Only a decade ago, electricity was considered dirty and carried negative connotations. Today, it’s hailed as a rescuer.
“In 2012, electricity was seen as a bad thing,” recalls Hannu Keinänen, Ensto’s President and CEO, who was also an Ensto executive a decade ago. “There was very limited penetration of renewables in those days.”
“The electric grid, and electricity overall, is much cleaner than it was two decade ago, and modern electric appliances need far less energy to run than older equipment,” says Keinänen. “But electricity is so much more than that. Electricity has a role in solving big issues like climate change by bringing smart solutions which enable a greater market share for renewable and carbon free energy. It can support urbanization and help support the aging population. It’s truly a major solution to many of the major problems confronting the world.”
Ironically, the chant, "drill, baby, drill," popularized by Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, has faded as the rallying cry of American energy. And although gas is now seen as the world’s new offender, there are signs that electricity can save it.
Electricity, when mixed with renewable hydrogen, becomes a greenhouse gas reducer. The explanation, while slightly technical, is worth a mention.
There are plans to mix renewable hydrogen to the gas supply to lower the greenhouse gas emissions: hydrogen can be produced with excess renewable electricity when there is no demand for it, and hydrogen burns completely clean, the only byproduct being water.
On the investments front, renewable energy is seen as a better investment than gas-fired transition plants. Even big oil companies, under pressure from governments and investors, are accelerating production of clean energy. There seems little doubt that renewables will be the main generators of electricity by 2025 and electricity is poised to eventually put the final nail in the coffin of fossil fuels. During the pandemic, electricity generated by renewables is forecast to grow seven percent, while overall energy demand is expected to be down five percent.
But electricity, as Ensto’s Hannu Keinänen sees it, is far more than just clean energy. Electricity liberates, enables, and empowers.
“Think of the poorest parts of Africa,” says Keinänen, “and how a mother’s time is used. Much of it goes to fetch the firewood or carry water. If we could bring electricity to them, then the mother won’t have to spend all day gathering wood. Dark evenings can be filled with light to permit education. Mobile devices can be charged at home, saving the journey to town to charge at a café.” Electricity as a fundamental right of a human being is an issue that’s being explored and debated by academics and politicians.
“Electricity can help bring equality, and raise women’s position in society,” says Keinänen. “And Ensto is a direct part of this. We need to think about how we can be an even bigger part of this change.”
Electricity’s role in preventing climate change continues to grow. “The solution is simple,” says Keinänen. “We need to reduce the amount of fossil fuels we burn and increase our usage of clean energy.”
Keinänen says one way to do this is through smart solutions needed to balance electricity production and consumption. “We can do this right now through price monitoring, checking consumption in buildings and homes, electricity quality, network automation, autonomous electricity generation, and emissions pricing.”
Keinänen likes to draw attention to the fact that Finland has the one of the most – if not the most – reliable electrical grids in the entire world. “We’re the most reliable,” he says, “but we can also become the smartest. This is a great opportunity. Smart electricity can be the next Nokia of Finland.”
Keinänen also likes to talk about a 61-year-old family company in Porvoo that plays a growing and important role in smart electricity.