Distributed generation specialist Aleksandra always unplugs everything before leaving home.
Ecology is something that school curricula should emphasise more, believes Aleksandra Krivoglazova (24), a Master’s student from the Tallinn Technical University, who is currently studying distributed generation at the University of Porto. [Aleksandra has now graduated successfully in June, 2017 – editor’s note]
Where are you from?
I’m from Kallaste, by Lake Peipus. It’s a small place, with less than a thousand habitants.
How complicated was it to leave your family and go to study on the other side of Europe?
It was very difficult for me, because I was afraid that I couldn’t manage for that long without my family. During my Bachelor’s studies, I was away for some time to study ecology at the Charles University in Prague, but that was closer and only for nine months.
Luckily there’s Skype, and I have Viber on my phone – I couldn’t imagine life without these two.
Tell us something about your family, please.
I have two older brothers. My mother is an Old Believer, but I don’t see her being as strictly traditional as by grandmother was. I am almost not into that at all anymore myself.
Do you believe in nuclear energy?
Nuclear energy is not a very good solution, because it poses risks that are too great. For example, they’re already closing down nuclear plants in France and increasing the share of renewable energy. In Estonia, we depend too much on imported natural gas, on fossil fuels. 90% of Estonian energy comes from oil shale, but if we don’t change our energy policy and if we continue burning fossil fuels to this extent, we will provoke huge and irreversible changes.
It is very important for us in Estonia to develop our own sources of renewable energy – for example, wind energy has a lot of perspective.
But the price is higher. How would you sell the idea of the price of electricity going up again to, for example, people in Kallaste?
Renewable energy is definitely much more expensive than traditional fossil fuels, but there are certain grants that are given for support during the first 12 years… (Pauses.) Maybe Kallaste isn’t the best example in this case, because Western Estonia has much more potential for using wind energy.
What does distributed generation mean anyway, the field you’re studying in Porto?
It means that while over the past 50-60 years the structures of electrical systems have followed a traditional hierarchy, according to which electrical energy is produced in large production units that are connected to each other by a main grid that transports energy through substations to consumption centres, then in a distributed generation structure the energy doesn’t just flow in one direction but can also move from a lower level to a higher one. In a distributed generation system, the producers of electrical energy, for example, small hydroelectric power stations or power plants that use biomass, solar energy and wind, are decentralised and located in a flexible pattern near consumption centres.
To put it simply, even when you put solar panels on your roof, that too is distributed generation. The energy that you produce can then be consumed on the spot or if production exceeds needs, you can sell it back into the grid. This way a person can be a producer as well as a consumer.
How green is your own life?
I believe that my lifestyle is pretty ecologically friendly. For example, I always separate organic waste, paper and plastics. That is very important and it’s been done in my family for at least 15 years already. When I leave a room, I always unplug everything, because otherwise it’s possible that a device left plugged in will still use a bit of energy. When I go to the store, I take a used plastic bag with me instead of buying a new one every time.
How many times can you go to the store with one plastic bag?
I use the same one for 5-6 weeks.
How are you planning on spending the stipend?
I will probably use it for covering my daily expenses, but at the same time the money could pay for two months of rent for me in Porto. The money will certainly help me gain more financial independence and focus more on writing my thesis.
Are rental prices in Portugal really that affordable?
Rent in Porto is, of course, expensive, but I don’t live alone – we have a big apartment, 12 people live there altogether, from Brazil as well as Spain.
Isn’t it difficult to share an apartment with that many people?
No, it’s not, because the apartment is very big and on three floors. Everyone still has their own room.
How do you like Porto?
I like it a lot, because it’s pretty quiet here. For example, Prague always seemed too big and Tallinn too, for that matter. The ocean is very close here, although I’ve made it out there to swim just once so far. If you have a problem, locals will always help out. I guess it helps if they see that you’ve made an effort to learn Portuguese.
How did you learn Portuguese and was it difficult?
I worked at the Kallaste tourist information centre for three summers, and I decided that if I get any free time there, I’ll start learning Portuguese. So I started learning new words, reading articles and the news. As a language, it is somewhat easier than Estonian, and I think it is similar to English in many ways. For the first few weeks in Portugal, it was hard to communicate with local young people, because they speak very fast and use a lot of slang. However, with my professors – all six of my subjects here are in Portuguese – I have had no problems understanding. I also take all my tests in Portuguese and, by the way, one of my teachers recently told me that my report was the best one.
Besides the language, what else is different at the University of Porto?
Even the fact that there are a lot of subjects in Estonia that give you 3 or 4 credits, but in Portugal each subject is at least 6 credits. So you have to spend more time on that subject as well. Second, each subject at the University of Porto also has a practical part, so you have theory lessons and practical ones as well. Still, I like it here in Porto, even though these semesters are some of the hardest in my life because of the workload.
Do you have a favourite word in Portuguese?
Yes – Meio Ambiente, the environment.
Do you miss anything while you’re in Southern Europe?
I miss the snow. Having lived in Estonia, I’ve sort of become used to there being snow in the winter. And even though I like the Portuguese kitchen, I like Estonian food even more. Blood sausage is my favourite. Home is home!
While we’re on the subject of snow, what do you think about global warming?
It’s happening – it’s very logical that it is happening – and it’s a huge problem. One of my professors did, however, find that global warming doesn’t exist. He claimed that it is an artificially generated concern that aims at earning a profit for a small number of people. However, I absolutely do not agree with him on this subject.
Your Bachelor’s thesis at the University of Tartu Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences was on the topic of “The impact of extreme weather conditions and climate changes on the functioning and growth of woody plants”. Will the climate becoming more extreme bring along worse storms as well?
The problems that an extreme climate will bring along could be seen in even the fact that, for example, in February and March the temperature will be so much higher that buds will form and seeds will start sprouting. But if more cold weather follows, the plants will suffer greatly.
Does the Estonian school system pay enough attention to climate change and ecology?
I don’t think so. For example, we weren’t told about ecosystems in high school practically at all.
What would you like to see yourself doing in 10 years?
My dream is to be back in Estonia and to develop the use of renewable energies in the company Eesti Energia.
East or west?
Beach or forest?
What is your favourite time of day?
What would you change in Estonia?
I would increase the use of renewable energies.
Apples or oranges?
Apples – from my own garden!
Checks or stripes?
What is your motto?
To keep growing, not to rest on your laurels.