Energy Efficiency

Published on June 29th, 2010 | by Susan Kraemer


Why Finnish Paper Mills Became Electric Utilities

June 29th, 2010 by  

On my recent tour of Finnish greentech, I found that a simple law on the books for decades helps account for the incredibly low carbon footprint of Finns, who look just as energy-intensive as Americans, but register at half our weight on this fragile planet.

Finns get almost one third of their electricity second-hand, after industrial users have had first dibs at it.  Vesa Koivisto of Fortum (the largest utility in Finland) told me that paper mills actually supply about one third of the electricity on the grid. Why?

Heavy industries are allowed to produce and sell electricity, any way they can make it.


Since heavy industry processes create heat as a byproduct, this has led to real incentives for Finland’s paper mills to also become electric utilities, through capturing the heat in their process, and selling the power, for income on the side. Finland leads the world in the use of combined heat & power (CHP) systems, which have been widely used there since the 1960s.

This stupendously easy and effective piece of climate legislation is something even we could pass, even here in the hopelessly plutocratic remains of our poor democracy.

Heat is the old fashioned way to make electricity: boil water = make steam = drive turbine. Many industrial processes create enough heat to provide the potential for a steam-driven power plant on-site. In the US, paper mills do use this to supply about half their own energy needs, but the potential energy savings have not improved since the early 1990s. In Finland, because of the law that encourages it, they recycle that energy and actually sell their surplus.

As a result, Europe as a whole now generates 11% of its electricity using CHP, driven mostly by Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands.

Heavy industries are simply allowed to produce and sell electricity, any way they can make it.  I see no real impediment to passing a law like that in this country, even. CHP companies in the US,  like RED are ready. I’d like to see Rush petrify his millions about  Al Gore’s secret plot to blah blah blah, regarding a law like that, that would provide an income stream for paper mills, cement makers and steel mills (while greatly reducing our carbon footprint).

Instead of using all their energy resisting climate legislation, like fossil energy companies, heavy industry companies simply get to make money solving it. Clever law.

But first, we’d need to change another law. Utilities in Finland, even giants like Fortum, may not prevent others from competing with them in the production of energy. Here,  they can.

Susan Kraemer @Twitter

Image: Pablo Päster, Treehugger

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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.

  • i may not have supposed this had been great a couple of years back but it is amusing the way time changes the manner of how you experience diverse creative concepts, many thanks for the post it truly is enjoyable to read anything intelligent once in a while in lieu of the normal crap mascarading as blogs and forums on the web

  • I think these technologies are so important in moving into a greener society, maybe with the new US initiatives, it will prompt more countries to levy there waste surplus with CHP, I found some more info on Combined Heat and Power here, thanks for the post!

  • John

    Not all of North America needs “new” laws.

    Currently in Alberta about 33% of the generation is coming from Industrial CHP plants. That is based on net to the grid. The percentage of total generation will be a bit higher.


  • Efstratios Psarianos

    Hi, Uncle B.

    Just to put things in context: the US isn’t a country run on anti-socialist principles; it’s run on circumventable checks and balances and the resulting popular democracy.

    The checks and balances are made up of the US’ two internal political tendencies: populism; and anarchism. The way to get anything done is to circumvent blockages through wheeling and dealing by politicians elected to do precisely that (call it ‘Let’s Make A Deal’ democracy).

    As concerns anarchism: it’s the very root of US political philosophy: ‘Government of the PEOPLE, by the PEOPLE, for the PEOPLE’ (note Lincoln’s original emphasis; it wasn’t on OF, BY, FOR).

    Given this, it’s not surprising that US political talk keeps bringing up ‘let the markets take care of it’; given the messy governmental alternative, freewheeling enterprise DOES have its attractions. That being said, doing business in the US can be annoying to outsiders who aren’t used to it or who prefer more orderly environments to work in (like Mr. Canadian here … :P).

    Margaret Thatcher (I believe) is the one who said it best: (to paraohrase) “The US is like a big dog in the living room. It’s friendly, but it tends to knock over the furniture.” Mind you, she was talking foreign relations, but still …

    Cheers! Orcus

  • @Moo Thanks, corrected, I meant in Finland.

  • Moo

    A minor correction…Fortum isnt the largest utility in Scandinavia, that would be Vattenfall AB.

  • Uncle B

    North America has a long way to go in energy conservation and in effective use for current energy endeavors.As the end of the “Cheap Oil Era” draws to a close Americans will have to smarten up to maintain the American Dream lifestyle! Some great fat bummed Americans will reduce, some in easy chairs will take up the yoke of healthy exercise, some living extravagantly will cut back, and most will go without some luxury.

    The poor will become poorer – to the point of socialist revolutionary ideals, the Uber-Rich will invest more securely but most of all, America will go forward consuming less foreign oil, and more domestically produced electricity from Solar, Wind, Wave, Hydro, Tidal, Geothermal and Nuclear sources. The Gulf fiasco will be repeated many times, in fact so of then we will come to accept sloppy oil drilling as par for the course in a corporatists world, and life will go on!

    In other parts of the world where Socialist governments and ideals prevail,longer term planning, without the profit motive will provide much cleaner, more stable energy plans for longer periods of time than corporatism allows – it is a question of longer term planning.

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