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Could Finland run out of electricity and what happens to our emissions? Our professor answers five frequently asked questions about energy

Finland has been urged to prepare for a possible electricity shortage in the coming winter by saving energy. Peter Lund, Professor in Advanced Energy Systems at Aalto University, answers five questions about energy.
Aalto University campus lights. Photo: Mika Huisman
Kuva: Mika Huisman

1. Could Finland run out of electricity?

“Energy use, especially for heating, is at its peak during the winter months. The whole electricity system could be stretched to the maximum this coming winter, so a temporary electricity shortage cannot be ruled out. However, a larger and longer disruption to electricity generation at a large power plant, for example, could even lead to some form of rationing.

If the energy crisis worsens, the government will soon have to decide on measures such as increasing emergency energy stocks and reserves for the upcoming winter, as well as various efficiency measures. If there is a shortage of electricity during the winter, some large industrial plants would probably be shut down for a while to make sure there is enough electricity for ordinary people.”

2. Is it possible that Finland will start using more coal and peat and this will further increase our emissions?

“In a severe energy crisis, we might have to use more coal and possibly peat, especially during the coldest months, but this would be temporary and wouldn't threaten our longer-term carbon neutrality goals. In fact, if there was a greater reliance on renewables and energy efficiency measures during the crisis, this could actually strengthen and accelerate progress towards the climate targets. For example, we’ve started using large amounts of emission-free electricity generation, which reduces the need for fossil energy from elsewhere and allows us to use efficient heat pumps for heating instead of fossil fuels, for example.”

Group leader professor Peter Lund

This could actually strengthen and accelerate progress towards the climate targets

Peter Lund, Professor in Advanced Energy Systems

3. How relevant would solar panels or geothermal heat pumps installed by private parties, such as housing associations, be?

“Investing in heat pumps and solar energy will help reduce energy dependency and energy bills. They could play a significant role in the private sector economy.  For example, heat pumps are already widely used in Finland and are helping us to not only move past oil heating, but also to modernise district heating plants in cities. A target could even be set to double the current use of heat pumps, which would help Helsinki, for example, to remove its heavy dependence on gas and coal for heating.”

4. What is the most effective way for us to reduce our own electricity consumption?

“Unused energy is often the cleanest and most efficient energy. Energy-saving measures based on changes in habits or energy behaviour cost very little and are a good starting point. For example, leaving electrical appliances on standby all the time consumes electricity, so it’s a good idea to switch them off. By connecting chargers, TVs, and other small appliances to a multi-socket extension cord, it’s easy to flick the power switch to turn everything off at once.

In many families, of course, an electric sauna is a big electricity drain. It's a good idea to use the sauna less often and to use the sauna more carefully, without leaving the sauna stove on unnecessarily.”

5. What should universities be doing in research and teaching to push societies towards more sustainable future?

Questions around energy and climate are becoming more complex systemic issues, interlinking technical, economic, social, and political aspects, among others. For example, technical skills alone are no longer enough. Understanding the bigger picture and developing solutions requires multidisciplinary expertise and the ability to work across disciplines. Aalto University’s strategy is based on this kind of multidisciplinary cooperation, which not only provides a good basis for getting to grips with the bigger picture issues, but also for developing solutions as part of and with an understanding of the whole.

One of Aalto's specialisms could be training experts who, in addition working in a specific field, also understand other subjects or fields, such as social issues or economics. I would describe this as the letter 'T', where the vertical line is your own in-depth specialism and the horizontal line is the breadth of your expertise.”

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