Back 05.11.2008

Rural energy – one solution for the global crisis?

Finland and China have something in common. We both need decentralised renewable energy solutions. Global financial crisis and the subsequent economic slow-down pose severe challenges for societies all over the world. It coincides with ongoing food and energy price increases, and their consequent effects on markets and global political instability. Awareness of the fact that we must find ways to reduce radically our dependence of oil and other fossil fuels has been spreading fast. Renewable energy is seen as a crucial part of the solution.

Burning of biomass is a widely used source of renewable energy and under certain conditions, it can be considered as a carbon neutral activity. However, there are many challenges related to the burning of biomass. Without proper technology, emissions of air pollutants and small particles may cause local problems for the environment and pose a risk for human health. Also, the use of cultivated biomass for energy production in agricultural areas competes for the same resources that are needed in food production, which threatens to raise the food prices over sustainable level. Thirdly, extensive use of wood may disturb the biodiversity of forests, especially in the rural areas of the developing countries.

Finland is a forerunner in biomass energy use, mainly thanks to the forest industry. At present energy production is based on large and centralised structures. These structures are going to be challenged in the future. Finland is a notable consumer of energy, especially for heating as well as traffic, and both energy sectors call for fresh, innovative solutions and new structures. Truly renewable, non-polluting traffic fuel and smart decentralised solutions for domestic heating will be urgently needed. Although a notably smaller country, Finland has something in common with China.

In China, at least 60% of the population still lives in rural areas. Large parts of these rural areas are truly remote: no electricity grid, no phone lines. These areas urgently require sustainable, decentralised energy solutions. During past weeks the question of improving living standards in remote areas has actually become a core economic issue in China. Global economic crisis is hitting hard also China’s export driven economy. Hope lies in domestic consumption. Key issue in the domestic market is not what happens in big cities of China, but what happens in towns and villages in each corner of the country.

Consumption is not the favourite word for those who are environmentally aware. Well, how about consumption of solar energy, biogas and wind power? How about increasing economy by creating innovative models for energy micro entrepreneurship? Or how about increasing well-being by solving the waste problem and energy production at the village level through biogas technology?

Exactly same kinds of solutions are needed in Finland. The scale may be somewhat different but key issues are the same. Finland must do more to create non-burning energy solutions and to become a big player in decentralised solutions. Finland must do more to really keep its position as a forerunner in innovations. At Gaia, we have already taken our first steps. Co-operation with our Chinese partners offers us an opportunity to develop more efficient solutions for producing heat and electricity, especially from biogas and solar energy.

Why not rather co-operate than compete in all this with the Chinese?

Author is business director actively developing Gaia’s new business opportunities in China. Gaia’s office in Chengdu was opened in October.

Read more about our business in China.