Waking up to Estonia's energy challenge interview with Ingrid Nielson, Episode 70. Welcome to the My energy 2050 podcast where we speak to the people building a clean energy system by 2050. I'm your host Michael LaBelle. This week we speak with Ingrid Nielsen, a renewable energy advocacy expert for the Estonian Fund for Nature. Elf. In short, it says a lot about the importance of energy when an organization with a deep biological foundation and a mission to protect nature also addresses the role of renewable energy. This week's conversation with Ingrid straddles these fields of environmental protection, and the deployment of new energy technologies. There was a reason I traveled to Estonia and this was to gain a greater understanding about how this Baltic country is shifting away from its heritage of the Soviet Union, and its ties with Russia, Russia. Each country as we are exploring in recent episodes of this podcast had different relationships and ties with the Soviet Union. how each of these relationships was navigated was based on a variety of factors. But probably the most important was the domestic resources of the country in the country itself. In this case of Estonia, it was the deposits of oil shale. As Ingrid explains, oil shale is the poor cousin of coal. Sounds bad, doesn't it? So listen to our discussion of why and how Estonia became complacent on driving a more sustainable energy transition over the past decade. To understand Estonia's challenges and transitions in energy. Ingrid points out the importance of political will but also the price of energy. This is emerging as a common theme, the cheapness of energy, bountiful and cheap energy stalled necessary changes. Now as Estonia is attempting to move forward with a pressing need to utilize the sustainable natural resources it possesses. I don't mention enough all the great people that provide assistance to organize the interviews and the topics that we have on the podcast. This week, we can thank one of our former Central European University students Johanna Mar atque for her assistance with lining up this interview with Ingrid. A final note This interview was done for my current role as an open society University Network Senior Fellow at Chatham House The Royal Institute of International Affairs, the funding was generously provided to produce the podcast until the end of 2022. The intent of the my energy 2050 podcast is to spread the knowledge about how the energy system can assist our transition towards a greener future. The content of each episode is great for teaching research, and identifying how you can assist this energy transition. And now for this week's episode. I'm here today with Ingrid Nielsen advocacy experts for renewable energy at the Estonian Fund for Nature, elf. Ingrid, welcome to the My energy 2050 podcast.
Thank you happy to be here.
Yes. And well. I have to thank you because we're in your home with homemade honey and tea. And what these are, I think apple crumble apple crumble. It's excellent. And it's Christmas. And we have a candle. So it's really Christmassy feeling. Thank you for inviting me into your home, and for be willing to do this interview. So thank you.
Thank you really glad to be here.
Excellent. And my first question, I and I know you don't believe it. But first I want to ask what is elf? And the second part is what is an advocacy expert? Okay, so maybe we'll start with the easy one about they're both easy, but what is elf? So Estonian
Fund for Nature is in nature conservation organization. And it has been in existence, starting from I think it was first of February 1991. So before their independence of the Estonia, so I think to say that it's just the nature conservancy conservation organization is as a under under playing its actual role in the society and as well as its role as a cultural promoter, I would say so.
And so with this long history then in the country, and maybe I should mention, and I think it's important to know is so the population of Estonia is 1.3 million correct about that.
Okay, maybe slightly increased with the influx of training in migrants at this point.
Okay, so yeah, everyone are lots of people from Ukraine moving throughout Eastern Europe into into Yeah, yes, we did. We decided that we can call Estonia part of Eastern Europe.
Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Okay, tonight don't like
tonight only tonight only. And the with 1.3 million, then and it's there's only a small amount of cities like talans like 500 400,000 people. Yeah, correct. And how do people view Nature? If that's kind of an abstract question and maybe too broad, but there was a need in 1991 to establish an organization, and then how has that maybe changed through through the years.
So I think in 1991, what ecologists and biologists who actually started elfa realized is that with the very rapid and complete change that the country was expecting, I mean, in the beginning of 1991, it was quite clear that becoming independent, again, is very much possible. I thought, I think what they wanted to do is to sort of get a head start on nature protection, because it's not like the Eastern Bloc countries were isolated from the Western Europe. So it was clear that if nothing was done, then the Baltic states would be moving exactly in the same direction as all the other Western countries. And I believe that the nature conservation was one of the main concerns, concerns for many people in Estonia. If you want to talk about what has happened in those, like in those 30 years, it's definitely that that some of the emphasis has moved from species protection towards more general topics like climate change. And that's why Estonian Fund for Nature now has a position for a renewable energy expert. And
okay, no, no, excellent. And yeah, we'll get into this, but maybe part of that is around using biomass.
Absolutely, yes. So the forest is the central topic for Estonia nature organizations, majority of them actually. So yeah, how we manage our forests. And what we do with with this resources, natural resource that actually by our constitution belongs to every citizen in Estonia. And this is one of the main concerns for for us as at least.
