The series of Sitra blogs on Germany’s energy transition is coming to a close. It is time for conclusions. We are extremely proud of the fact that such a highly qualified group of writers have contributed to this series. Our warmest thanks are due to all of the experts who have enthusiastically tackled the Energiewende subject from different perspectives and offered comparisons with Finland’s energy policy.
As climate change advances, it is threatening our well-being. To avert dramatic environmental changes, fossil fuels will need to be abandoned in energy production. This will require major systemic changes in society. Furthermore, these changes will have to be made rapidly, within just a few decades.
No ready-made model is available on how to run an energy system based on renewable energy, with all the smart control and storage required. However, Germany has taken the bold step of setting out on the road towards energy self-sufficiency, without knowing exactly how to achieve it. Germany’s energy transition also represents the kind of brave action needed in other areas of the modern world, in order to unravel our various Gordian knots. The creation of new expertise and business enjoying global demand is another, ulterior goal of the Energiewende. Germany’s daring measures have already borne fruit: more than 360,000 jobs have been created in the green energy sector and the country’s energy expertise is in high demand globally.
In Finland, the Energiewende has often been denounced as crazy, expensive and irrational. We prefer to fine-tune our plans, use ready-made solutions and progress along pre-defined paths. In many cases, a leap of faith of the kind taken by Germany would prove too disconcerting for Finns. Risk-taking does not form part of our make-up. Could this be one reason for our discomfort with Germany’s energy policy? Of course, some criticism on the energy transition is justified, since new developments of this kind always involve misjudgements. However, we cannot condemn the operating model as a whole based on a single-minded focus on individual mistakes.
Could we in Finland learn from Germany’s foresight and experimental approach? Finland would then be in the fortunate position of following in the wake of Germany, since it could avoid Germany’s mistakes and take its cues from best practices. This would involve a bonfire of the red tape surrounding renewable energy in Finland: in Germany, becoming a small-scale producer of solar energy is easy, involving just two hours of paperwork.
If we take a serious attitude toward the global environmental risks we face, while hoping to maintain our economic resilience, do we have any choice but to follow in Germany’s footsteps? At present, Finland’s trade balance is in the red, largely due to imported fossil fuels. In 2012, we spent 13 billion euros on energy imports. This accounts for more than one fifth (22%) of all imports to Finland. Oil prices are set to continue rising, with an increasing portion of Finland’s wealth flowing outwards to Russia and other oil-producing countries. We should therefore take steps towards reducing this risk to our economy, by investing in resource wisdom and renewable energy of domestic origin. We have the required resources and expertise, but do we have the courage?