Finland Mulls 100% Renewable Energy

Research shows country can achieve a fully sustainable energy system by 2050

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

Research at the Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT), Lappeenranta, Finland, has found that a fully renewable energy system is not only possible for the country, but also represents a cost-competitive solution that could be achieved by 2050 — with careful planning.

Bioenergy alone cannot solve the energy supply problem.

LUT researcher Michael Child and professor for solar economy Christian Breyer carried out the research, vision and initial feasibility analysis of a renewable Finnish energy system. The researchers had five primary aims:

• Examine the components of a fully integrated, (power, heating/cooling and mobility) fully functional, reliable energy system for Finland in 2050;
• Determine the extent to which differing levels of nuclear power and forest-based biomass affect the cost of such an energy system;
• Explore the roles of energy storage solutions in facilitating high shares of variable renewable energy generation, with particular focus on power-to-gas (PtG), power-to-liquid and energy storage technologies;
• Develop more-accurate future energy scenario modeling methodology that includes complete transparency of modeling assumptions; and
• Encourage discourse on energy-related issues that will contribute to the transformation of the Finnish energy system towards long-term sustainability.

To achieve the national greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2050, the research shows all sectors of the energy system must be nearly emission free by that year. Renewable energy system modeling indicates a fully renewable energy system featuring high shares of wind and solar energy includes smart interaction between the electricity, heating/cooling and mobility sectors. PtG technology, i.e. converting electricity into gases such as hydrogen or synthetic natural gas, and energy storage solutions, such as batteries, heat storage and synthetic natural gas storage, also have a central role as enabling technologies.

The research also defined the capacities for each of the production, consumption and storage technologies — a first for such a study, the authors note. The study proposes an economically and technically feasible architecture as the first vision for a renewable energy system that could later be developed into a roadmap.

This system includes installed capacity of solar power of up to 35 GW and 44 GW of wind power, an amount well above those seen in previous analyses, but supported by an established potential for wind and solar photovoltaics. This could create more than 166 TWh of electricity annually, approximately double the current level of electricity consumption.

The excess electricity would then be used to create synthetic fuels that can be consumed when needed. In addition, electricity would replace fossil fuels in the provision of many energy services, such as heating and transport. These results include stationary battery storage capacities of up to 20 GWh, three million electric vehicles with respective storage capacities and PtG capacities of up to 30 GW.

In the study, total annual costs for 100% renewable energy systems are approximately €25 billion ($28 billion), slightly less than scenarios with lower shares of renewable energy and a business-as-usual scenario (€26 billion). Scenarios with lower shares and higher prices of forest biomass, albeit at higher overall annual cost, gave the same outcome. By comparison, the current energy system has an annual cost of approximately €18 billion ($20 billion) and is set to rise to €21 billion ($24 billion) by 2020 using the same method of calculation.

“The main message is that the option of a fully renewable energy system must be seen as a valid option for the future, rather than a radical alternative. Finland certainly has an abundance of renewable resources, such as solar, wind, bioenergy and already exploited hydropower, which can be sustainably utilized,” says Breyer.

Modeling the components of future energy systems and calculating its costs are important because the Finnish energy system is at a crossroads: the current power generation system is ageing, there are responsibilities to mitigate climate change and concerns about fluctuating energy prices. At the same time, Finland has goals regarding national energy security, as well as the need to retain a competitive industrial sector and meet the needs of a future society. Bioenergy alone cannot solve the energy supply problem, stress the researchers.

The current study concludes that flexibility will be a key, defining feature of future energy systems. By unlocking the full potential of all the flexibility available, more efficient and cost-effective solutions can be found, say the researchers.

The full research presentation is available at http://bit.ly/1KeKxnr.


Ottewell2Seán Ottewell is Chemical Processing's Editor at Large. You can e-mail him at sottewell@putman.net

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