Okay, well, we'll go into the energy topics in a second. But I actually wanted to start off a bit more on your background. And it's quite an international background. And I think it's really interesting to discuss how you why you moved away from Estonia, and then why you came back as well. I think a lot of people, this, this could resonate with them, too. So maybe you could talk about maybe finishing university? And then how did you and where did you go after university?
I did not finish university, this time around? No, because Alright, so it's a long story. And I think I was just part of that first generation of Estonians who was like really keen to get abroad. Any possible means and not so much for maybe, in my personal case, not so much for, you know, for the monetary reasons behind it, or the financial motivations. But for me, it was more like I need to see what life is like elsewhere. Because 90s were not an easy time in Estonia, you could definitely see, especially with a influx of advertisements, and you know, MTV and then live elsewhere was different. So you were really keen to try it out to test yourself to sort of go and really explore the world. And I don't know exactly the number of Estonians who left in the early 2000s. I was one of them. And I decided not to finish my degree in sociology, because I was also slightly disappointed with the education system in Estonia back then. So I got an opportunity to go to Italy for a short three month course. I took it and I didn't come back for 15 years.
And what did you do in Italy? So in
Italy, it was a impact, I would say, with real life of impact with the old society, so to say, and after I had finished my course, and I worked odd jobs, because apparently when you go abroad, so with no credit to your name, no cousins here and there. It's quite difficult. But yeah, I stayed in Italy for nearly four years. And then I had met by that time I had met my husband and we had moved, we actually moved to Singapore, to continue my grand tour.
Great. What did you do in Singapore?
Well, in Singapore, I got to be the housewife because it was my husband's job that brought us there. And that's where one of my daughters was born. So it was a very brief year and a half, so I couldn't explore it further than just the culture encounter. A little busy with baby. Yeah, unfortunately, that takes away a chunk of time, but I I enjoyed it, it was an opportunity that I didn't expect to have. So and after that we moved to the United Arab Emirates. Yeah. So and stayed there for a longer time. So eight years?
And how was that I was living there? I mean, it's quite different from from Europe, I'll just say in general, have you been? No, I haven't I have been through Qatar,
I think, the more comfortable version of Europe, okay. or America or any other high end society that you can or high end city or environment that you can imagine? So yes, so it's a little bit like, like, life removed? Not. Not exactly, you're very cushioned there, you can enjoy your European lifestyle, come into contact with locals as little as you can possibly imagine. But I also decided, when I was living there, that that wasn't the lifestyle that I wanted to pursue. So I made it my mission to actually meet as many local people as possible and find out how they actually live.
And from what I see on because this is how I found out what everybody is their LinkedIn profile, but from from that, I've learned that you got into photography,
I did. So there was a one of the not the easiest way to meet people. But one of the, I think most impactful ways to actually explore force myself to go out there make it a mission of sorts. Yeah. And my background is in communications. I've been a journalist before I've worked in communications for a long time. So this was just like an extension of it from writing to taking photos.
And why Why does so I'm going to expand from journalism to your present job, just so you know, I'm going to make this connection. And why why was journalism, a good fit for you? And that can include photography include writing, it's communication. So how, why was a good fit fit for you?
I think it has a lot to do with my personality. And simply the fact that I love meeting very different people from all around the world. And I get curious very easily. So this was something that I've struggled for a long time, because communications is very shallow in the sense that you have a topic and you pursued for a couple of days, and then you're on to something else. Right. But at the same time, it suits my nature the best as well.
Excellent. No, no, I mean, I goes with me. So
that's why you're here to my house
happened to become a professor by accident. And then yeah,
I mean, by accident, you glad you mentioned it, a lot of the things in my life have happened by accident, just because I'm curious and put my nose everywhere. So
yeah, yeah. I'm glad this podcast is about you. And not me. So accident, and I won't say fate. But yes, exactly. You end up with a interesting life by by leaving home and going out. Yes. I appreciate you talking about the 1990s. That's when I was pretty restless as well. And yeah, went to Sweden on exchange program. And somehow I ended up coming back to Europe and been here since 1998. I left the United States. So yeah, this one see wonder last? Yeah, you see exactly. Yeah. And it's but then, but then I guess, then we'll bring it back then you actually came back to Estonia? Yes, I did. And was that like a conscious decision to come back here? Or you just ran out of steam for other places?
No, I've never run out of steam. It's just the COVID that has put a stop to me. But I came back to Estonia. There were lots of different reasons. And the puzzle really needed me to come back home for a while. Okay. So initially, the plan was like, Okay, time to tackle that on unfinished education. Okay, all right. Right. Not in sociology still disappointed.
Okay. It's an anthropology writing anthropology. Very close.
