I stood as an observer, not knowing much about Finnish energy generation or consumption (actually, I don't know much at all about energy). But a couple of thoughts came to my mind....
The first thought was: if not nuclear energy, what then?
Finland has very little fossil fuel, so has to rely on imports, most notably from that tricky neighbour Russia. It does have lots of water, but the terrain is relatively flat, so the scope for hydro-power is not enormous. Finland also has a lot of wood and some peat, but those is fairly inefficient sources of energy and produce greenhouse gases. Solar energy is of course an option, but not so much during the dark winters when presumably energy consumption is at its highest.
Finland is already doing quite well with the use of renewable energy, with about 25% of energy production classifiable as such (compared to 10% on average in the EU). But despite these efforts, the demand for energy is such that Finland has ended up relying on nuclear for close to 30% of its electricity generation.
And that leads to the second thought I had: ever since I started travelling to Finland, I noticed that Finns seem to be voracious consumers of energy.
Finnish houses always seem to be heated to close to 25C (77F) day and night, substantially warmer than houses in other countries I have lived in (where night temperatures are often way below 20C/68F). Presumably Finns would think it weird to turn down the thermostat and wear a few more clothes or use a thicker duvet in bed.
Apartments are heated to the same temperature, regardless of whether anyone is there or not (the heating is handled by the apartment block). There is under-floor heating in every bathroom (and very nice it is too), but that too seems to be on permanently. Yet despite all that heating, Finns (especially women it has to be said) always seem to complain about being cold when inside. How did their ancestors survive the arctic climate?
Finns also seem to drive everywhere: Finland is the only country, apart from the US, in which I have been driven a few yards from one shop to the other – and that wasn't even in the depth of winter!
Most amazing of all to me is the fact that some pavements (sidewalks) in Helsinki are heated to melt the snow! Great idea of course, but surely it must be possible to put that energy to some better use!
But all this is no more than anecdotal evidence. So I decided to do a bit of research about Finnish energy consumption.
And sure enough, it does seem like Finns love using energy. Finland has one of the biggest consumption of energy per capita in the world (13th place in 2003), not far behind the US.
|Energy Consumption of Various Countries (2003)|
"Ah, but it's because of the climate", I hear you say. Indeed, it may be in part, but how come Finland's energy consumption is some 20% above that of Sweden and Norway (which one would assume have similar energy requirements)?
Furthermore, Finnish consumption is actually increasing rapidly. Between 1990 to 2006, Finnish energy consumption increased 44 percent in electricity and 30 percent in the total energy use. Along with that comes of course substantial carbon dioxide emissions: Finland's emission per capita is nearly twice that of Sweden.
The stark reality is that Finns are going to have to do something about their love affair with energy if they want to reduce their dependence on nuclear power.
Maybe Finns could start by wearing thick jumpers when at home.