Future of energy: What Thailand can learn from Finland, Denmark

Besides being among the world’s happiest nations, Finland and Denmark have another thing in common: They are both equally ambitious to become the world’s first carbon-free country.

Finland’s left-leaning coalition government, which came to power in the elections in April this year, has embarked on a daring plan to make the country carbon neutral by 2035.    And its ultimate aim is to make Finland the first fossil fuel-free country.

While the plan definitely sounds ambitious, a quick look at what the country has accomplished so far in dealing with climate change should remove any doubts about how achievable it is.

Briefing a group of Thai journalists visiting Helsinki recently, Pekka Gronlund, deputy director general at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, pointed out that currently 38 per cent of the country’s energy consumption is from renewable energy sources, mainly wood.

And by 2030, the country will see a 50 per cent reduction in the use of fossil fuel with coal being totally done away with.

Gronlund suggested that going green is a consensus of the Finnish people who voiced climate change as their number one concern in the recent elections.

To achieve the 2035 carbon neutral target — which is to be written into law to ensure that whoever is in power will be obliged by the commitment – the country will need to increase wind and solar power production, and achieve a 20 per cent use of bioenergy, mainly from agricultural waste and forest residues.

Gronlund said the government is working on tax and investment incentives to accelerate the energy transition while promoting research and development on renewables with an annual budget of 500 million euros.

Helena Saren, head of Smart Energy Program of Business Finland, said the transition will provide a great opportunity for energy-related businesses, especially in the wind and solar sectors.

She forecast that the value of waste to energy market will grow from US$40 billion last year to as much as US$59 billion in 2020.

“Saving the world is always a good business,” she said.


Denmark: Poster child in fight against climate change

When it comes to fighting against climate change, Denmark certainly would not want to be outdone by its Nordic neighbours. The Danish government has adopted an equally ambitious to source over half of its electricity from wind turbines by 2020.  And by 2050, Denmark’s energy will have come from renewable sources.

“Our goal is to be 100 per cent independent of fossil fuels in 2050,” declared Ole Emmik Sorensen during a briefing for Thai journalists in Copenhagen.

Even at this point, Denmark is already considered a front-runner in green energy.  As a “wind country”, Denmark is the world’s leader in wind power, getting 43 percent of its electricity from wind turbines, according to Sorensen.

It certainly has come a long way since 2010 when coal accounted for over 40 percent of total Danish power generation, and with fossil fuels making up altogether two-thirds of the country’s energy sources.  The absence of nuclear and hydro-power explains why Denmark has been heavily dependent on fossil fuels.

Samso, a small island of Denmark, is now being hailed as a poster child in the fight against climate change. It is known as a world’s leader in sustainable energy, with wind power as its most distinguished energy source.

Like most other countries back in 1973, Denmark was hard hit by the oil crisis which in hindsight, according to Sorensen, came as a blessing in disguise. It forced the country to look for alternative energy sources.  And that was how Denmark became an early adopter of wind power.

Its success with onshore wind power led to development of offshore wind energy.  Now offshore wind turbines have become a common sight in this country of 5.7 million people.

“We intend to become the master of offshore wind power,” said Ulrik Stridbaek, vice president for regulatory affairs of Orsted, known as the world’s biggest offshore wind developer.

Stridbaek admitted that the transition to wind power wasn’t easy given the numerous challenges it faced, especially in terms of initial costs.  “But now it is the fastest growing market,” he said, adding that Orsted is the process of working on wind farm projects in several countries across the world.


Lessons for Thailand

What can countries like Thailand, which are still heavily dependent on fossil fuels, learn from Finland’s and Denmark’s successful transitions from fossil fuels to renewables?

The threat from climate change is now undeniable and makes it more incumbent on policy-makers to rethink about how their countries should meet their future energy needs.  “It’s time that you need to think differently about your energy sources because that’s where your future is,”  Stridbaek said.

Raising awareness on the need for more efficient energy consumption is also essential.   Denmark is a good example of how building code is strictly enforced to ensure energy saving which in turn helps contribute to lower gross energy consumption

One important lesson from Finland and Denmark is that countries need to have long-term energy planning which is translated into national agenda that binds the society at large.   For that to happen, a political consensus is necessary.  And both Finland and Denmark have shown us that political parties can set aside their differences and agree on what they see as most crucial to the future of their countries.


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