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How secure is our energy supply?

Author Anssi Nevalainen
Posted on

As we struggle to find our way out of fossil-based fuels, the need for sustainable electricity grows day by day. But there are still challenges in low-carbon energy production, particularly with energy distribution and high investment costs. The cyclical nature of renewable energy sources also calls for new solutions such as power-to-x technologies. Before making an expensive investment, it is wise to explore other options for reducing energy usage and timely balancing of the electrical grid. The potential for energy and material efficiency should not be overlooked.

 

De-carbonization and net-positivity of energy production have been in the spotlight as cornerstones of sustainable development for a long time now. To reach global goals, significant measures must be taken at the roots of energy production. In other words, commonly used fossil fuels must be replaced with sustainable renewable energy sources at a swift pace. But this is not an easy task – usage of low-carbon energy production has its own problems, such as energy distribution and high investment costs further down the road.

Sustainable development goals must be pursued from the consumption side as well. In a nutshell, this would mean that if primary energy usage can be lowered comprehensively and timely consumption better rationalized, the need for sustainable or fossil-based energy is lower.

As part of de-carbonization, I must also mention material efficiency in this context. Material efficiency, such as the efficient use of raw materials, has the same goal of achieving sustainable development. The more efficient the usage of (especially virgin) material, the less energy is used and the lower the burden caused on the environment in the whole value chain.

In pursuit of the sustainable future, enterprises gain savings and improve their competitiveness in the global marketplace. Especially in the current global economy, the energy-intensive manufacturing industry faces significant challenges. For the same reasons, material costs are rising; after all, processing of raw materials is highly energy-intensive in many fields. Together these costs make it difficult to predict cost structures and may reduce the profitability of enterprises in the extreme.

Finland’s energy security will improve with the use of wind power

The total energy consumption in Finland was 1,277,041 GJ in 2021, of which 30% was fossil fuels. There are no coal, oil, or natural gas reservoirs inside Finnish borders, so all the fossil fuels must be imported from outside. Approximately half of the energy used in Finland was imported, and about 60% of imports came from Russia.

In addition, nuclear fuel is being imported, so its supply is not fully secured – although current fuel supply can last for several months or even a year, and more can be bought from many OECD countries. Furthermore, profitable Russian wood has been widely used in Finnish energy production, but it is said that it would not be a problem in terms of energy security, even if imports came to a complete halt.

Completely self-sufficient energy sources are biomass (wood and biogas), hydro, wind, and solar. The capacity of hydro power cannot be increased, but the production of wind power in particular will increase in the future. Solar power is currently very minor in the whole picture, but technological advances may increase interest and growth in the future.

 

Table: Energy sources in Finland
Energy Source Energy

[TJ]

Percentage [%]
Wood 355,404 28%
Hydro 56,410 4%
Wind 28,577 2%
Other renewables 62,085 5%
Oil 267,428 21%
Coal 70,363 6%
Natural gas 74,586 6%
Other fossil fuels 11,440 1%
Peat 43,116 3%
Nuclear 243,864 19%
Electricity import 54,377 4%
Other sources 9,391 1%
Total Usage 1,277,041 100%

Sustainable electricity is the way to the sustainable future

In general, if the production and use of electricity are in balance in the electrical grid, the grid functions smoothly. The growing capacity of renewable energy production tends to complicate this because of the cyclical nature of renewable power sources. Wind power is available only in the right wind conditions and solar power accumulates during the daylight hours. Wood-based fuels and nuclear are good for base load production but the latter in particular is poor for power regulating. Hydro can be used as a power regulator, but the existing capacity is not even close to the required capability.

Thus, as the amount of wind and solar power will grow in the future, the challenges of grid power balance management are getting harder. Fingrid has accumulated the light fuel oil-based power regulating capacity of over 900 MW, and even today some of this capacity is needed for the grid power balance management and sometimes to overcome larger failures.

Hopefully, these problems can be solved in the future with different energy accumulation technologies. Currently electricity can be stored in batteries, for example, but the price of large-scale battery storages is high, and they need significant amounts of rare metals. For the battery technology to be the answer for the energy storage problems, we need new technological advancements in the field.

There are also many kinds of power-to-x technologies such as water reservoirs, pressurized air, mechanical solutions and hydrogen, to name a few. These technologies use surplus electricity and convert its form for later use. Also, heat pumps are getting more and more attention, and even old tech such as electric boilers can be used for energy reservoir if it is used for heating water during surplus times. Common to all these technologies is the need for electricity to get the work done.

Energy and material audits are a good way to improve energy efficiency

All the energy conversion, storing and new tech for the sustainable future has investment costs and restrictions involved, so before investing in expensive technologies, it is wise to explore other options for reducing energy usage and timely balancing of the electrical grid to minimize future costs. To reach these goals, it is worth considering the possibilities offered by energy and material efficiency.

