In 1991, Germany enacted the Renewable Energy Act with feed-in tariffs. Solar arrays and wind farms gained guaranteed access to the electricity grid. Even individual households could become both producers and consumers of electricity. The aim was to close down the conventional centralized energy system based on non-renewables and launch a new decentralized system based on renewables.
Twenty years later, in 2011, Finland enacted a law on production support for renewable energy with feed-in tariffs. The contrasts between the German and Finnish law are striking. The Finnish law has minimum generation capacity requirements, which effectively prevents households from becoming producer-consumers. In Finland, the official aim of energy policy never was to close down the conventional energy system. Instead, nuclear, fossil fuels, peat and renewables go happily together in Finland's energy policy.
Why is Finland's energy policy such a “fossil”? How could the country's energy policy renew itself? These are the questions we pursue in the Defend project (Decentralizing Finland's energy regime: The triggers and dynamics of transition).
Although our work has only begun, one can make theoretically sound hypotheses about the differences between Germany and Finland. The late historian of technology, Thomas Hughes, argued that large technological systems such as energy systems have technological momentum. Quite like a freight train, such systems are difficult to stop because their mass and movement gives them a momentum of their own. The technological system is made not just of techniques and know-how, but penetrates deep into human culture.
In Finland, the technological momentum of the conventional energy system has shown its force because of the national energy policy of “anything goes”. A centralized non-renewable energy system has solidified itself over time in Finland. In such an environment, the assumption that conventional and decentralized renewable systems can compete on an equal basis reflects an ignorance of technological momentum. As the example of Germany shows, destabilizing the conventional energy system requires energy policies that prioritize decentralized renewable energy systems over conventional ones, at least at the early stages of an energy transition.
One way of disrupting the conventional energy system is by feeding research-based evidence to policy makers. Members of the Defend project team, for example, have participated in a group of ten professors who have published policy briefs and reports on energy to decision makers and the general public (www.energiapolitiikka.fi). Our tentative results indicate that although these interventions have not started an energy transition in Finland, they have at least laid the foundation for an entirely new track of energy policy discussions focusing on alternatives to the status quo.
We are optimistic about the potential for change in Finland's energy policy. Stay tuned.
Text: Janne I. Hukkinen