Estonia imported a third of its electricity in the past year

Electricity pylons in Estonia.
Electricity pylons in Estonia. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

A third of electricity which flowed through the Estonian grid last year was imported, predominantly from Finland and Sweden, though much of it was in transit to Latvia and Lithuania.

The Estonian state is capable of subsistence in electricity generation, but imports partly because electricity from the Nordic countries is often cheaper.

The rise in electricity prices across the board has meant that this trend is declining in any case.

Reeli Kuhi-Thalfeldt, senior lecturer at Tallinn University of Technology's (TalTech) engineering faculty, said: "While we import electricity from Finland, most of it moves southwards, the issue being that our neighbors [to the south], especially Lithuania, currently find themselves in a major electricity production deficit.

Erkki Sapp, head of the energy market department at grid distributor Elering, was keen to point out that while a third of electricity passing through the lines was imported, this does not mean the country lacks a third of capacity.

Sapp said: "Essentially Estonia has enough total production capacity to cover even peak consumption."

"Estonian generation depends a lot on electricity prices elsewhere, and also on the incidence of repairs and accidents domestically. Estonia has been both a net exporting and an importing grid in recent months. In September, for example, we exported more, in October we imported somewhat."

Overall, the trend is moving towards a fall in electricity exports, particularly now that, as a result of rising electricity prices, oil shale electricity has become more competitive again. Should there end up being a significant increase in production from renewable energy sources in the coming years, Estonia may become a net exporter every year, Kuhi-Thalfeldt said.Kuhi-Thalfeldt acknowledged that Estonian electricity prices are significantly influenced by what happens in the other two Baltic States, Latvia and Lithuania.

She said: "Across 95 percent of all the hours of the last year, the electricity price in Estonia was identical to Latvia's. This was the case 88 percent of the time in relation to Lithuanian prices, but only 60 percent of the time with Finland's prices (which have generally been lower as quoted on the NordPool exchange – ed.).

Cheaper production capacity is therefore needed in Latvia and Lithuania, which both also have larger populations than Estonia even with the mass emigration which has befallen those countries (whose combined population stands at somewhat less than 5 million, compared with 1.3 million for Estonia).

Ultimately, "The Baltic States are always in the same boat regarding this mess," Kuhi-Thalfeld said.

Last year, Estonian consumed 8.4TWh, and produced 6TWh was produced, with the shortfall covered by imports notwithstanding the capacity for subsistence noted above.

Some power station units have lain dormant when their operation would be uncompetitive, while in summer this year, for instance, there was a period of at least a day when nearly all units were offline, ostensibly for maintenance purposes.

Natural gas is another fuel which can be used by some power stations, but soaring prices here, too, have made their impact known.

Even that electricity imported from Finland is not always of Finnish origin, Kuhi-Thalfeld added, with significant quantities coming from Sweden, the largest net exporter in the region in recent years, with a significant proportion of electricity generated by nuclear, hydroelectric and wind energy means, among the cheapest options.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots

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