Energy Debate or Dark Nights
The issue of energy has become a global discussion topic over the past year due to the electricity price increase and will probably remain so for some time to come. How should we hold our energy debate so that we could end up with a right and good decision? Jevgeni Ossinovski (Social Democratic Party), Andres Metsoja (Isamaa), Annely Akkermann (Reform Party), Lauri Laats (Centre Party) and Rain Epler (Estonian Conservative People’s Party) discussed this topic in the discussion panel of Riigikogu Toimetised on 19 April.
The question is what our energy portfolio is like. A nuclear power station would be too large for Estonia, in my opinion. For me, this issue was no longer on the table when the Baltic countries were unable to begin to develop a nuclear power station together. The smallest nuclear power station might have been of an adequate size for the consumption of [all] Baltic states.
Ecologists have calculated that the technology at the disposal of humanity today is able to burn the global natural resources to such an extent that, in just one generation, it can make the planet uninhabitable for the mass of people inhabiting it today. We will have to learn to use the energy sources that are everlasting in terms of humankind’s lifetime. Wind is constant and will blow forever and will move turbines and the sun will shine forever. Hydrogen technology and storage technologies are developing very quickly. Vast amounts of research funds and human resources are currently being contributed to storage technologies.
It is important that the discussion should have a fixed framework. To my mind the best framework is the energy system trilemma. It is a triangle where environmental friendliness is at one end, supply security is at the second end and price is at the third end. These choices are all essentially political. Not in a party-political sense but in the sense of social debate.
Speaking of science, on one side there is practical science of how to build up a generating installation which generates electricity if you add fuel into it. Second, there is the climate policy framework. People must understand that all generation of electricity has a footprint. When we speak of a transition to distributed generation and a transition to fuel-free renewable energy, we begin to see more the footprint of our electricity generation. We will see all fundamental discussions: if one likes wind turbines or one does not, how far from homes they are built, etc.
As regards a nuclear power station, I would say that Germany’s decision to close down its stations was a bad decision. However, this does not automatically mean that the countries where there is no capability to establish nuclear power stations today should have to start establishing them. I do not support the establishment of a nuclear power station in Estonia. It makes perfect sense that Finland and Sweden and many other countries continue to operate nuclear power stations in the future as well. They have got the skills and infrastructure needed for this.
A provision in the Renewable Energy Directive sets out that electricity generated from forest is renewable energy at the moment of combustion. If we take it out, emissions trading system quota will also have to be paid when we burn wood. If we changed this, things would fall into place.
We should listen to scientists more but to my mind the framework has been set somehow politically and ideologically in Europe, in the world and in Estonia as well. I agree that, in a longer perspective, we will stop generating energy from oil shale sooner or later. However, at present it seems that there is great enthusiasm to stop it too early.
Wind and solar energy do not come without an environmental footprint either. Turbine energy may seem clean, but both the generation of capacities and their subsequent utilisation are connected with a considerable footprint. We are not told how we should reconstruct our networks when we transfer to renewable energy. Network investments to build offshore wind turbines in the Gulf of Riga will amount to hundreds of millions in my opinion. However, if the location of a nuclear power station should preferably be somewhere in North East Estonia, the need for network investment will be significantly smaller.
Speaking of wind turbines, repowering is a problem because, in financial terms, the support schemes and the whole political framework are creating a situation where it is more profitable to take the turbine down after five years and to replace it with a more powerful one.
If we cut down woods and make pellets, we get to keep the emissions. Estonia could initiate an amendment so that the emissions calculation would be transferred to the place of consumption. We should try to at least look at the situation with Estonia’s interests in mind. The current situation is that Estonia earns itself a “bad boy” reputation as regards emissions when we speak of pellets, but Germany produces green BMW-s, figuratively speaking, by burning that same wood.
Estonia has been relatively innovative in the energy sector. The Constitution of Estonia says that resources must be used sustainably. I think that it is a fundamental decision point how we use this resource sustainably. When we speak about oil shale resource, wind energy, peat, and wood, this should be viewed integrally together, and we should stand up for our positions in Europe as well.