Yeah, exactly. Not very far off and still allows me to, you know, occasionally dip into sociology, but I don't need to do it every day. So yeah, I came back. Did that. And I mean, the environmental concerns have been with me for the past decade, at least. Again, it's the curiosity that gets you into the topic. And then it sort of, I mean, once you're in it's it's difficult to say, Oh, I'm done dealing with the issues of nature and environment and how humans operated. So I have for a while I worked in, let's do it world, which is a global network, spans 190 countries and deals with the global global waste issues. organizers will clean up day. So there's a lot of like, communications work that I felt I could contribute to. And then I, this starting from this year I work in Estonian Fund for Nature.
Okay, excellent, which we introduced, and then you are the energy advocate or renewable energy? Advocate. Correct. And what is that? What is that?
So, I hope that advocacies
No, no, like it's provocative. Okay. So maybe I'll give you my interpretation. Okay. So so, my interpretation, I this is why I liked the term advocacy expert is that you're out there talking about renewable energy, you're advocating for it and taking saying how positive it is, and the impact that it can make. That's my interpretation.
I so wish it was like that. Okay. Exactly. I went into this job thinking that maybe this is what I have to do. But of course, I already knew it's not that simple. I mean, I think advocacy for renewable energies more advocacy for a new kind of economic system. I mean, it's the first time in many, many centuries that I see that maybe the power dynamics behind energy can change. Not sure they will, but at least there is this possibility. And that's what I tried to do advocate for, not for the political change. If I would did that, then, then elf wouldn't be non political.
Yes, yes. And I tried
to bring the the other aspects into, into this energy transfer transition, let's say some things that maybe people don't think about.
So you have a hard job, I can see already because you're supposed to be non political, at first, its energy, then you're supposed to be non political. But then you actually mentioned this key phrase that I really liked, and which I write about is power dynamics. So and that you think we're at a important point in history, around power dynamics of the energy system and in power, it's this relational power. So maybe you could talk about what what are these power dynamics that you see?
Well, well, that's that's I don't know if the job is difficult, or my background in anthropology makes it difficult, because studying anthropology means pretty much doom for the rest of your life.
Yes, yeah. Because you see power dynamics,
you start seeing power dynamics, you start seeing everything in terms of agency, you see conflicts, you see patterns that are unjust everywhere. And you I think the biggest pain of it is that you start doubting everything that you know, maybe it's a good thing. Often it's very emotionally disturbing. How little do you know, and what? What's the thing that you can do about it? You know, so. So yeah. If we talk about it, power and energy, you can't separate those two, who controls energy has the power? Yes. It's as simple as that.
Yes. Yeah, it's in my last book. Oh, my book. Yeah, this is why I'm here is to write another book. That's not so complicated, but because I talked about power dynamics. And, yeah, just the,
I mean, we can make it very simple. I mean, in very simple terms, what you see is that the old money coming from the power, I mean, look at shale, or look at any big energy or electricity producer in the world, they're heavily investing into renewable energy, which means that they had the power before, and they're going to have it in the future, nothing's going to change. And if we and if we know that the big powers like that influence every decision that we make, then nothing's going to change.
But maybe I go for how do you? I'm not so radical as that. Okay, let's just say that. So that's fine. I respect that. But how I, I think there's another way to look at it. And it would be from the energy poverty side or the everyday side of people. And you mentioned energy communities, for example. So how does how to energy communities either we could put this in power dynamics, and then we can maybe put it first in power dynamics and then put it into like the everyday basically, but how do energy communities can or go against this power dynamic?
So who has the money or who has the resources has opportunity for agency? This is how I see it. So energy community is one way of allowing people to be the agent of their lives to decide, how do we produce energy? How do we then consume it? Do we want to consume it the way that we've had so far that any bidder on the market who pays the highest price gets it, but then we have to live with the consequences of that. Or we can make that decision within that little circle community because it's our production, and we can change it. This is ours, our energy, we decide who gets to use it and how so sort of it's, it's a maybe more democratic process that I see. The beauty of it, it's it's definitely inherent in it. I know, in real life is always different than then whatever we imagined. But at least the idea behind it is that it makes energy production much more socially, just,
and this is social. How there's so much there. So I want to talk about energy democracy, but I'll hold off on that, because you brought up democracy, but on the socially just side of things, then we start talking about energy justice, then, and how do energy maybe have you expend more on it, though? How do energy because energy communities are the big thing kind of nowadays, the European Commission, European Union supports the formation of energy communities, and energy communities are seen as one of these bottom up solutions? And but can can people actually cooperate enough to create viable energy communities in a whole country?
I mean, in Europe, it's already quite a very good, like, examples of how it can work. And I mean, I think it's still very much an underused resource, or underused idea. Definitely can go much faster than it has so far. But I also see that there's resistance towards it. From I think, most expected sources, one of the researchers that I read, said that 45% of all energy demand in Europe could be produced by energy communities. That's a big change in how the market operates. Yes. And I don't think people or actually bigger, like, bigger, maybe developers or, or whoever produces positive views would like to see that change? Also, because it's not supposed to happen in the next 3040 years. But as European Union says it, you know, our European Commission says in the next 10 years, it should happen. Yes. So that's maybe one of the aspects of it.
