Industrial PRIME has passed by the Åland archipelago several times during a cruise between Finland and Sweden. Perhaps preoccupied by the attractions on board, we never actually got off the boat to visit the islands. This time, however, we were invited to stay. And was it worth it? You bet!
Originally, our visit to Åland was not meant to be one of recreation. Yet ABB and the rest of out hosts made sure that the day would be an ideal mixture of not only business, but also pleasure. Beautiful weather, historical sites, local food – we soon realize that we are planning our next visit to the islands already. But let’s try and stay focused until the holidays reach us on the mainland!
In addition to the tourist attractions, Åland has something else to offer the rest of the world, too. And therein lies the actual reason for our visit. An autonomous Finnish province, an archipelago consisting of 6,700 separate islands (out of which sixty are inhabited), and home to 29,000 people and 2,400 companies, Åland has ambitious plans when it comes to renewable energy and smart grids.
What is happening on the archipelago might even become a model for the rest of the world to follow.
Secure Energy Supply Through HVDC
Traditionally, and still today, Åland has received the majority of its power from Sweden through a 60-kilometre subsea AC cable, which transmits approximately 70% of the electricity used on the islands annually.
However, there has always been a glitch with the interconnection: in case of an interruption, it used to take the island too long (sometimes several hours) to restore the grid and get things running again. Meanwhile, the backup production, essential considering the circumstances, was heavily reliant on fossil fuels and did not have big enough capacity to meet the high demand in the wintertime.
Needless to say, Åland was in need of a reliable, flexible, and more environmentally friendly solution. Even today, an interruption of the interconnection to the Swedish shores may occur as many as ten times during just a single year. This, however, is no longer a problem.
In 2006, Åland turned to ABB and its groundbreaking HVDC technology. Short for high voltage direct current, HVDC is an innovative technology that will, among other things, increase the efficiency of long-distance power transmission, add adjustment opportunities, as well as enable the joining together of different types of grids between nations.
For Åland, HVDC was an ideal solution that would improve the security of energy supply on the islands, as well as lay the foundations for future energy trading. That is why the decision was made to invest in a 161,8-kilometre, 100-MW HVDC sea cable connecting the islands’ grid to that of mainland Finland. The first transmission of power took place in September 2014. Later that year, the interconnection took over the duties of providing backup power when needed.
In case the interconnection between Åland and Sweden is interrupted, power transmission is restored instantly thanks to the subsea HVDC cable and the backup power transmitted by it from mainland Finland. A good example demonstrating the superior qualities of ABB’s HVDC technology is the innovative feature called Black Start, which enables the restoring of power even after a complete blackout.
All this said, it is hardly surprising that Mr Jan Kahlroth, CEO of electric company Kraftnät Åland AB responsible for electricity transmission on the archipelago, seemed pleased when discussing the €126-million investment.
“We no longer need to burn fossil fuels to produce backup power in case of an interruption,” Kahlroth pointed out. “Our power supply is finally secured and the grid is reliable.”
Åland is known for its breathtaking landscapes. Chances are that in the future it will be known for its energy system as well. (Image: iStock)
World-Class Energy System On Sight
The security brought by ABB’s HVDC technology has also given Åland a great opportunity to significantly increase the production of renewable energy on the islands.
Currently, around 20% of the annual electricity consumption on the archipelago (288,4 GWh in 2014) is covered by renewable energy, the majority of which is wind power. There are altogether twenty-one windmills on the islands with a combined production capacity of 57,45 MW.
It is estimated that the share of renewable energy on the annual basis will rise and might become as high as 70% in just a few years’ time. This implies that there will momentarily be surplus production that could potentially be sold to mainland Finland. The construction of eighteen new 3-MW windmills is under consideration, and there are further plans to invest in solar and perhaps even in wave power. The ultimate long-term goal for Åland is to produce more renewable power than it consumes.
In addition to its aspirations in the field of renewable energy, Åland has ambitious goals of becoming a trailblazer in smart grids as well. The goal is to develop a smart grid and a world-class platform for developing and realizing a flexible energy system. This goal is part of Åland’s Sustainable 2051 scheme, developed in collaboration with a network of partner companies working in the forefront of clean technologies, green energy, as well as other relevant fields.
According to Dick Kronman, Head of Business Development, ABB, the archipelago has all the preconditions it takes to achieve such a goal.
“In spite of its small size, Åland is a very diverse place where the development of comprehensive, scalable market models is completely feasible,” Kronman said.
At the moment of writing, the development of the idea of Åland as a global model area for smart grids and a testing ground for clean environmental technologies is already gathering momentum. The various companies involved in the scheme are confident that the potential is real, and now they are working together to find new, innovative solutions for development.
In short: big things are happening on a small group of islands. It is easy to see why we should keep an eye on Åland in the future. We are glad that we finally paid a visit!
Text and main image by Industrial PRIME
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