Making green consumption-shifts fashionable. Bringing Energy Weather Forecast on TV!

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Photo: Frantisek Duris, unsplash.com

In my last blog [1] I called for more environmentally-friendly and weather-sensitive power consumption ways to private Finnish homes. For example, people should try to avoid using heavy loads (like electric vehicle chargers and saunas) at such instants when 1) renewable production is minimal and 2) when Finland is importing heaps of grey electricity from abroad. Those days many local fossil-fuelled power reserves are running and exhaling greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

I now propose another idea that popped up in a conversation earlier this spring between prof. Mikko Jalas and I as we pondered which one is better: to penalize or incentivize people into being greener electricity users. Many researchers, us included, have concluded that one major obstacle is the general public being rather uninvolved in electricity markets - for many reasons. Some of those reasons are 1) lack of interest, 2) lack of trust, and 3) market structures favouring the minority that has the capabilities to get involved with what’s going on in the energy market. Following that discussion, the idea of an Energy Weather Forecast Campaign was raised.

The Energy Weather Forecast is an illustration of the electricity system data in an interesting and future-oriented setup. Similar towhat the TV weather forecasts currently do: show tomorrow’s rain and sunshine, energy forecast would explain the expected wind, solar and hydro energy conditions for tomorrow and the week to come, and translate this to the energy system and market expectations.

Like this, people could better match their electricity consumption with renewable production conditions. This would increase the total green electricity consumption in the country. Launching such an information campaign soon would come in timely Wind energy plants are finally being constructed in Finland in a large scale. Last year, the wind power production increased here by 30% [2]. We should ensure it is 100% utilized. Curtailment is not good. Wind turbines should turn when windy.

A typical weather announcement could sound something like this: “Plenty of wind power production expected in the Ostrobothnia region – tomorrow will be a good time to bake”. Or “Water reserves low in Norway – try avoiding electrical activities for the next two days. After that it will have rained sufficiently again in the mountains.” With these words, the cryptic energy system and the wholesale market data is explained in more practical terms. Similarly than cryptic atmospheric data is currently explained in weather forecasts.

Image: YLE [3]

The project could be planned and conducted as a collaborative project with a TV channel, a metrological weather institute and some market and system analysts. Not forgetting the designers and storytellers who will make all this understandable and attractive. Ministries having green energy targets could demonstrate political support. Market actors could be involved, but very carefully selected (to avoid giving false impression that this is some sort of a sales project). It should be an information campaign project, that hopefully remains as something permanent.

The Energy Weather Forecast has at least four benefits:

Benefit 1)
Making green power-saving a new collective sport: rhythmicizing domestic chores along with renewable power to save the world

People’s daily and weekly schedules and routines have become less fixed via increased remote working during the COVID-19 lockdowns. The situation is expected to remain that way also after the pandemic. For example, a large Finnish energy retailer reported right after the first COVID lockdown one year ago, how domestic power consumption curves immediately got flatter [4]. In other words: as people were free from fixed commuting hours, cooking and washing was no longer concentrated to the hours between 5 PM and 9 PM. Cooking and washing was being done all day long. The same must apply to many other types of consumption, too.

Add a splash of carnval spirit, realiable institution (a TV program) and high visibility and we’re on the path to ensuring tangible and longer-term benefits. The project should not end up as yet another data-mining exercise: buried in the graveyard of outdated websites. Please, no. Integrating the Energy Weather Forecast to an existing weather TV forecast broadcast would be the best option. A fixed broadcasting time and a popular weather forecaster? Who will accept the challenge?

Little by little, new behavioural patterns that are adjusted according to renewable energy availability, become routine. First, the early adopters (green forerunners promoting their consumption shifts in social media?), and then slowly the general public. Eventually we might all aim for washing laundry on a windy day, just like we aim for remembering to bring along an umbrella on a rainy day.