But isn't there room? Let me go from the other side. Isn't there room for the other 55% to be produced by large companies?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we can't do one only. I mean, just like the energy mix needs needs to be a true mix of different solutions. So need to be the the different models that we follow to to reach it. So I think there's space for everyone. The question is where rather, is their willingness to to try and make it more, less fun or more saturated in terms of options, and then share the profits amongst more stakeholders than it is right now?
And maybe I'll hit on energy democracy, just to see, and then we can move on a bit. But yeah, do you have anything to say about energy democracy? Because you brought about you mentioned the democratic process? Yeah. And choosing energy sources? Yeah. Technology.
So I think, what, you're not gonna go, this is gonna be radical. But this is what happens when I'm asked to speak about concentrated I sound very radical.
I'm just telling you, my where I come from, and you tell me where you come from? And I think it's better than me just, yeah. So yeah, I
mean, if we talk about politically, yes, we have democracy. But if we talk about, for instance, our economical system, then I don't believe we have a democratic system. It's very much who has the who has the resources controls everything, right? Yes. Now if I think about is Estonia an example then our energy production has been concentrated in eastern part of our country in the north Northeastern part actually. So it's just one county that has taken the burden of this very actually polluting industry and and industry that destroys landscapes and and really doesn't give that much back to community at a wider sense like yes, I understand it has brought jobs and but those are low paying jobs, and not necessarily have improved people's lives so much. So, energy democracy is important process in achieve Doing the, you know, distributing this burden around to where people actually live. So where you live, you need to produce your energy because this is the only way how you realize that what kind of a cost it really has. And, and whether you're willing to live with that cost.
Okay, so, yeah, so it has, I would maybe I'll paraphrase and say it's tightly connected to energy communities where the energy that you are consuming you produce, I would say in a local regional manner, then. Right. And then, when you talk about this, I think it'd be really interesting to talk about you talking about this one county here in Estonia. And this is what called shale oil. Yeah, that's right. And maybe you could talk about what shale oil is, and the environmental damage of that.
So, shale oil is the poor cousin of coal. So it has, it has much less efficiency than coal. Coal has, but at the same time, it's the resource that we really have abundantly here in Estonia is actually can we check this term because it's oil shale and shale oil? So shale oil is the product that you get from oil shale, I believe. So oil shale is the rock formation. So let's check this. I'm never sure about this term in English. Yeah.
That's doing an oil shale is used to produce electricity and shale oil. Exactly. Okay. So, so, okay, I'll just record this. So we're gonna define it. And I think I said it wrong before. And then I think anyone can maybe understand why we would get confused. But in Estonia, because I've just googled it. Oil shale is used to produce electricity and shale oil. So oil shale is what is in the ground. And after processing it, you get shale oil, correct. Okay, so, so let me rephrase my question then. So, in this one county, oil shale is, is a deposit in the ground producing shale oil?
True? Correct. Now, let's hope we never forget it again. Because I've been confused for years. Yeah, so the Environmental Lab? Well, I think first we need to go back to the Soviet Union. We can't Yes, get over, please.
I mean, I love talking about it. You don't love union. I love the energy policy of the Soviet Union. So interesting.
So just like any other big imperial power, also. Also for Soviet Union, of course, energy was one of the main concerns and part of its national or, or Yeah, it's programmed to, to also sort of like colonize, let's say different parts of the Union itself. And oil shale was discovered in Estonia, I believe in the already in the during the first first Estonian state, but electricity production back then didn't rely that heavily on it. But when Soviet Union occupied us, of course, they had to put all of the resources to the best of the use, right. And so what happened was that because it was their, let's say, their program, all sorts of different temps to make sure that it wouldn't become a threat to their political situation, we're also made. So that means that hundreds of 1000s of people from the rest of the Soviet Union were simply shipped here to service this new industry. Let's put it this way. So majority of the oil shale production or the shale oil production, installations are actually built in the 1950s 1960s 1970s during Soviet Union, and very little has been done later. So also the the grid, the electrical grid was established then as it is, as it functions right now. So everything was made so that it would service the needs of the Soviet Union.
And maybe we go to production process, because especially I know for sure in the 70s. And yeah, it probably be the 60s, burning oil, even the United States or other countries was normal to produce electricity. So it wasn't until the price went up that maybe it wasn't a good idea to burn oil to produce electricity. But then here in Estonia, then burning this oil shale after it's processed. For electricity happened in the past, but it's still happening now on that now then, yes, but
very limited. I mean, now with the crisis in Ukraine and everything and being in mayhem, yes, it's increasing again. But starting from 2018, due to co2 emissions and pretty much demand in European Union would significantly cut it down. But that also means that we've made ourselves very vulnerable to, to whatever is happening right now in the world, whatever market does, whether our neighbors are kind enough to share their energy with us or not, we're definitely not able to reduce enough energy or electricity if we want to put it simpler by with the limited capacity for renewable energy that we have right now.
