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Researchers: All Finnish energy could be renewable in 35 years

Researchers say that in 35 years, Finland could theoretically get all of its energy needs using only renewable energy sources. Researchers at the Lappeenranta University of Technology say they've found ways to make such a transition feasible, both economically and technologically.

Mies asentaa aurinkopaneeleita
Worker installs solar panels. File photo. Image: YLE

However, the more than 20 researchers involved in the study also came to the conclusion that such a transition wouldn't be cheap or easy.

But they still say that Finland could revamp its energy infrastructure so that it would become entirely carbon neutral by the year 2050.

In its study, the researchers began by focusing on international climate models urging nations to find alternative, renewable energy solutions for themselves in 35 years.

“There’s no easy way to get there, but it’s quite realistic to think it could be successful,” Jarmo Partanen, the head of the university’s energy systems research said.

No nukes needed

Researchers compared eight different models of a fossil fuel-free Finland. The differences in the models were based on varying proportions of nuclear power, renewable biofuels, wind and solar power.

They also analysed models without nuclear power in the hypothetical mix, and say that even then providing the country with renewable energy alone would be possible.

“The options are equivalent in terms of cost, and our calculations are based on technology that already exists,” Partanen said. “One can no longer claim it’s impossible to replace fossil fuels without nuclear power.”

A vital part of the researcher’s non-nuclear, renewable energy model is that much of the energy generated by wind turbines and solar panels would be converted into gas.

The gas would then be stored and used in power plants as needed. This solution, the researchers say, addresses the problem of having more solar energy available during summertime, but needing it more the rest of the year when there is less sunlight available.

Exponential increase in solar plants, wind turbines

Going the way of their entirely renewable energy model, researchers admit, would require massive expansion and investment of solar, wind and biofuel technologies, Partanen said.

According to the researchers’ calculations, biofuel use and production would need to be doubled from current levels.

Using the non-nuclear model, the number of wind turbines would need to be increased to some 8,800. Currently there are about 260 wind turbines in use in Finland.

But the biggest investment would go towards solar energy, the researchers found.

According to them, some 100,000 solar power facilities would need to be created.

“Up to the politicians”

“It’s unclear whether the country would be able to get all that done in 35 years,” Partanen said.

He added, however, that nuclear power plant projects are also long-term undertakings.

“It’s up to the politicians to decide which model Finland chooses, all the models are possible,” Partanen said.

The cost for each of the eight models for a climate change-free energy supply cost roughly 25 billion euros per year to maintain, some seven billion euros more than Finland spends on energy infrastructure today, about 18 billion euros annually.

However, in just a few years, current energy expenditures are anticipated to rise to around 21 billion euros per year.

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