Finland has adopted one of the most ambitious carbon-neutrality goals in the world, pledging to decarbonise the economy by 2035 despite the challenges presented by its cold climate, long distances and industrial makeup.
Although the country has made progress, with a shift away from fossil toward bio-, hydro and nuclear energy reducing carbon-dioxide emissions by 21 per cent between 1990 and 2019, a lot of work remains to be done especially in agriculture, industry and transport. The Finnish Climate Change Panel has calculated that the reductions must add up to about 70 per cent by the midway point of next decade to ensure less carbon dioxide emitted than sequestered in sinks.
Projects to support the goal have been launched both in the public and private sectors.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has described Finland as not only one of the global leaders in public and private spending on energy research, development and demonstration, but also a trailblazer in second-generation wood-based biofuels, such as biodiesel.
Enabling green energy use
Reactive Technologies, an energy data specialist based in Finland and the UK, announced last month the closing of a 15 million-US dollar funding round supported by the likes of BGF, Eaton and Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a climate fund backed by Bill Gates.
The funding will be used to expand international operations and promote exports to countries that are experiencing rapid growth in renewable energy use and starting to manage the decreased grid stability caused by the growth.
“Our new financial and strategic partners will help drive a step change in the delivery of our services to system operators globally, accelerating our ability to enable power grids around the world to rapidly decarbonise and meet their net zero objectives,” stated Marc Borrett, CEO of Reactive Technologies.
Most power grids run at specific frequencies and the balance between supply and demand must be managed carefully because deviations in frequency can cause blackouts and damage to electrical equipment. While the management is fairly simple if the grid receives energy from plants with turbines that revolve at set frequencies, it becomes distinctly harder if the energy is from solar or wind plants as their outputs are prone to fluctuations depending on factors such as cloudiness and wind speed.
Reactive Technologies seeks to enable the use of renewable energy to the largest extent possible without jeopardising grid functioning with a solution it calls GridMetrix: it deploys a pulse of electricity and tracks the minuscule frequency changes it causes across the grid to tell operators how to react.
“We describe it as sonar for the grid,” Chris Kimmett, head of power grids at Reactive Technologies, stated to Bloomberg.
Duncan Burt, who witnessed the solution in action in his former capacity as head of operations at the UK’s National Grid ESO, told the business-oriented news agency that the data is currently unrivalled in terms of level of precision.
Kapacity.io, in turn, has set out to enable energy utilities to cope with peaks in demand while promoting the use of renewable energy in the housing sector not with supplementary fossil energy injections, but with incentives for property owners and occupants to steer consumption away from the peak times.
The Helsinki-based startup has developed a cloud-based, machine-learning software that integrates with the electricity metres and the energy-hungry heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems of buildings, adjusting them in real time with the help of local consumption data.
“The actual method is known as demand response,” CEO Jaakko Rauhala told TechCrunch in August.
“Basically that is a way for electricity consumers to get paid for adjusting their energy consumption, based on a utility company’s demand,” he added. “For example, if there is a lot of wind power production and suddenly the wind drops or the weather changes and the utility company is running power grids they need to balance that reduction — and the way to do that is either you can fire up natural gas turbines or you can reduce power consumption.”
Rauhala pointed out that demand response, as approached by the startup, provides an alternative to electricity storage units, a topic that is broached on in virtually any discussion about renewable energy.
It also yields both significant energy and emissions savings and actual proceeds for property owners and occupants.
“Basically, we’re saying that we already have a lot of electricity-consuming devices – and we will have more and more with electrification. We need to adjust their consumption before we invest billions of dollars in other systems,” he summarised to TechCrunch.
Housing accounts for the largest share, about 30 per cent, of household emissions in Finland.
Greener technology, greener ammonia
While digital solutions are regularly touted as means to enable cities and companies to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions, their own climate impact is easily forgotten. That precisely is the focus of a two-year project launched last month by the Finnish Information Society Development Centre (Tieke), Finnish Information Processing Association (Tivia) and LUT University.
Information and communications technology has been estimated to devour up to 10 per cent of energy and cause up to five per cent of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Experts believe, however, the carbon footprint could be decreased by as much as 90 per cent with the right measures.
“It is about time to start reducing the carbon footprint of digital services in collaboration between the public and private sectors in Finland,” Hanna Niemi-Hugaerts, executive director at Tieke, declared to Cities Today.
The project will take advantage of green technology and solutions to improve the competitiveness of the information and communications technology sector in Helsinki and Uusimaa, an objective that is important especially in light of the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on digitalisation efforts, according to Niemi-Hugaerts.
The partners will also seek to increase awareness of green procurement practices and the development of information-sharing networks.
The measures could include adopting clean energy and sustainability targets for data centres and other infrastructure, and paying more attention to the energy efficiency and data consumption of written code and procured services.
“Technology alone certainly does not save us from the effects on the climate. It must also be used correctly,” argued Jari Porras, professor of software engineering at LUT University.
“It is essential that businesses receive guidance and tools for procuring carbon-neutral services.”
Finland’s St1 and Norway’s Horisont Energi, meanwhile, have joined forces to explore the feasibility of producing green ammonia in Troms om Finnmark, the northern- and easternmost county in Norway. The energy companies announced last month they have signed a memorandum of understanding to produce green ammonia for industry and transport using energy from wind farm to be built in the region by St1.
Green ammonia can be produced by adding nitrogen sourced from green feedstocks to hydrogen produced by a renewable energy-powered electrolyser.
“Green hydrogen converted to ammonia unleashes the potential of renewables, ensures energy system efficiency and enables a carbon-neutral source of fuel and heat for our homes, transport, and industry, thereby making it instrumental in meeting the EU’s climate objectives,” stated Bjørgulf Haukelidsæter Eidesen, CEO of Horisont Energi.
The project partners stated that they will also explore the utilisation of “several new and alternative technologies” in green ammonia production and probe the entire value chain – from capture to final storage – for negative emissions to create carbon-removal credits.
“Decarbonisation of transport and industry is a massive challenge, and, to solve it, we must couple the power sector with the end-use transport sectors like marine, aviation and road freight transport, as well as industry,” said Kristine Vergli Grant-Carlsen, CEO of St1 Norway.
“In addition, we are excited to further develop a commercial and regulated carbon marketplace for trading of carbon removal credits.”