And then so yeah, this is one of your we can go back to your, your your title, the act of advocacy for renewable energy. What comes in then is that, but maybe just because elf is is environmental organization, and we talked about energy justice, we mentioned climate change earlier. What is the impact on this community then about E. A, moving away from shale oil, oil shale oil, moving away from both shale and oil, or something like that? What is the impact on the community moving away from it? Because we talked about energy justice? And what about economic development in the region, or what what's happening to the community there?
In that community, of course, concerns of this changing energy landscape are very, very painful, I would say, because I mean, this we're talking about people who have built their lives around oil shale, and shale oil. Each of the families is connected to that industry, one way or another. Businesses that service the community are independent, that these workers have their income from it. And it's quite understandable that fear that this change will just leave them out there on the dry, are high. And just like with any crisis, if it's badly manage its strategy, if it's well managed, it's an opportunity. And I think Estonia hasn't done a very good job in communicating this as a great opportunity, but has maybe in some ways left the population a little bit alone with the topic, but not really badly. I mean, they are recognizing this, and, and taking real steps towards creating new kinds of industry and new kind of reality. For the Eastern, Northern, Eastern,
maybe, I don't expect you to know, but maybe, you know, are there specific government programs? Is there is there like a managed phase out of this, or
I don't know if I can call it managed phase out. This is actually one of the things that environmental organizations have drawn attention to that we're doing too little, maybe slightly too late. But you know, not too too late. And I think, now we're finally reaching that stage that the government is putting in place a proper plan for it. And energy democracy has a lot to do with it, because some of the organization's environmental organization have leading what we call climate and energy councils or, or which are made up from citizens. So regular citizens, they get together, they are given as much information as possible about it. So they start to understand where the issues, and they themselves can offer solutions, what they think, or at least set expectations of what they want to see happening to their communities and the environment as well. Right. So this is one of the Yeah, citizens assemblies has been one of the ways on how to actually introduce better solutions for this huge a
great, great example of like, why energy is so important and understanding the social ramifications. Okay, there's the environmental of that as well, but the social side of it. And do you think I'm from the EU, because now there's this just transition fund? Did you see that maybe recognition of the social side by the EU can assist this community in Estonia?
Absolutely. Yeah. Unfortunately, I don't know why. But I think both teams struggle with the same things a lot of the time. Maybe ignoring certain problems until they're pointed out that that this is a huge issue, you got to fix it. We can provide some, you know, assistance with it, but you got to fix it. Yeah. So are you sure it was actually one of those things that your opinion said, Nope, you got to stop it. So
yeah, no, it's just crazy to think about. Okay. I don't know. But then there's like oil sands in Canada. And some people say, Oh, they're okay. But yeah, I don't know. I just think environmentally. So maybe, maybe we just talking about the environment so much more? And what about the cleaning up the environment, then there must be it must be pretty bad up there or over there? I don't know. What's the environmental like?
Yeah, environmental aspect. First of all, burning oil. Shale means actually pollution rates, air pollution is going up, right. So this is the immediate effect that people suffer from. But it also means that digging it up from underground means just like with any other similar process, it means that you leave huge plots of degraded landscape on which you can't build anything anymore, because it's unstable. And maybe one of the attempts that had there has been is to consider those areas, you know, as as future nature reservations. But then again, generally, the effects are so serious that you can't expect any normal rate of biodiversity to return to it for maybe even centuries. So, yeah, degraded landscapes.
So there's no government policy yet about what to do with the landscape.
No, because biodiversity hasn't been a concern for a very long time, or not just in Estonia, but I've been even in most of Europe.
Are you able? This is really interesting, because I mean, in some regions of the EU, where their coal is being phased out, like Czech Republic, Czech Republic, I know and Germany as well, there's consideration for the communities and the environment, what to do in these former region, coal mining regions. Do you see that there's Okay, theoretically, or could be or there actually is connection with other with this process, this just transition fund or the just transition process of with? I'm reaching here, but I'm just kind of like thinking this makes sense. That here's a region that could benefit from this just transition fun, the coal phase out, it's not cold, but it's it's similar in the impact? Oh, yeah.
