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Securing the Energy Supply

As part of its obligations as an EU member, Estonia must increase its share of renewable energy. A difficult task for the small country - but young people like Raimo Pirksaar are trying to find new sources of energy.

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Setting his hopes on wind power - Raimo Pirksaar, 26

Engineer Raimo Pirksaar is on his way to Estonia´s sole wind energy park on the country´s west coast. Only three wind turbines are in operation, but it´s a start. Under EU directives Estonia is to increase its share of renewable energy to 5.1 percent by the year 2005. It currently stands at just one percent.

Wind energy, says Raimo Pirksaar, is to make up at least one third of this figure. Estonia´s coastline is blessed with a continual strong breeze and several large wind energy plants are planned here.

The 26-year-old engineer is researching the impact of wind energy generators on Estonia´s electricity grid. He is doing this for the state-owned energy provider "Eesti Energia" and for his masters degree at Talinn´s technical university.

One area of study is how electricity generated by different turbines impacts on the grid system, as quality can vary. Outdated models can cause problems and Raimo also hopes his measurements will show him how many turbines the electricity grid, which has ist weaknesses, can safely manage.

But there´s another problem. Wind is not a non-stop power supplier, and the supply gap can hardly be filled by Estonia´s obsolete power plants which process oil shale.

"Sometimes there´s a strong wind, sometimes there isn´t, so the turbines aren´t producing power all the time,and the oil shale plants can´t pick up the slack so quickly. It takes hours to either boost or scale down output", Raimo says. "That´s the problem".

Oil shale is Estonia´s main power source and has rendered the country practically self-sufficient in the energy sector, but a side-effect is CO2 and other toxic emissions. These, according to EU guidelines, have to be drastically reduced by the year 2005, and this includes modernising the power plants.

We´re up in the north of the country now, right on the Estonian-Russian border, near the town of Narva. We are visiting a power plant along with Valdur Lahtvee,"Eesti Energia´s" environment manager and a co-founder of Estonia´s Green movement. He tells us that a massive 10 million tons of oil shale is burnt annually in energy production but only less than a third is actually suitable for energy use, the rest ending up as ash mixed with water on dumps.

It´s the environment that suffers.The Estonians are working on it, harnessing the latest in power plant technology. Modernisation programmes are in place, including Narva. Valdur Lahtvee says they have managed to cut sulfur dioxide emissions by 95 percent. A figure he is proud of: "New technology enhances efficiency and productivity - from 28 to 36 percent, and also significantly reduces emissions of carbon dioxide. "Eesti Energia" plans to convert smaller plants from oil shale - to biomass-based technology and establish renewable energy."

Reserves of biomass, such as wood waste and sawdust, can be found in abundance in a country so full of forests as Estonia. This energy source is hardly exploited, though individial villages have been building so-called heating houses which use modern technology to burn local wood waste and provide heat for the village at large. The village we are visiting is called Avinurme which lies in central Estonia surrounded by birch and pine woods. Raimo Pirksaar knows the village well and likes their energy concept, and he hopes that renewable energy harnessing solar, wind and biomass energy sources will play a major nationwide role in Estonia.