiency first in everything from heating to transport solutions.

The new energy system will be distributed and low-carbonProfessor Armi Temmes from the Aalto University School of Business sees our society transitioning from a centralised and fossil-based energy supply system to a distributed, low-carbon and variable system.“The variability of the new energy supply system will cause many challenges, such as the intermittent overgeneration of electricity. Controlling the new system will require new electricity and heat storage technologies, demand-based flexibility and conversion technologies for using electricity to produce hydrogen and its derivatives, for example.”

Temmes is in charge of the Smart Energy Transition research project, which seeks new innovation paths for transitioning from the existing energy supply system to a new one. “Recognising that one of the key parts of the energy transition is the renewal of the heating system of cities, we prepared a district heating vision for the future and calculated whether our electricity supply would be able to keep up with demand in the coming years. The transition will not be easy, but it is possible.”

According to Jukka Ruusunen, president & CEO of Finland’s transmission system operator Fingrid, the technology necessary for replacing fossil fuels with carbon dioxide-free clean electricity already exists.

“We just need to get better at applying the technology,” Ruusunen summarises. One example of this would be a more comprehensive integration of electrical and district heating systems. “Finland’s district heating system offers an existing infrastructure that only needs to be raised to the next level with renewable energy sources. This will also turn heat into a way of storing electricity.”

According to Armi Temmes, individual buildings must also be connected to the increasingly flexible heating system of cities. As regards transportation, the greatest transition will be the reduction in the use of private cars. “Good city planning combines appealing public transport with last mile solutions.”

The cities of the future can be heated with wind power

According to Fingrid’s Ruusunen, the greatest challenge associated with the energy transition is the retaining of energy self-sufficiency. The number of reliable and economic options is limited. “If production is to be developed in a market-driven manner, Finland will have to rely on wind power, which, as a technology, is secure in regards to maintenance, self-sufficient and already the cheapest method of generating electricity.”

Increasing the share of renewable energy sources will also change production methods and ownership. “Solar power systems are often placed on people’s own roofs, transferring ownership to individuals. This also serves to reduce resistance to change. Ownership is also the reason why wind power divides opinions and is difficult for many to accept. Perhaps we will come up with ways of increasing the ownership of wind power? The energy transition is also a business opportunity,” Armi Temmes reflects.

The energy transition will shake up the balance of the main grid. Giving up carbon-based fuels also means giving up adjustable condensing power, which is currently very important for the power distribution network. “Generation and consumption will need to be balanced in the future as well, which will require flexibility in production, demand and international electricity markets,” Ruusunen says. Integrating the correctly timed consumption of electricity into the everyday lives of consumers will require prices to fluctuate. “The correctly timed consumption of electricity will become more common when those contributing to flexible production are automatically and fairly compensated.”

From this perspective, digitalisation is a godsend to transmission system operators. “New technologies provide us with opportunities for increasing the intelligence of our systems and controlling both production and demand,” Ruusunen continues.

Extreme weather phenomena serve as wake-up calls

Jukka Ruusunen believes that despite the extreme weather phenomena caused by climate change, the supply of electricity will remain reliable and eventually become carbon dioxide-free.

“We are actively pondering how to take care of citizens if the worst comes to the worst. We are constantly testing different risk scenarios and practicing cooperation with cities in preparation for catastrophes, such as a significant portion of Finland losing electricity for a period of two weeks.”

At Fingrid, the assumption is that anything can happen. “Our attitude towards the future is characterised by constructive paranoia,” Ruusunen laughs. “Now citizens and policy-makers have also begun to look at the situation the same way, as a result of which we are being taken more seriously.”

According to Ruusunen, people should not feel guilty about using electricity in cities. “The electrification of the energy system is a way of preventing the most severe impacts of climate change. The generation of electricity is included in the international emissions trading scheme, as a result of which emissions are compensated for in electricity prices. Citizens can purchase electric cars safe in the knowledge that doing so will have a positive impact on the emissions, air quality and noise of their own living environment.”