Finland shows how bioenergy and nuclear can drive the energy transition


23 October 2018

Energy Policies of IEA Countries: Finland 2018 Review was presented by IEA Deputy Executive Director Mr Paul Simons today in Tampere, Finland (Photograph: Shutterstock)

Tampere – Thanks to the strong role of nuclear, hydro and bioenergy – which alone accounts for 29% of energy supply – Finland has one of the lowest share of fossil fuels in total energy supply among IEA member countries. Yet in its latest review of energy policies in Finland, the IEA finds that the government will nonetheless need to focus on cost-effective measures to achieve its ambitious climate goals of halving oil demand and phasing out coal use by 2030, among others.

For instance, Finland targets 30% of transport fuels from renewable sources by 2030. As a leader in advanced biofuels, Finland needs to ensure that its new biofuels obligation can be met with sustainable feedstocks, encourage investments in novel biofuels production, and ensure the use of biofuels in long-distance transport, such as freight, shipping and aviation.

Finland also aims to reduce car ownership by fostering a shift from personal transport towards transport services. The report notes that while this is commendable, it should not come at the expense of an increase of total transport emissions. “Taking a holistic approach to the decarbonisation of the transport sector will require higher efficiency both in terms of vehicles and the transport system as a whole,” said IEA Deputy Executive Director Paul Simons as he presented the report at the Energy Fair in Tampere today.

In terms of heating, industrial heat demand is largely met by biofuels and electricity. At the same time,  Finland’s energy sector is investing in new nuclear, based on long-term industry contracts. However, coal and peat still play a large role in combined generation of heat and power (CHP) and related district heating and cooling (DHC), placing Finland 7th in terms of IEA carbon intensity of electricity supply.

As the government aims to phase out coal under the Powering Past Coal Alliance, the heat sector needs to shift to biomass-based CHP with technologies to support heat flexibility, including heat storage and smart meters, while fostering energy efficiency in buildings. By aligning energy taxation to a fuel’s carbon content, Finland can encourage the shift to low-carbon fuels in district heating and cooling.

Looking at energy security, Finland is strengthening its integration in the Nordic and Baltic electricity market with new interconnections and is also working on a common gas market with the Baltic States. In this context, regional alignment of policies is vital, as Nordic countries embark on ambitious national decarbonisation paths, all relying on electrification and biofuels. As a net electricity importer, regular adequacy assessments are critical for Finland in order to maintain electricity, as the Nordic market is set to see a rise in variable wind energy and retirements of existing capacity.

Finally, while Finland’s leadership in energy research and development is notable, public funding has declined in recent years. Maintaining strong R&D performance is a critical factor for reaching clean energy goals. “For businesses to take investment decisions in innovative transport, energy and climate solutions, a low carbon strategy for 2050 is needed, as well as robust private and public funding to boost clean energy technology innovation”, said Mr Simons.