TALLINN - Though the September power outage in the Tartu region did not affect a majority of Estonians, the state-owned Eesti Energia is coming under pressure from home and abroad to devise a more reliable system of electricity supply for the country.Currently over 90 percent of electricity produced in Estonia comes from burning oil-shale, while the share of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar energy, amounts to a mere 0.3 percent.
The urgency of the issue has been increasing in recent months. Indeed, the problem of overreliance on oil shale was central to the European Commission's Comprehensive Monitoring Report issued last week. (See story on Page 1.)
In line with the overall European trend, by 2010 Estonia must increase the share of renewables to 5.1 percent of total electricity consumption and raise the share of power and electricity coproduction to 20 percent (currently at 14 percent).
In addition, industry leaders want to find a high-quality reserve of energy supply for the next decade, such as electricity supplies from Lithuania.
But it won't be easy. Frank Oim, an industry expert with the fuel and energy department at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, said that Estonia would be forced to cope with its energy supply alone.
Importing electricity from the Nordic countries is not a solution since the latter lack capacity (due to a lack of investment over the past 15 years), explained Oim, and Lithuania will be a net importer once its nuclear power plant is shut down.
The projected deadline for elimination of excess energy production for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania is 2007. According to Eesti Energia, Estonia has to replace and renovate its existing capacity in the coming 12 years (according to an EU directive Estonia has a transition period until 2016).
Without any renovation, by 2012 there will be a lack of capacity to cover domestic demand, experts say.
As Estonia looks around the region for potential suppliers, Latvia, which currently imports 30 percent of its electricity needs, has stated that it wants to meet domestic demand with its own capacities. To fill the gap Latvia said it would like to build a new natural gas-driven power plant, though it is believed the country will have to import electricity until 2016.
Poland currently has excess capacity thanks to coal, though after 2015 not all of its mines will be operational without renovations, according to the EU directive.
Russia's electricity consumption grows by 3 percent every year, and at the same time the amount of installed capacity is falling 3 percent annually. Some experts have gone so far to say that Russia will not be able to cover its domestic demand already from 2005.
Tiit Kallaste, climate, energy and atmosphere program director at the Tallinn center of the Stockholm Environment Institute, said that Estonia could manage its energy supply on its own.
"We should keep up with the times and look for innovative solutions to utilize our country's energy resources more effectively," said Kallaste.
"Another option is to have Estonia connected to the NORDPOOL system and thus buy electricity from abroad in peak-demand seasons," he said.
Creating a joint Baltic power grid is another solution, Kallaste added.