|David Brown is a language consultant and journalist, regularly covering stories in Africa, Asia & the Middle East. He has lived in Finland for 10 years.|
Finland may be a lucky country in many ways, but certainly not when it comes to energy production. While Iceland has geo-thermal, Spain solar and Denmark wind, Finland seems almost unique in lacking any natural source of viable renewable electricity production.
Visiting Turkey recently, I was awe struck by the number of solar panels on urban rooftops. Right across the Mediterranean, households are able to produce their own hot water and reduce their power bills with a single moderate investment. Some 90 per cent of households in Cyprus and Malta benefit from this.
While few people are clamouring for more solar production in Finland, the demand for wind is both vocal and ill informed. Although this seems like a windy country, it actually isn’t; at least, not in terms of energy production. Wind energy requires wind of a certain velocity, a velocity only really attained by wind crossing warm water. This explains why Miami and Cuba get hurricanes, while Finland doesn’t. As air rises from cooling land, so a vacuum is created to suck the wind into. This occurs in Denmark, but not in Finland. Wind power also works best where large mountains do not “break up” the flow of air close to the earth’s surface – which in Finland’s case the mountains in Norway and Sweden do. Wind currently produces 0.2 per cent of Finland’s total energy needs.
Although Finland does produce some hydro energy, the sheer lack of mountains here means it is never going to be a major component of the total energy requirement.
The options seem few and far between. Burning peat seems to be the favoured option of the Keskusta party, but is both environmentally disastrous and economically pointless. Although the use of biofuel has been much hyped, in practice it is uneconomical and better suited to countries in which the wood or vegetation used grow quickly – which they simply don’t in Finland.
Tidal energy is likely to be the fastest growing technology in the energy sector worldwide during the next ten years, given that it is around six times more efficient than wind, and that the turbines are invisible. Tidal energy produces electricity around the clock, and all year round. It requires little maintenance, but only works in areas with strong tidal currents flowing in and out of harbours, or through straits. This is ideal in Scotland, New Zealand and Korea, but isn’t likely to power a light bulb in the gentle currents of the Baltic.
This really leaves Finland with nuclear. For all its faults, it remains the only method through which Finland can produce vast amounts of electricity at a reasonable price. In the wake of the Japan disaster, it is likely that most countries that face an earthquake risk will reconsider nuclear, and I hope they do so. Most have other options available – but unfortunately Finland does not.
There are 13 coal stations still operating in Finland, an embarrassment for a country that prides itself on technological knowhow. Our continued use of a completely outdated technology looks even worse when we consider the fact that 260,000 homes are still warmed by oil – an even more outdated technology.
The only way to close those stations and reduce our CO2 footprint is to replace them with nuclear, and I would certainly rather do that than not do it.