Finland’s coal consumption increased by 19 per cent in 2021 compared to the previous year, according to Statistics Finland.
The country burned 50 percent more coal in July-September compared to the same period last year and 54 percent more than a year earlier in the last three months of the year.
The use of coal in electricity and heat production and industry increased, especially in the second half of 2021.
The cold winter increased the need for heating
The key factor behind the sharp increase in Finnish coal consumption was the sharp drop in temperatures in 2021 compared to the previous year. According to Statistics Finland, coal consumption was exceptionally low in 2020.
"There was virtually no winter in 2020, but there were two winters in 2021: both January-February and December were colder than usual, which increased heat demand and thus fuel consumption." Jukka LeskeläThe managing director of the Energy Trade Association, Suomen Energia, says.
Coal accounted for 11 per cent of district heating last year and 4.5 per cent of electricity production.
Although the share of coal in the energy mix has not changed, Leskelä points out that the total consumption of electricity and heat increased in 2021, which led to an increase in the total consumption of coal.
The high price of natural gas also led municipalities to use coal. "In many areas, the main alternative to coal was natural gas, which was very expensive. With more natural gas and less coal at the beginning of the year, the opposite was true at the end of the year." Widows state.
“Technological lockout” in Finland
By Karoliina AuvinenAccording to an expert from the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), frost temperatures are one of the reasons for the increase in the use of coal, but Finland’s inability to switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources is also affected.
Auvinen claims that several Finnish energy companies are plagued by the technological lockout he called for.
"The district heating sector is currently in a coma like Princess Ruusunen, and no one had the foresight to invest in alternative solutions instead of coal-fired power plants in time. Now, with colder winters, more coal is needed because new energy capacity is not yet available. As long as there is no capacity, the need for coal will increase in cold winters," he says.
According to Auvinen, energy companies should have invested in alternative energy sources much earlier, as the transition to cleaner solutions is a gradual process.
"The rise in the price of EU allowances has come as a surprise to many. The cost burden is borne by city dwellers living in areas that use a coal-fired district heating system."
Under the Emissions Trading Scheme, EU companies are required to obtain or purchase allowances equivalent to their emissions. The scheme will allow the EU to set a price and cap on emissions, which will encourage companies to switch to renewable energy.
Leskelä claims that the energy sector has systematically reduced coal consumption, while carbon emissions from energy production have decreased rapidly.
"It can always be said that changes could have been made more quickly, but it has been difficult to find alternative heating sources, especially in the Helsinki metropolitan area, when there is no desire to increase dependence on natural gas and sustainable bioenergy production is limited," he says.
The use of coal is generally declining
The increase in coal consumption by a fifth may seem alarming at first sight, but Statistics Finland’s data show that coal consumption in Finland is steadily declining in the long run.
According to the agency, total coal consumption in 2021 was 56 percent lower than the average consumption of the current millennium.
"The transition is underway at an accelerating pace. High EU allowance prices are driving industrial operators in both the heating and manufacturing sectors," Auvinen points out.
The energy company Helen, owned by the municipality of Helsinki, announced that it would close its coal-fired power plants in Hanasaari in 2023 and in Salmisaari in 2024.
In addition, a law banning the use of coal in energy production is scheduled to enter into force in 2029. According to Leskelä, Finland is well on its way to achieving its current climate goals.
"There is no indication that emissions from energy production would jeopardize climate goals. There is a strong downward trend [ in emissions]," he states.
According to Statistics Finland, Finland’s coal reserves at the end of December 2021 were 1.2 million tonnes, which is 39 per cent less than in the previous year. The country’s coal consumption peaked in 2003 and has since declined in the quarter.
Source: The Nordic Page