Oh, yeah. That money is being funneled into the area. Question is what is done with that money, because maybe the intention is one thing. But what comes out from the other end is different. I'm not an expert enough to say which which of those initiatives that is being pursued with this kind of financing is, is actually doing something or not? I know that there are reeducation programs, and I believe that they they have gotten very well. I know that there's been like a social support system put in being put in place to help those families who need to transition. But yeah, we we have to wait and see how they actually turn out whether they they are okay. Or what's gonna happen in the in the future? No, is
it's so interesting. So it's like one more pin in the map of Europe where a just transition and the awareness on the social side of it, and governance and government side of it and engagement and with without corruption or without maybe I just say without saying corruption, I'll just say without bad government, like here, here's a great example of if there is good government and governance going on in the community. It can be a positive example of the energy transition, helping society. But if it's not done, right, or if there's a lack of things that are actually done, then it's an example of a region that's that's going to suffer for a long time because of
that. Absolutely. And I don't think, you know, you can assume that governments are any different from the people that they govern. So a lot of the times you do have to struggle with those questions of not just corruption, but whether people are ambitious enough, whether they actually are able to manage change, and actually guide it, are they to the level because we are talking about local municipalities, very small communities that have always done it this way. So for many people, it's very difficult to think differently on how they actually maybe even guide their own people. And, as I think we all know, humans are not very successful in seeing the consequences to their actions.
Yeah, I mean, but it's a great example of maybe the need for for training The EX the experts at the local community level, and involving them in more and proper educational system, and then relying on them to, I don't know what Express or stay what the community wants, rather than, say an outside international consultancy company coming in. And then as much as they try, they may not capture what the community really needs.
Absolutely. I mean, I don't believe in meaningful change being led from somewhere else, it always needs to come from within. And for that to you need to give people not just information, but to give them ideas on how they can go about it, and really encourage them and engage them on all different levels. So I don't think that we're like a flock of sheep, following whoever promises the best at least, I'd like to hope that we're not like that. But rather than if we're even given a chance and, you know, a nice nurturing environment to discuss and to, to brainstorm and to maybe, you know, just invent our own future, then we are much more likely to actually create change,
and then maybe shifting to Estonia a bit more general, and creating change this energy transition, and the area of of more renewable energy in the mix here in Estonia. What is the what is the situation now? Or what does the landscape look like? I mean, is everyone like, Yeah, we're gonna go and have renewables all over the place? Or I'm being optimistic there? Or what is the state of things in Estonia in general,
I think, maybe 10 years ago, there was this great optimism, but the past 10 years have shown that it's very difficult when there's little to no political will to actually go for it. And then here comes in, you know, if you have cheap fossil fuels, then resistance or actually there's no willingness to imagine something new, start making really big changes in the system that otherwise works really well. Right. So what has happened is that for the past 10 years, we've had hardly any new wind installations put up. And a lot of the times, there are two excuses that are usually brought, one is NIMBY, not in my backyard. Everyone loves that, for some weird reason, just say it. And then the other side of it is that the cheap energy mix hasn't really forced this development too long. So a lot of big decisions haven't been made. And now we find ourselves in a situation where there's very big con conflict between nature conservation, and the wish to develop last.
Nature Conservation in in what area like against wind power, or what
against wind power, mostly, yes, there's also resistance towards big solar parks as well, due to the fact that they compete often with agricultural lands. And in wind energy is a conflict between forests are our last natural forests and necessity to develop renewable energy.
And I mean, in the past 10 years, the solution, as far as I know is these interconnectors with other countries, Finland, Latvia, for gas and for electricity? And how much do you think that's? Has that been a good development or a bad development or kind of just, whatever,
it's a necessary development, because otherwise we wouldn't be able to? It's not just about how much electricity do we consume, but it's also about what keeps our system up. So up until now, and I think until 2026, we're still tied to the electrical system of Russia, for frequency, etc. So this is one one of the considerations, of course, why these connectors are necessary. But I think even more importantly, and I'm not sure how well thought through this is but Baltics are seen as the future for European energy needs as well. So a little bit like I'm going to anthropology and I know a lot of people don't like it when I say but it sort of sounds like we're trying to colonize the Baltics. Now,
you mean like Baltic Sea, Baltic Sea,
but the Baltic states as well, which are part of that because you can't put up big maritime wind parks here without our permission, right. So for instance, has Estonia completed its maritime, maritime spatial planning in July this year? And suddenly there were 10s of developers behind the door so to say saying like We want to develop here, majority of them are not, don't include Estonian investors. So they come from abroad, from Denmark, from Germany, from elsewhere. And I think it would be very naive to believe that they are here to provide for Estonians. They are here to provide for their countries. And
how do you how do you do? So this is a genuine question with I don't have the answer, because it's a country of 1.3 million. So how do you and maybe we could talk about biomass? There's I don't know what it is, but it's such a small country, I don't mean in an offensive way. No, no, I mean, like a good way like, Estonia is an energy community itself. You could take that approach, or you could still take a neighborhood or city approach all these different, why energy communities are complex like subjects, because what is an energy community but anyways, but in the with the development of the interconnectors? I mean, what what should? What should a national? Maybe this is a better way to phrase the question is, what should be the objective of national energy policy? Should that be self sufficiency? Should it should it be greater interconnection? Or what's the balance here?
