Finland is said to have three main natural resources: water, intelligent people and forests. Watching the series you start thinking whether every other inhabitant of the country (there are 5.5 million of them in total) works in a clean-tech start-up working on solutions for the times twenty years from now. The other impression is that a lot of these scientists are punks – just like professor Howy Jacobs who hosts the whole series.
“The Future of Finland: The Energy of Tomorrow” episode goes through all sustainable energy solutions and shows what Finland does in this area. And it does a lot.
The energy the sun provides in an hour would meet the yearly demand of the whole planet…
…we only need to capture it. Finland is the home to the ABB company participating on the development of a Solar Impulse aircraft which was the first to fly around the Earth powered purely by solar energy. Finland is the place where they are trying to make black silicone solar cells which capture slanted solar rays more effectively or printed solar panels which you can use as wall paper in your flat. Mobile solar boxes are also an ingenious Finnish solution – it takes one hour to unfold them into a power station, a practical solar aggregate for places without an electricity network. No wonder Finnish firms expand to places where energy is not an easy thing to come by – for example the Indian government wants to become the first country in the world to have fully electrified transport by 2030.
When the weather’s nice the sun shines, when the weather’s bad…
…the wind blows. That’s why the solar and wind energy complement each other so well. Besides it is a clean source of energy. They came to realise this in China, where for example in Beijing every fourth person dies from causes related to pollution. Chinese wind power stations can produce more energy in total that all nuclear power plants in the US. The Chinese government supports the research of clean resources, the whole world profits from it in the form of cheaper technology. Thanks to it the Finnish wind turbine can turn in the height of 160 metres (because the wind always blows the most high up) and provide energy for 5600 households every year. Meteorology is another great Finnish topic – it’s useful to understand why and where the wind blows. That is why a supercomputer has been recording and analysing the wind flow for twenty years now.
Alternatively alternative energy
…the sun, the wind. But what about the sea? According to estimates up to 10% of energy could be acquired from sea currents or waves. While solar or wind solutions work, sea energy is still in its infancy. The problem is that every water – shallow, large waves, currents – requires a different solution. In the case of geothermal energy it’s clear – all you need is a large hole in the ground. In Finland you need to drill down to about 7 kilometres and it’s the traditional oil mining companies that help with that ironically. Water is poured into the hole, it warms up down there, rises to the surface and the heat exchanger takes care of turning it into energy.
…is a sore spot of alternative energies. How do you preserve energy for times when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining? This is one of the largest challenges of the power industry of the future. In Marocco there is a huge solar power station in the middle of which is a large tower similar to that in The Lord of the Rings. Salt is melted there, for it can collect so much heat that it can propel the turbines throughout the night, until the sun comes up again. The Fins are also working on a solution in which the sun divides water into oxygen and hydrogen, hydrogen is mixed with carbon dioxide and the produced methane – a sort of “condensed sunlight” – is used in winter. An incredibly clever solution connects the advantages of water energy and solves the problem of what to do with deserted mines. During the day, when there’s enough solar energy and it’s cheap, water is pumped up from the mines. In the morning, when razors and coffee makers are turned on, water is sent down the mine shaft where it turns the turbine.
And over and over again.