Finland is hardly as dependent as is often claimed on energy imports from Russia as nearly all of the fuels imported from the country can be substituted with other fuels – often without great difficulty.
Energy dependence on Russia should be neither exaggerated nor demonised, states Ilkka Kananen, a former chief executive at the National Emergency Supply Agency.
“I've surely been guilty of that myself in my time. We've done a lot of good for things. The situation isn't as alarming as it seems in that regard,” he says.
The National Emergency Supply Agency is responsible for developing and maintaining the security of supply in Finland. Kananen, who handed over the reins of the agency last year, discusses the security of supply in his recent book: Suomen Huoltovarmuus – Riittääkö energia ja ruoka, toimiiko tiedonkulku? (Docendo).
Finland imports a lot of energy from Russia
- Total energy consumption in Finland is distributed as follows: wood-based fuels 26%, oil 23%, nuclear fuels 18%, coal 9%, natural gas 7%.
- Russia accounted for 59% of the roughly four billion euros worth of energy products imported into Finland in the first half of the year.
- Industries are responsible for 47%, household space heating for 25% and transportation for 16% of final energy consumption.
Finland is regularly regarded as a country very dependent on its eastern neighbour because energy imports from Russia account for 60 per cent of the value of all energy imports into the country. The imports from Russia include oil, coal, gas, nuclear fuel and electricity.
“There has been talk during the Ukraine crisis of Russia being dangerous to us in that respect. It isn't, however, because we've set up back-up systems,” says Kananen. “They've been set up specifically to make sure we're not dependent on a single supplier and its actions.”
Oil and natural gas are typically thought of as examples of the dependence on Russia. Kananen, however, believes the wheels of the national economy would continue turning even if the imports of oil and natural gas from Russia were stopped altogether.
“Not everyone approves of using the word dependence to imply that we're dependent on Russia. The reason for this is that there are substitutes for the energy imported from Russia. There are, of course, ties under the normal circumstances,” he says.
The share of natural gas of the total energy consumption of Finland, for example, has decreased to no more than seven per cent in recent years due to the high cost of Russian natural gas.
Finland has also prepared for the scenario that natural gas imports from Russia stopped entirely: Industries dependent on natural gas imports would shift to using substitute fuels – largely fuel oil. Households and businesses that are fully reliant on natural gas, in turn, would be provided with a substitute gas from an air-propane mixing plant in Porvoo. In addition, natural gas can be imported from elsewhere in the world in liquefied form.
“Today's natural gas market is global,” reminds Kananen.
Replacing the oil, coal and nuclear fuel imported from Russia would similarly be relatively straightforward: oil refineries, for example, can turn to other suppliers for crude oil. “They can be adjusted to make use of oil imported from elsewhere in the world,” says Kananen.
The domestic supply of fuel for nuclear power plants would last for more than a year and more can be bought from the global fuel market.
“There's hardly a shortage of alternative coal sources. Coal is not a scarce resource, and it's not the subject of passionate political debate unlike oil, which is the most important strategic resource in the world. A substitute can be found if the shipping lanes are open.”
Finland is currently forced to import some of its electricity.
“The electricity import dependence does not mean dependence on Russia,” Kananen points out. “Electricity is currently imported mainly from the Nordic electricity market.”