Well, yeah, well, we got good go very broad, from, from our nation building attempts of the past couple of centuries, when we talk about energy is very directly related to nation making. So to say, right, and, of course, as you said, first option that you said energy sufficiency for your own basic needs, is every country's first first goal and this energy transition that we're trying to pull for, right. So for big countries like Germany, it's quite likely they're unable to produce all the energy that is necessary to cover their current needs, with their own resources. And I'm thinking it can apply to many central European countries as well, that they are highly dependent. And the Baltic Sea is very lucrative, because it has very good winds throughout the year, basically, there isn't a day where there isn't. And that's why Baltic Sea is considered as you know, new frontier to sort of like take over and and fill it up. So occasionally, when you look at the plans, from Sweden, from Finland, from the Baltic states, and then you have a bit of Germany, who has their and it's quite scary, actually, from an environmental point of view of how many turbines are being, you know, at least imagined that can be put into the Baltic Sea. And it's definitely not for this to service, just this region. Has a grander scheme for
exporting. Yeah. And then then, but but maybe I tie it back to your discussion with energy community, I'm sorry, if we're like off topic or not now, but I'm really enjoying this. And it, it's like, just I just want to explore your perspective on this, because so what you're saying then is Estonia and it could go for other countries. And I think this is really interesting, because the nation building, for example, in the nation, each country wants to have energy independence, or maybe self sufficiency, I like the word self sufficiency, then is a really good way to put it. Because then they're not reliant on others, even though we could say the EU as a whole really promotes this interconnection common market of neoliberal market model. But for Estonia, if a country is self sufficient, it means that they're more directly engaged with how they're like, are they we can say electricity, how their electricity or heat is produced, and what steps they do domestically, not just importing Well, in the past cheap Russian gas. And so in one sense, they're taking responsibility in some form or another how the energy electricity is produced, and then how its consumed. So then you could actually invest in energy efficiency, right, rather than building more production facilities on the other side. I'm not sure what my question is, but maybe I just say, What do you think of that?
I wish it were so. But being a small country that has is highly dependent on on its neighbors, right? We can say that this bill is being paid by the citizens themselves. If we look at the energy prices in the region, they're the highest in all of Europe, and we're nowhere near the living standards of Western Europe. They'll, especially when when I think about Latvia or Lithuania. So we're picking up the bell. And if the if this neoliberal liberal market also is scary in that sense, because it does not provide freedom for everyone to choose, it just provides freedom for the select few who actually control the resources in one way or another. So this kind of like the the the system, it has built in mechanisms to make sure that it's not just for me, it's that I know, again, I sound radical. But I'd rather like to say that I'm direct, radical. So it's not a lot of people, especially in Estonia, there's this right now there's this kind of narrative that if you talk about these issues, then that means that you are you want communism to return. I don't know,
I'm guessing you don't. So no, no,
I don't think so. Communism, by the way, it wasn't an economical system. It was a system made to support. Select few again, yeah, it was very egalitarian. So
no, no. Is it just the human right? Yeah, everything economically,
so so when I when, and I think this topic is connected to energy community. And you're right that the Baltics pretty much is just one energy community. What I don't see currently is that it's an active energy community that understands its role. And again, I don't know if it's a political agenda to keep people away from energy to really not educate them on this topic. And I believe it is. So because who has the energy has the power, right. And on the other hand, it doesn't mean that we don't have a market based system anymore. It just needs to accommodate both, and I don't see one part of it happening. And I think that's also biggest part of my job making sure that least people are aware that this is happening. And they have a choice and opportunity to change it, or at least to demand this change.
Yes, Ingrid, I think that summarizes it really well, especially the going back to the 45 55% split on that. So I just think, yeah, more people are engaged are aware of their energy consumption and how it's produced. And I always feel like people, because I'm always talking to people energy, the only thing I talked about, but people are always talking about, yeah, I want to produce, I want to have solar panels on my house or whatever. Like, they always they hear about it, they want to have it, they don't know how to do it, this and that. But it always seems like people want to be engaged somehow, at some level in their consumption, okay, and maybe some people don't want to do it at all, and be engaged in it. But I mean, if your neighbors are people coming together, and if if it's structured, right, I get into the structural aspect of the energy system, if it's structured, right, people don't have to work that hard, but they're aware of it. And then it especially now that the market is so essentially short of electricity. And then then being aware of the benefits of energy efficiency in the investment, energy efficiency, it can really benefit everybody, and how people live, not even talking about energy, poverty, how people live in their homes could be improved their, their well being the heat temperature in the house, all these things have a dramatic impact when we think about being in control to some extent, around the energy system. But
I think another aspect of awareness that comes with it is when you actually get to know how the system works, you contain, you manage to get some sort of agency and power back in terms of influencing also those big developments. Currently, I mean, my heart aches when I think about how Amazon has secured its, you know, green energy source. So this is energy that is being it's it bought buys it, you know, buys I need this amount of energy, I buy it, and then it's entirely up to me what I do with it. And if you look at what these like big corporations often do is that their practices actually make us even more dependent on those very few resources that we have left. And and sort of like decreases our opportunities to have a meaningful and nice, nice life but meaningful and good life when those resources actually start shrinking, which is going to happen very soon. So I believe, very strongly believe that because people don't understand how energy production works, don't understand how it's related to the way that we operate in our daily lives. How and how it's all interconnected. Until then, they really do not understand the necessity to influence those big systems. And if they don't, then nothing will change. We will still continue to dance, the dance that the big corporations, multinationals and big money dictates dictates us too.
