Guest blogger Evan Mills of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories explains why recent Swedish energy policy should give us hope.
Sweden is often held up as a harbinger of the kinds of sensible energy policies needed around the world. In practice, follow-through has been less than promised, although remarkable things continue to be achieved.
As a case in point, January 1st, 2011 was the deadline for shutting down all 10 of Sweden’s nuclear reactors. They quietly missed the deadline (where was the media?), but their story remains interesting.
Aside from a small amount of oil generation and CHP, the country’s power is derived in about equal proportions from nuclear and hydro. Although Sweden has one of the world’s most electricity-intensive economies, carbon emissions from the power sector are negligible. Concerns about nuclear safety and security, the environmental effects of large-scale hydro projects, and a will to cut CO2 even lower make for a compelling set of energy planning challenges.
The nuclear phase-out decision and ban on new construction traces back to a public referendum in 1980, fueled by the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979. This was only one of six such referenda in Sweden’s history along with things like prohibition, whether or not to join the EU and what side of the road to drive on. In light of this, TMI arguably had far more impact on Swedish energy policy than it did US energy policy.
The direct hit of radiation that Sweden took from Chernobyl back in 1986, added fuel to the fire. Sweden detected and publicly announced the event before Russia did. One reactor in the Barsebaeck complex was closed in 1999 and another in 2005, the same year as radioactive water was leaked from a Swedish nuclear waste storage site. Ten remain in service, but last year Parliament suspended the phase-out and even blessed unsubsidized replacement of existing reactors (although no capacity expansion), along with unlimited owner/operator liability for the costs of accidents. The ageing plants have become sufficiently flakey that the term “intermittent nuclear” is sometimes used to describe their role in the grid.
Well, it seems that energy policy is what happens while you’re making other plans “¦ even in Sweden. Along with these developments, a meltdown in my admiration for legendary Swedish energy policy at the time thus ensued.
I was first entranced by the Swedish view of energy technology and policy in the early 1980s, when asked to do some computer simulation analysis of how super-efficient Swedish homes would perform in US climates. This was to provide background for an important book called “Coming in from the Cold: Energy-wise Housing in Sweden”, published for the German Marshall Fund and the Swedish Council for Building Research and written by international energy analysis guru Lee Schipper, along with Stephen Meyers and Henry Kelley (now Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the US Department of Energy). These homes were off the charts (or below the charts, as the case may be) in terms of their extraordinary energy efficiency – even by today’s U.S. standards.
After doing that analysis, I wanted to see Swedish energy up close. Inspired by Lee and Art Rosenfeld, my boss at the time, in 1988 I took a Visiting Scientist position at the University of Lund with Thomas B. Johansson, one of the first wave of wicked-smart retreaded physicists who had already been working on energy issues for well over a decade.
The referendum, along with seemingly colliding policies not to build out Sweden’s remaining wild rivers and not to increase CO2 emissions (yes, caps on CO2 in 1988!) set the stage for what ultimately became my dissertation work, and our study The Challenge of Choices.
In 1989, with study co-authors from the Swedish State Power Board, Thomas and I showed not only that these lofty goals could all be met, but that in doing so the cost of providing energy services in Sweden would be lower in 2010 with a mix of renewables (particularly in the form of cogen using biofuel waste from the paper and wood products sector) and high end-use efficiency than for a business-as-usual supply mix and demand scenario. The findings added a sense of do-ability to previously idealistic goals held by the Parliament. New programs in efficiency and renewable were launched in the wake of our report.
Since leaving Sweden I will admit to growing more than a little disillusioned by the reality versus the vision of energy policy there.
However, just this month a beefy annual review of the Swedish energy sector showed up in my mail, which I read with pleasure (mostly). The report contains some things that Sweden can be very proud of and an encouraging existence proof that energy futures can be chosen and a nation’s course strongly changed in very impressive timeframes. Here are some highlights of changes between the year I left Sweden (1991) and 2010:
- Significant carbon-dioxide taxes (105 oere/kgCO2, or US$150/tonne!) have been introduced, generating about $4B/year in revenues, or $500/capita. This is almost as much as is generated by regular energy taxes.
- National GHG emissions in 2009 were down about 18% (more than required under Kyoto – and 12% by 2008, when the world economy started to go south). Emissions of SOx are down 70% and NOx down 50%.
- Total primary energy use has dropped slightly (rising steadily, in the case of transport). Even electricity demand use has remained constant despite 60% economic growth in this same period. It is not clear whether absolute reductions in national energy demand in recent years will be maintained.
- In-country coal use for energy purposes has dropped by 50% (and by 70% outside the industrial sector). BUT, the Swedish State Power Board (Vattenfall) has made massive investments in coal-fired electricity outside of Sweden, with resulting emissions that are on a par with in-country emissions. Despite its low carbon footprint at home, Vattenfall seems enamored by this fuel, and sequesters most of its profits there.
- Heating energy fuel choices in buildings have been managed very aggressively. Oil’s share has dropped from 25% to about less than 10%. Electric heating’s share of energy in the household sector has been trimmed by 30%. District heating, fueled primarily with biomass has picked up most of the slack. Between 1980 and 2010 district heating went from essentially 100% oil to essentially 0% oil.
- Almost a quarter of Sweden’s primary national energy supply is today from biomass. By global standards, biomass has reached a startling scale, with more than half as much energy in Sweden as provided by fossil fuels. Biomass’ share of fuel-based electricity production went from about 20% to about 80%. Biomass’ share of district heating went from 20% to 75% while the overall production of district heat was boosted by about 50%.
- Wind power went from nil to 1500 MW, but still makes a very small contribution to national electricity supply, in stark contrast to the success story of Denmark just across the water.
- Including hydroelectric power, a whopping third of Sweden’s energy supply is today renewable, a higher share than any other EU country.
Swedish energy policymakers remain ambitious about the future:
- A moratorium on expansion of nuclear power remains (despite the stunning back-pedaling on their phase-out plan).
- At least 50% of energy supply shall be from renewables by 2020 (including 10% within the transport sector, with vehicles free of fossil fuels by 2030).
- Overall energy intensity (presumably energy per GDP) shall be reduced by 20% between 2008 and 2020.
- GHG emissions shall be reduced by 40% by 2020, compared to 1990 levels, with no net emissions (nationally) by 2050. A carbon-neutral country – how about that?
- Efforts on energy efficiency shall be redoubled, driven in part by efforts at the level of the EU (Wait! Why weren’t they redoubled 20 years ago, when even Sweden knew efficiency should come first in the carbon-abatement loading order??)
Let’s hope they stay the course this time. I am once again (guardedly) optimistic.