Energy & Climate Change

By the year of 2050, a carbon neutral Finland will need more alternative ways to produce clean electricity. Photo by iStock

Finland needs a lot of clean electricity

Electrification of transportation can add electricity demand equal to Hanhikivi 1 nuclear reactor’s annual production. Lowering our dependency on imports will also boost the need for clean electricity production.

Finland needs a lot more reliable and flexible clean electricity production soon. In the coming years and decades, Finland aims to lower its dependency on imports, stop fossil fuels combustion for energy and eventually replace the current aging fleet of nuclear reactors. What’s more, industrial demand for electricity will grow significantly, as will that of the transportation sector. When added together, we might need as much as 15 gigawatts worth of new reliable electricity production by 2050.

Less electricity imports from Finland’s neighbour countries

Finland is struggling to lower its dependency on electricity imports from its neighbour countries. Currently Finland imports a quarter – around 20 TWh – of its annual electricity demand. The most of it is imported from Sweden. These imports equal twice to annual production of the Hanhikivi 1 VVER 1200 reactor, or over three times Finland’s current wind production.

 A carbon neutral Finland might well need 100 TWh or more of new clean energy production capacity by 2050.

This dependency on imports is largely due to the delays in Olkiluoto 3 nuclear project. There has not been much sense in investing in other production capacity, since that big reactor would be ready to use soon. Imported electricity has also been record-cheap for the last couple of years.

When Olkiluoto 3 starts up, it will cut the imports from a quarter to maybe one tenth of our annual demand. Sweden, on the other hand, has been closing down its nuclear reactors, so their ability to export electricity is diminishing significantly.

Transportation is electrified, but production capacity will be shut down

A lot of other things are also happening in the electricity sector by mid-century. As Finland has a target for being carbon neutral by 2035, it aims to electrify much of its transportation needs. If we succeed in this, and a large portion of the personal and commercial road transportation is electrified by 2050, it should add about 10 TWh of annual demand –  worth of another Hanhikivi 1. This demand will grow gradually at first as electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids start to proliferate, but the rate will likely get faster over time.

We will also lose a lot of our current power production capacity by 2050. Reactors 1 and 2 at Olkiluoto nuclear power plant just got a licence extension of 20 years, which will take them to 2037. The current licences of Loviisa 1 and 2 last until 2027 and 2030. It is possible to apply for and get another licence extension to all of these reactors, but it is also a fact that by 2050 they are starting to get a bit old. If all four reactors need to be replaced, that is another 22 TWh of annual production that needs to be built.

With the goal of carbon neutrality, and eventual carbon negativity, Finland will also give up coal, peat and natural gas in energy production. Coal will be shut down already in 2029. These plants are mostly used to produce both electricity and district heat in combined heat and power (CHP) plants. Closing these CHP facilities will remove 12 TWh of electricity and 16 TWh of heat production.

In 2019, wind power produced around 6 TWh of electricity. A lot of new wind power is being planned and constructed, so we might well have 10 TWh of annual wind production by 2025, or even more. As the operational lifetime of wind turbines is usually 20 to 30 years, most of the capacity built by 2025 will need to be replaced by 2050.

How much of clean power is enough?

When we add the above ball-park numbers together, we see a need for perhaps 70–75 TWh of new electricity and 16 TWh of new district heating production capacity by 2050. This includes cutting import dependency, electrifying much of transportation and replacing aging nuclear fleet and fossil fuels in energy production.

I am assuming here that bioenergy will be used at roughly current levels, which is  approximately 100 TWh/year in Finland. But it is abundantly clear that by 2050, there will be a lot of alternative demand for all sustainably available biomass, from chemical to petrochemical industries to housing construction and others.

Transportation is not the only place where new demand is created. As various industrial sectors seek to decarbonize, their demand for reliable, cost-competitive and low-carbon electricity will grow substantially. A recent webinar organized by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment of Finland had a presentation from AFRY. In their scenario, annual industrial demand for electricity would increase by 35 TWh by 2050, effectively doubling from current levels.

The recent carbon neutral scenario from Kemianteollisuus ry, the Finnish chemical industry trade association, stated they would need up to 32 TWh of clean, reliable and cost-competitive electricity by 2050. It is unlikely that the above number from AFRY for the whole industry would be an overestimation.

Adding the new demand created to the previous numbers, it seems that a carbon neutral Finland might well need 100 TWh or more of new clean energy production capacity by 2050. Roughly 22 TWh of this is currently being constructed with Olkiluoto 3 and Hanhikivi 1. It is reasonable to assume that current wind capacity, and the capacity that will be built in the coming few years, will not be available in 2050.

There is a lot of wind projects being built in Finland. As their capacity and share grows, they will face their own challenges. Wind and solarare variable energy sources and therefore do not meet our demand profile that well. They require flexible capacity to support them, but much of this kind of capacity will be phased out as the current fleet of fossil fuels CHP power plants is retired. It might also not be wise to rely on Sweden to balance our grid for us, since their energy policy has not been very encouraging lately. Indeed, it might be the case that they will need imports from us from time to time.

To sum it up, there is upcoming demand for several large reactor’s worth of reliable electricity. The discussion on how we might want to go about building this capacity to avoid most of the problems nuclear projects in western countries have had recently, is still largely missing. This should change in the coming years.

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