ForTheDoers Blog

Germany and Finland, coal power and communications

Kati Suurmunne  ·  29 May 2020

The life of a communicator would be much easier if everything were black and white. The truth, however, is usually somewhere in the countless shades of grey, especially when talking about energy-related solutions. What sometimes seems to be overlooked in the climate change dialogue is that while the climate doesn’t know national borders, the road to a cleaner future differs in different countries.

People having picnic in a park

Last week in Finland Fortum announced the winner of the Suomenoja power plant mural contest. The mural celebrates the discontinuation of coal use in Espoo’s district heating. At the same time, in conjunction with the Annual General Meeting of our subsidiary Uniper, environmental organisations in Germany were protesting the new Datteln 4 coal-powered plant. “It must be a rough day for Fortum’s Communications,” someone shouted on Twitter. 

This week we posted in social media with a nice picture that the construction of Kalax wind farm is advancing. “Greenwashing! Build wind power in Germany rather than coal-fired power plants!” came the demand.

Wind power is an important and growing business for Fortum both in the Nordic countries and in Russia. In Finland and Sweden we are discontinuing the use of coal in energy production more quickly than planned. I don’t think it is greenwashing when we communicate that our strategy is advancing as planned and good progress is being made – even if there are differing views about the speed of progress.

Acquiring Uniper was equally aligned with our strategy. Together we are more empowered to drive Europe’s energy transition – towards that cleaner world. There is no shortcut, and every country has to think about its own strategies and opportunities to prevent climate change.

Last year the Finnish Government set a bold, much praised and ambitious climate target: Finland wants to be carbon-neutral by 2035. Still the Government is also accused of being hypocritical by allowing an energy company that it holds a 50 per cent stake in to open a new coal-fired power plant in Germany this year. But the Finnish Government can’t decide on Germany’s energy solutions; moreover, Germany is not like Finland.

  • Germany has a population of 82 million, Finland 5.5 million.
  • The Federal Republic of Germany consists of 16 partly-sovereign states and a bicameral Parliament. The State administration in Finland has a more streamlined structure.
  • Germany’s electricity production last year (574 TWh) was 8.7 times more than Finland’s (66 TWh).
  • In 2019, in Germany 27% of the electricity was produced with brown coal and coal; in Finland 11% with peat and coal.
  • In Finland we secure base production of energy with nuclear power. Largely because of that more than 80% of our electricity production last year was carbon-neutral. Germany has decided that nuclear power plants will be decommissioned by 2022. Consequently, close to one quarter of the country’s emissions-free production capacity will be lost.

Common to both countries is that building of wind and solar power has not proceeded as quickly as many would have wanted. In Finland, base production is secured with nuclear power. In Germany, after decommissioning its nuclear power, coal and gas will be needed to secure the energy demand of industry and households when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. According to the bill in review in Germany, coal-powered generation will be phased out by 2038 at the latest. In this situation, it makes much more sense to use new, efficient power plants with reduced emissions and to close the old coal-powered plants – as Uniper has promised to do in Germany by 2025 at the latest.

When it comes to coal, Fortum has a firm view: the use of coal in energy production must be discontinued. Fortunately, progress towards this target is advancing quickly in Finland. The direction is clear also in Germany. Along the way, companies, states, and the European Union will encounter many opportunities to make decisions that accelerate this development towards a cleaner world.

Kati Suurmunne
Vice President, Communications
Tel: +358 40 588 9112
kati.suurmunne@fortum.com