Another particularly important nuance next to resource use is the thematic of security. We inevitably have to stand up for controllable energy and I think that the issue of nuclear energy should also be cleared up.
Not just a specific way to generate energy but all this energy mix and eventually the price at which we are able to sell electricity to the consumers constitute an overriding public interest. There are indeed a large number of components here. When we speak of storage technology and hydrogen then I am not ruling any of them out although by the look of it you might say they are terribly expensive and unreasonable. I think that it is indeed necessary to map different ways of generating electrical energy, to rank them according to priority and eventually to also look at transmission costs.
If we must reconstruct our energy network, then it will come at a price if we set a parallel ambition to build new wind energy capacity in an immeasurable amount in the Gulf of Riga so that half of it will go to export. If on the other hand we say that we wish to build a nuclear power station, the energy network cost will be unreasonably high. Therefore, choices must be made because otherwise we may well be innovative and do all kinds of things, but no one will be able to pay for it.
I think that the decision adopted this February that by 2030 the electricity consumed in Estonia might be generated through green energy is a right decision and that is where we should be moving to. Yes, there are very many different aspects and nuances and obstacles on this path. So far little attention has been paid to biogas. Estonia needs biogas. The less we depend on the external market the better. It is possible to obtain biogas through well-organised waste handling. We immediately consume basically everything that is generated biologically. The amount is three per cent, which means that there is actually plenty of market.
How to avoid over-politicization of the topic? Throughout history we have seen different decisions. Sweden also closed down its nuclear power stations and later restored them. We will not be able to afford that. We are in a moment where we must make a firm choice and once we make it there will be no turning back. We are not so wealthy a country.
I agree with Annely in that, when we speak about nuclear energy, we should view the Baltic states in unity. Should a joint decision be made, it will definitely have to be taken forward. The most important question in the whole thing is how to ensure controllable capacity. Storage, that is, the issue of batteries has already been explored. To my mind they will not take us very far given the metals that current battery solutions need, and the mineral resources needed to produce them.
The system has other technical problems as well. In addition, we must take into account that we will need considerable capacities in the short term. The blocks of Narva Power Plants are not everlasting. We will have to generate considerable additional installed capacity. The question is whether it will be generated on account of offshore wind farms or the sun. There will probably have to be some kind of combined solution. In any case we are facing the question of how to ensure controllable capacity.
While last year was a total anomaly in terms of the electricity price, this year the situation is beginning to stabilise, and we are really seeing the moments where electricity is very cheap or comes at a reasonable price. The question is into whose hands we play the market – will it be the large actors or will we give smaller ones a chance. The state in its turn must think very seriously about how we can support the sector. If Estonia is able to generate 300 MW of electrical energy in the current sunny weather, then it is thanks to subsidies that either have been used up by now or were put in place maybe two years ago. New solar farms get no subsidies.
The Estonian energy policy needs quick decisions.
For the energy transition to succeed, our people will have to support this transition or at least understand why it is difficult and complicated for a while. If we ignore this fact citizens will become discontent.
In the energy sector, it makes sense to rely on sun, wind, and biogas. We can solve energy storage with hydrogen, pumped-storage hydroelectric power stations and batteries. In the future it will be possible to produce batteries by using lignin, which is produced from wood and as is known, wood is a renewable natural resource. In addition to other things, this is particularly useful to Estonia as a country rich in woods.
It is very sensible to use wood waste in combined heat and power plants. For that, it will be necessary to have combined heat and power plants distributed all over Estonia and opportunities for them to connect to the power grid. The same opportunity will also have to be created for small solar and wind farms.
Nuclear energy will probably be a reasonable way to generate energy in the future. At the same time, it will not be reasonable to build a nuclear power station in Estonia. The nearest nuclear power station is 80 kilometres away from us in Finland and it is a large station. Large is always more efficient than small, therefore it is unlikely that our small station that does not even exist yet would be competitive in export.