Revolution and its enemies
The questionable advantage of living in Finland these days is materialized in the ways our country struggles to make way for new socio-economic era. In my book ”Tulevaisuuskirja" (the Book of Future), published two weeks ago (sorry, for the time being only in Finnish, later this year in English), I set out to describe how the new emerges out from the old. It is never an easy or soft event, on the contrary: the old tries to hold and enhance its power in the face of the new. Ultimately the old collapses but in the worst of the cases, in the downfall it might take a major part of the new with it.
Nowhere is this more visible than in energy politics and in Finland. Ever since the real invasion of the new energy technologies took place in the market on the massive scale - turning point was about eight years ago - it has been a great drama for old energy players. The earth has shaken under their feet in ways no one could have foreseen.
In the course of these years prices for solar, wind and many other sources for renewable energy have come down on a continuous basis. The price per Mwh for latest offshore windfarm scheme is the half to what new nuclear plant scheme in Hinkley, UK is promising for their clients. Old coal burners everywhere are closing the plants because their prices are not competitive anymore. Why to invest old technologies if there are new ones that are showing accelerating return of investment?
Here in Finland, for years we have been following the dramas that took place after 2002 when Finnish Parliament said yes to a new nuclear plant. After all these years of planning and building, the construction of Olkiluoto 3 is now considered to be the most expensive building project ever commissioned on earth, massively overshooting all timetables and budgets that was designed for it. With the result that the builder and the service provider are in the court to fight who will pay for all the extra billions.
The second play was set out about seven years ago when Fennovoima project, another nuclear plant, was initiated. Ever since it has been a continuous struggle to first find a proper service providers and the investors. The one scene for this drama wil be closed by next Tuesday when the builder needs to prove that they have over 60% Finnish/European ownership when applying for permission to build from the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
To me, however, the true drama occurs, in the mind of these actors. It is as if they have stopped to connect to reality and just goes on with their project. They simply refuse to realize that world has changed fundamentally, and for good. In the end, I am afraid, they will fail massively. And somewhere, I believe, they know it. As our our major commerce daily Kauppalehti wrote yesterday in their op-ed: who would like to take the risk of investing something so risky, knowing at the same time that the whole energy markets and policies are turning everywhere massively into renewables? How to win such a game?
And even if they managed to pass the limbo this time, what comes next? Nowhere in the western societies have they managed to build a nuclear plant in the last 20 years that would pass the scrutiny of our current security standards. And nowhere is the insistence of the green activists and good part of local people greater than in asking the the sanity of these schemes knowing, that a truly secured way to dump the residues have not been found. In Pyhäjoki, the venue for Fennovoima, the resistance of local people have been notable.
The real problem with this drama unfolds with the fact that the performance of our whole economy has been massively affected by these serious miscalculations. We may ask the following question: what if over 9 billion euros that have been and will be invested to Olkiluoto 3 reaktor , together with 10-13 billion worth of import to cater for the energy services at the time of planning and construction, had been invested to renewable energy sources? The answer is this: by now we would have 40% of our electricity demand covered by wind and bioenergy…¹
See the result of our broken policies: out of 40 countries researched for as potential object for new energy investors, we perform a discouraging ranking of 36. This proves we have done something massively wrong. And believe me, in the world where 85% of the energy is still being produced by fossil fuels and where the implications of human induced global warming are already becoming too heavy to bear, the change is gonna come, for sure. The markets for renewable energies are going to expand massively in the coming decades.
And here lies the real paradox: as a country we are the real laggards while our engineering in new energy and resource efficient technologies are the top of the world. In other words, we are using our resources in a really bad way. Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Sweden fare all much better in this respect. All of them have moved much faster than we have done.
But there are now a lot light at the end of tunnel. Yesterday morning I met a group of Finnish parliamentarians, representing different parties, all willing to move forward and leave behind the heritage of being a laggard country. They already declared their intention to get the House of Parliament furnished with solar panel and geothermal heat. Young professionals have very successfully rolled out energy remontti (repair) campaign, spreading the word of more intelligent energy systems everywhere. My own group of professors (”Professorityöryhmä”) have contributed to the discussion in how to kickstart new energy regime here in Finland. And many cities in Finland, Like Kotka, Lappeenranta, Jyväskylä, Forssa and Turku had made efforts to step on more sustainable path in their energy systems.
What it takes is the boldness to say no to the old technologies and instead to embrace new energy schemes that take advantage of new and more decentralized technologies. The city of Helsinki and its energy utility provider Helen made just last week a great leap forward by deciding to base their development strategy on renewables and smart grid solutions. Again, this lunch did not come easy but after a lot of debate where supporters of the "third solution" were at first the minority party.
Summa summarum: more systems thinking is needed that connects energy to employment and employment to the wealth creation and wealth creation to welfare society and all this to more resource wise and sustainable society. That is what we need for riding the revolution which is underway.
¹Peter Lund: Energiavallankumous tulee! Miten Suomi toimii. In Halme et al. Maamme Energia. Into (2015)