To find all the saving potentials, energy and material efficiency should be refined by the local personnel continuously. However, it is known that you can be blind in your everyday environment. There might also be known potentials but not enough time and personnel to report them for the decision making. In this case, it might be worthwhile to hire an external consultant who sees things from a different perspective and has time to calculate savings, investment costs, and pay-back times for the saving potentials found.

Energy audits have a long history, while material audits are relatively new. It could be beneficial for the company to begin their sustainable future from an energy audit and continue development with a material audit to find synergy between them.

Energy audits can be done in several ways:

  • Voluntary site surveys (consultancy commission)
  • A site survey for mandatory energy audit of large enterprises
  • Energy audits by Motiva, for example. Energy audits for industry or process industry, or a new precision audit model

Material audits follow the MFCA method (Material Flow Cost Accounting) described in standard (ISO14051). They can be done by a consultant following guidelines made by Motiva and subsidized by Business Finland. This material audit model scales up from one production line to a factory scale focusing on material, energy, manpower, and other costs throughout the process. The factory personnel are then involved in finding the best solutions to the saving potentials found, and at the end of the audit, changes can start to happen.

Demand-side management is an important part of secured energy supply

Demand-side management is another way of reducing energy usage and timely balancing of the electrical grid. It means shifting electricity consumption from hours of high demand and price to a more affordable time, or temporarily adjusting consumption for power balance management.

In Finland, the balancing markets for demand-side management and electricity reservoirs are maintained by Fingrid together with other Nordic transmission system operators. They offer financial compensation for the participating supplier on the market. Basically, anyone can be a supplier if they meet the technical requirements, marketplace requirements, and Fingrid’s supplier code of conduct.

A large operator can be a sole provider for the market, and smaller supplies (for example small manufacturing and domestic users) can be gathered to form a larger reservoir by a Balancing Service Provider like electricity suppliers. Balancing service providers and reserve product can be found on Fingrid’s website.

Increasing demand-side management not only benefits suppliers financially but also alleviates future investment needs for the sustainable electrical infrastructure, as it cuts down peak demand, utilizes surplus electricity, and lowers electricity prices overall.

Anssi Nevalainen

Senior Design Engineer
B.Eng. of Process Engineering

Anssi has been working on energy and material efficiency for several years. Anssi’s passion is focused on finding the best solutions for energy and material savings for the sustainable future, and he has strong and ever-growing expertise in his field of industrial efficiency.

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Electrification of industry is the way to carbon neutrality

Author Teemu Turunen
Posted on

The electrification of industry is an important element in reducing greenhouse emissions, and the role of heat pumps is central in this development. It is particularly important to look at things from a broader perspective and utilize waste heat. In the best case scenario, several operators can benefit from the solution. However, as the processes become more complicated, the importance of their control must be remembered.

 

Electricity consumption in Finnish industry is expected to grow significantly. According to Fingrid’s extreme scenario, it will even double by 2030. Of course, more moderate developments have been outlined, and growth also depends on the industrial sector.

The forecasts do not come as a surprise as the electrification of industry plays an important role in reducing greenhouse emissions. Another driving force of electrification, security of supply, has come to the fore since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. There are already large-scale projects under way, such as SSAB’s HYBRIT project, which represents electrification on a larger scale.

At its simplest, an old solution is replaced with an electric one

Electrification refers to a situation where, for example, a process equipment that uses fossil fuel is replaced with an electric solution: for example, a gas-powered forklift is replaced with an electric forklift or a regular boiler with an electric boiler. Although this may sound like an easy solution, it is always important to anticipate the effects of the change on the process. For example, making bread is different with electric and gas ovens.

Electrification can also be implemented indirectly. In this case, electricity is used to produce, for example, hydrogen or synthetic fuels. The hydrogen economy is rising fast, although it will probably take the next decade before it has an impact on our entire energy system.

Heat pumps play a key role in the electrification of industry

An element of energy efficiency comes into play in the world of heat pumps. The benefit is often realized by taking into account wider entities, and eventually the whole process. It is essential that the waste heat can be utilized.

The possibilities of pumps also include that cooling and heating can be done with the same system and the benefits can be distributed to several parties. In this case, there is a move toward sector integration where, for example, there is an industry player at one end and an energy company at the other – and both benefit.

The importance of controlling processes increases

Profitability is important in industry, and that is why a lot of projects are needed: what works in theory is not always financially viable. However, the development of technology opens up new possibilities as higher temperatures can be reached with heat pumps. In the future, the role of process control will also be emphasized when moving toward more complex systems.

However, energy cannot be discussed without mentioning politics. At the moment, it is difficult to predict the price of energy when both production and the market are fluctuating. Great things can still be achieved if one keeps the big picture in mind: the subject should always be approached as a whole.

Teemu Turunen

Phil. Lic. (Env. Science)

Teemu Turunen has extensive experience in energy and process consulting in several industries. He currently works as Business Development Director in the energy and process business area. His focus is to lead the development of sustainable solutions for future needs.

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