How secure is our energy supply?Author Anssi Nevalainen
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
|Other fossil fuels||11,440||1%|
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.
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