And then maybe we'll start wrapping it up and bring this around. I think we're getting there just naturally about biodiversity and health. And so by how what are the challenge of biodiversity in Estonia? What were the challenges and then maybe if that's connected to energy or not,
I think the challenge is that we know what happened in Western Europe, while we were, you know, under the Soviet occupation, and when we were actually enjoying the fact that our nature could, could have had the opportunity to restore itself. So in 1991, when we regained our independence, we had this abundant resource that had regenerate itself within the 80 years. And instead of maybe managing it properly, especially in the 2000s, proper plundering of its started,
are you talking about the trees? Or what do you mean forest? Okay, yeah, we're
talking about forests, forests are huge ecosystems that are full of, you know, 20,000 of our native species, majority of them are in in forest. So the plundering started in the 2000s. And now we're finding ourselves where we are just repeating the mistakes done in the West, and we're not doing it any better. So, biodiversity crisis is also pretty much geared into the way that we operate here as well. And unfortunately, it's not decades of we're talking rapidly, rapidly degrading ecosystems
here in Estonia. So the 1990s low trees were cut down
or not in the 1990s in the 2000s 2000, when a lot of foreign investment in this sense was put into Estonia, that 50% of our wooden biomass currently is exported to heat Danish homes. Not just Danish,
but the wooden pellets. Yeah, it's exported. Yeah.
And the society is not gaining much from it, because it's the it's the business owners who do but not the society, we just get to watch our forests or pretty much just fend for the furnaces,
and what's the nature protection level in Estonia,
in places it's very good also due to the natura 2000 areas. So for some weird chance, and and I believe hard work of my colleagues as well, not just in our organization, but all the environmentalists, quite a big amount of area. Estonian in natural areas were put under natura 2000 protection. So that's one aspect. But all the rest of the areas are seeing very heavy influence of clear cut logging, for instance. Yeah. So if I think this is how, sort of like one of my earliest realizations of bigger not just, you know, what are the personal effects that people have on on an on the environment, but when I started to how I started to realize how governments and neoliberal systems actually can make huge damages is exactly because of my international experience. Because I used to fly back home twice a year. And every time I flew over Estonia, every couple of years, I noticed this doesn't look right. First, you would see grids and grids of roads appearing into the forests, then you would start seeing clear cut areas, bit by bit like puzzle work. And that's when I came to realize that there are there's stuff happening that regular citizens are not even aware of, and that there's heavy economic interest into this our common resource, and no one tells us about it, and we are not even enjoying the fruits of it.
So in this would be in the 2000s. Estonia's membership to the EU. Yes.
Yeah. More or less or a little bit earlier as well. Yeah, well, they
knew they were joining so yeah. So there's advantages and disadvantages is this and then is your organization because I know some organizations are pushing to eliminate biomass, like from trees from from the forest, is to have never asked this question. For unclear how to how to do it, but to eliminate the forest biomass from like renewable energy targets or something, it would
be very nice. I mean, I don't think we can, you are in my house. So I also heat to my house with wood.
That's great right here in the living room.
Domestic consumption Wood is a good alternative. But if we're talking about exports, it's it's a little bit like greenwashing someone else. Okay. Because, yeah, because what happens with our pellets or what happens with our forests, they're burned somewhere else. And people actually who are consuming them don't often know that. This is not renewable resource. Not in that sense. How they believe it sustainably for Yeah, it's not sustainably felled. Yeah.
Okay. Great. All right. Ingrid, thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me and and thank you so much for inviting me to your home, too.
Yeah, the night was too short. I would have loved to continue.
No, that's great. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you for joining us. For this episode, we produced the my energy 2050 podcast to learn about cutting edge research and that people building our clean energy system. If you enjoy this episode, or any episode, please share it. And remember, each episode is equivalent to consuming 10 journal articles one book and 500 charts and how to implement the energy transition. And you get it all in less usually than 60 minutes for each podcast guarantee. I can actually say no other podcast makes this guarantee. The more we spread our message of the ease of an energy transition, the faster we can make the transition. You can follow us on LinkedIn where we are most active on the My energy 2050 page or on Twitter and Facebook. I'm your host Michael LaBelle. Thank you for listening to this week's episode.