South Karelia responds to climate change challenges

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently published a climate report in which it drew together the scientific results on the reasons for a warming climate, its consequences, and measures to improve the situation. In South Karelia measures required by the report, such as developing renewable forms of energy, have been implemented for a long time. The region is Finland's biggest producer of renewable energy. 

The central messages of the IPCC report were that the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is at a record-high level, and that rapid solutions are needed to stop climate change.

The aim of the climate panel is an emission-free, greenhouse gas-free earth by 2100. In practice this means that energy production must rapidly move toward emissions-free forms of renewable energy.

Achieving the goal naturally requires international cooperation, but every country must also work on the national level. For instance, Finland has set as its goal that by 2020 the share of renewable energy would be 38 percent of final energy consumption. In a comparison among regions, South Karelia is a model region for renewable energy. 

Finland's most renewable region

South Karelia is the biggest producer of renewable energy in Finland. Nearly 17 terawatt hours of energy are produced from renewable sources each year. This means that the renewable energy accounts for nearly 90 percent of all energy consumption in South Karelia. North Karelia comes fairly close to these figures, although the use of peat is more common there than in South Karelia. Peat is not renewable energy, and consequently, South Karelia is Finland's most renewable region.

Nearly 80 percent of all of the energy in the region is produced with forest-based fuels, mainly black liquor comes from the production of wood pulp, and from wood scraps of the forest industry. The use of black liquor in the region was four times higher than the national average.

In addition, 9.3 percent of energy produced in South Karelia comes from hydroelectric power.  Production of hydroelectric power is about 10 percent of all energy consumption, which is 30 percent more than the national average.

South Karelia has reached its current level in the use of renewable energy largely thanks to the forest industry. A row of smokestacks lines Highway 6, which runs through the region. Lappeenranta, Joutseno and Imatra are traditional pulp producing communities. South Karelian factories are very modern and energy-efficient. for instance, the pulp mill in Joutseno produces more than 30 megawatts of surplus electricity.

Joutseno Pulp has Finland's only bark gasification plant, producing gas for fuel out of wood bark. Biogas from tree bark replaces natural gas which is traditionally used as a fuel. This means that when it is in normal production, the pulp mill does not emit any carbon dioxide from non-renewable fuels. 

Also large amounts of other types of biomass than what is produced as a by-product of industry, were used heavily in our region - 0.8 terawatt hours, which is 2.5 times above the national average.

The Kaukaan Voima power plant in Lappeenranta used the largest amount of biofuel of any power plant in the world in 2013. Thanks to the plant, carbon dioxide emissions from district heating in Lappeenranta have been squeezed to a third of the previous level, and about EUR ten million more is used in the region for the acquisition of biomass rather than for buying foreign gas.

Forerunner of wind and solar power

One of the largest inland wind farms, the Muukko wind farm, is located in the forests of Joutseno. It produces 21 megawatts of electricity. The wind farm's estimated annual output is about 40 gigawatt hours, which is equivalent to the amount required for the heating of 3,000 electrically-heated homes.  The significance of wind power is growing sharply in Finland, and South Karelia is in the front lines with respect to wind power.

The installation of solar panels on the roofs of private houses is also an activity that is breaking new ground. LUT sparked a boom in South Karelia with its own solar power plant, which has prompted residents of the area to become producers of renewable energy. If everyone in Lappeenranta put solar panels on their roofs, the peak output would be 1000 megawatts, which would be a significant amount. Finland's peak consumption is 15,000 megawatts.

Some municipalities in South Karelia have  been very active. For instance, Parikkala has considered a number of bioenergy projects, such as a bio-terminal, the utilisation of biogas, a drying plant for biomass, and a torrefication plant, which involves the heating of biomass in the absence of oxygen.

If all of Finland's regions were like South Karelia, the world would be closer to being saved - thanks to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Further information:

Professor Esa Vakkilainen, tel. +358 40 357 8684,