The Electricity Revolution

Fingrid CEO and Ensto board member Jukka Ruusunen spoke to Ensto Today about the big picture of the energy market, as well as his role as a consumer of electricity.

From your point of view as the Fingrid CEO, what are the big-picture issues worth our attention?

We’re currently living through an electricity revolution. The revolution is the coming of renewables, of CO2-free energy. Electricity literally is the solution for climate change. There is so much technology in development and the prices of renewables are dropping. Batteries and storage technologies are developing.

The next solution we would hope to see is seasonal storage for electricity. Power-to-gas, whichever method you choose, converts electrical power to gas fuel by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen by electrolysis. You can then use gas instead of transmitting electricity huge distances. The gas can be shipped which will solve a lot of problems.

What part does digitalization play in this revolution? And how is Fingrid capitalizing on it at the level of the national grid?

You could say that digitalization is the enabler of the electricity revolution. At Fingrid we’re using digital technology to make our substations smarter. These devices, which some people think are ugly, are becoming intelligent. If there’s a problem with the transformer, it will call me in advance to say it’s going to fail. When we fix it before it breaks we can guarantee reliability and serve our customers better.

We also have interesting new technology that allows us to listen to the sounds of devices when we’re connecting or isolating transmission lines in the substation. It’s similar to a talented mechanic who can listen to your car’s engine and can tell you what’s wrong with it. We listen to the voices and take measurements. This is possible today because devices and sensors are cheap, and we have advanced methods to do the analysis automatically.

How are renewables impacting Fingrid?

With conventional power production, the demand of electricity was the uncertain component. Now, increasingly, generation is uncertain, as well. You have to forecast your wind and solar production for the next day! The forecast of renewables is not as good as conventional, so we have to make it possible that trades can be made closer to delivery time. Forecasts are constantly adjusted, and so trading volumes increase close to delivery time. Supply and demand can then balance in the market.

At the consumer level, do you see a lot of consumers making a green choice when it comes to electricity?

Fingrid is the body in Finland that guarantees the origin of the green electricity you buy, and we’re seeing more consumers making a green choice. 

But buying green electricity isn’t the only way to be green. I’m seeing that consumers like to go green via investments. For example, Helsinki’s Kivikko solar plant, the first “megawatt station” solar plant in the Nordic countries, is leasing panels to consumers. When you make that investment then you really are in the business. The return on investment isn’t high, but it’s an important symbolic gesture.

Think about what kind of car you’re using and the choices you made when buying that car. You probably didn’t simply go buy the cheapest. The car brand or the health of the planet may have somehow factored into your buying decision. It’s the same with electricity, or at least it can be the same. Those buying photovoltaic plants are the pioneers. Others will follow, and as prices fall there will be a very good business case for photovoltaic.

Finland can and will boost its production of renewables. At Fingrid we’re preparing for this. Finland will produce more wind in Northwest Finland, and we’ll also buy wind-generated electricity from Sweden. We’re currently building a strong transmission line now to bring that energy to southern Finland.

If we speak about you as a consumer, what are the personal choices you’re making?

On the personal level I think the right approach is to first deal with efficiency. I have put in better insulation. I use heat pumps. Deal with efficiency and then move on from there.
My next car will be a chargeable hybrid. When I’m working here in the Helsinki area I can then power my car with electricity using solar power at our office. That’s my start.

Given the electricity revolution, digitalization, and the rise of renewables, what is your message to Ensto as a board member?

“A better life with electricity” is Ensto’s vision and it also expresses that we’re here to serve society with the main goal of a clean planet. In the western world, we’re in the second phase already. We take electricity for granted. But we have to take the first step in a lot of places and just get electricity to the people.

Cities are becoming smarter. The devices we use must become more intelligent. Smart grids will have to become smarter. Distribution companies want to see smarter devices. It’s built into their business. The need is there and the business case is clear. Ensto can serve in all these capacities.

What I say to Ensto is that we have to supplement our technical capabilities with even better design and intelligence so that people fall in love with our products. Electrical equipment and services can be even more useful than they are today. Digitalization is one tool to make that happen. Digitalization and electricity go hand in hand, and it’s got to be integrated into Ensto’s activities.