Benefit 2)
Bringing a realistic and honest representation of green electricity for the general public and thereby increasing general awareness

The fact that the greenness of electricity is dynamic and fluctuates hourly and daily, is rarely brought up in energy discussions and discourses. It appears a secret, known only by the privileged minority of experts. (Why?) Retailers, for example, might sell you a 100% green power contract, which indeed might incentivize companies to construct more renewable plants. But in reality, no user of an inter-connected electricity system is 100% green 24/7. Prime-time consumption, in most cases, is non-green. Publicly available and visually appealing websites representing the energy system and market conditions are almost non-existing. I know one basic website of that kind, but it is developed by a private individual (see www.sahko.tk [5]) and not an energy company or authority. That website, too, shows only economic information. The dynamic greennes of production and consumption is absent from nearly all energy system presentations.

Benefit 3)
Increased energy awareness brings innovation opportunities for old and new energy companies

Just imagine the innovation potential for energy companies and retailers after such a visible Energy Education campaign! A greater and heterogeneous group of energy-aware citizens participating in making the power system green! This group would also include people not sharing interest in tedious mobile apps, control platforms, SPOT contracts and other obscure technical energy market stuff that are mainly designed for technically-oriented men in technical professions. There is much innovation going on for automated load control, but in reality, not everybody agrees to renounce the control over (any of) their devices for a remote intelligence. It’s as simple as that. But still, we should maximize the number of people involved in the energy transition.

Benefit 4)
Making shifts in consumption popular and fashionable before protesters take over (like in Sweden)

The Energy Weather Forecast is a great idea because it is NOT political. It is based on scientific and technical facts: the changing weather and the changing energy system status. People will continue to be masters of their personal consumption. This is important. Because energy-political debates nearly always get over-heated especially when it comes to comparing pros and cons of different energy forms. That often estranges large public audiences, raises opposition and results in false interpretations. From this ground, various enlightenment campaigns educating the public for smarter energy behaviour could lead to unexpected consequences, if the tone of voice (or timing) is wrong. Something like that happened in Sweden in February 2021:

A Swedish news channel SVT made a short educative video [6] about climate-friendly electricity use. They educated the public on the dynamics of energy systems’ greenness. As a practical example the journalist suggested people to hoover only at system-favourable hours. Critics – probably having joined forces with critics of a recent decision to shut down a nuclear plant – organised themselves into a political movement called Dammsugarupproret (Vacuum cleaner rebellion) and to show-off, demonstrated many non-energy-smart collective actions. Eventually the energy minister was called to calm down the public and he said everybody is free to vacuum whenever they like [7].

The political weather was right in picking the project (with a good purpose) to support other political purposes. The results were undoubtedly completely different from what the video-makers had expected.

So, the Energy Weather Forecast. Who will accept the challenge?



References

[1] Numminen, S. (9.4.2021). “Who dares to charge when power lines are burning red?”. Personal website. URL: http://sininumminen.fi/blog/Who-dares-to-charge/

[2] Laitinen, J. (16.4.2021). “Tilastokeskus: Uusiutuvan energian kulutus ensi kertaa suurempi kuin fossiilisten polttoaineiden ja turpeen kulutus”. Helsinging sanomat, URL: https://www.hs.fi/talous/art-2000007922561.html

[3 ] YLE Video clip on the history of national weather forecasts in Finland (Screenshot from 01:06 about a weather forecast in 1975), URL: https://yle.fi/aihe/artikkeli/2007/11/30/erkki-nysten-ennustaa-kylmaa-saata

[4] Vihavainen, P. (31.3.2020). “Miten korona vaikuttaa sähkön kulutukseen kotona, Helsingissä ja Suomessa?” Helen, URL: https://www.helen.fi/helen-oy/vastuullisuus/ajankohtaista/blogi/2020/miten-korona-vaikuttaa

[5] S. Lehtonen, ‘Pörssisähkön spot hinta Suomessa’, 2020. https://sahko.tk/ (accessed 19 March 2021).

[6] Winberg, J.Z. (9.2.2021). “Därför kan det vara smart att inte dammsuga de närmaste dagarna”. Sveriges Television AB (SVT), URL: https://www.svt.se/nyheter/inrikes/pausa-dammsugaren-i-ett-par-dagar-for-klimatets-skull

[7] Gyllander, O. (11.2.2021). “Energiminister Ygeman: ”Folk får dammsuga när de vill””. Sveriges Television AB (SVT), URL: https://www.svt.se/nyheter/inrikes/ygeman-om-dammsugar-debatten-sjalvklart-kan-man-dammsuga-nar-man-vill