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Mika Anttonen: The Green Oilman

segunda-feira, abril 01, 2019

Photograph by Aapo Huhta
Fifteen miles from Helsinki, a massive drill plunges into the granite bedrock that is abundant across Scandinavia. Such contraptions typically stop at 2,000 meters in the search for hot water and geothermal heat. But this drill extends four miles down, into a substrate of Earth’s core so hot that the idea of trying to access it, and pull energy from it, was once unthinkable.

The team of scientists and engineers behind the St1 Deep Heat project believes this geothermal well can produce enough heat to warm a small city. The emissions-free project is estimated to produce a constant output of 40 megawatts of power. It’s an ambitious green-energy project. And it’s the brainchild of an oilman.

Mika Anttonen is the billionaire founder of Finnish energy company St1. At 52 years old, he’s emerged as one of Europe’s least likely and most outspoken climate activists. But Anttonen has come to view his industry as an engine of change, an endeavor whose ability to invest in clean-energy technology is powered by dirty energy. Anttonen lobbies the government for new laws to reduce his profits and force fossil-fuel companies to invest in clean energy.

“Our standard of living in the Western world is very much based on cheap oil, gas, and coal,” he says. “But we can’t continue like this. It’s not sustainable. I have to do my part to change.”

Born in Helsinki, Anttonen was an avid hockey player who was recruited for his first job while studying energy technology at Helsinki University of Technology. Oil refiner and marketer Neste hired him to be an energy trader, and he later became director of international product trading.

Back then, the Earth’s population was “just” 4.5 billion, and climate change was a theory. But Anttonen realized it was a growing problem. “I started to think about other responsibilities,” he says. “My responsibility to my family, for one.” In 1995, he started his own energy company, then known as Greenergy Baltic—later called Green and, eventually, in 2005, St1—after he bought a chain of service stations by that name. He set his sights on becoming a leading producer of so-called “C02-aware energy,” investing in industrial wind power and renewable energy.

Today, his estimated net worth is US$1.5 billion, and St1’s 1,400 service stations in three countries do US$6 billion in annual sales. But Anttonen has consistently redefined what it means to be a powerful player in the fossil-fuel industry. During Finland’s 2009 recession, he urged fellow business leaders to take a pay cut.

Anttonen wants to see a global reforesting project to pull carbon out of the atmosphere. He has proposed a ban on short flights in Europe because trains can carry passengers the same distance in nearly the same period of time. He advocated for rules that would restrict the speed of newly manufactured cars to the top speed limit of roadways to bring down emissions, materials manufacturing, accidents, and asphalt use.

Anttonen even advocates for the EU to restrict the carbon intake of companies like his own. “We need a rule that says we can only take 90% of the volume we’re taking today. We need to get crude-oil consumption down,” he says. “You have to regulate me. If you don’t, fossil-fuel consumption will grow.”

He’s also called for fossil-fuel producers to be held to the same renewable- energy standards as EU member states. As much as 85% of today’s fossil fuels can be replaced by renewable energy, he says. Most of his company’s renewable- energy projects are profitable.

“We’re still making money for the company,” he says. “But we’re using it for a good purpose.”

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