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Energy use in Sweden

Cutting-edge technology, a wealth of natural assets and a high proportion of renewable energy – Sweden is in the front line as the world embarks on a shift to more sustainable energy systems.

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There are about 2,000 wind power stations in Sweden, providing 7.1 TWh of electricity during 2012.
Photo: Trons/Scanpix

Generating power for a sustainable future

Ever since the oil crisis of the early 1970s, Sweden has invested heavily in the search for alternative energy sources. Measures to phase out the use of oil have proceeded smoothly. In 1970, oil accounted for more than 75 per cent of Swedish energy supplies; by 2012, the figure was just 21.5 per cent, chiefly due to the declining use of oil for residential heating.

Sweden outlined its present energy policy in 1997. The Government wanted to promote “efficient and sustainable energy use and a cost-effective energy supply” that would “facilitate the transition to an ecologically sustainable society”. The Swedish Energy Agency (Statens energimyndighet) was set up to monitor developments.

High power consumption, low emissions

Sweden consumes a substantial amount of electricity per capita (15,000 kWh per person/year). Few countries consume more energy, yet Swedish carbon emissions are low compared with those of other countries. The average Swede releases 5.1 tons of carbon dioxide per year into the atmosphere, compared with the EU average of 7.9 tons and the US average of 19.1 tons.

The reason for this low emission rate is that about 78 per cent of electricity in Sweden comes from nuclear power and hydroelectric power, neither of which generates carbon emissions. Cogeneration from combined heat and power (CHP plants), accounts for somewhat above 10 per cent of the electricity output in Sweden, and these are mainly powered by biofuels. About 8 per cent of the electricity is imported, and the remainder, about 4 per cent, comes from wind power.

Unclear future for nuclear power

For several decades, Sweden’s energy policy has aimed to phase out the country’s nuclear power programme. At its peak, Sweden had 13 reactors in commercial operation. Today, three plants with a total of ten reactors remain. But in June 2010, the Swedish Riksdag (parliament) decided to allow new nuclear power plants to be built in the country, rescinding the law phasing out nuclear energy. New plants, however, may be built only to replace decommissioned ones, and only on the same sites as the existing power stations.

Sweden has among the highest rates of popular support for nuclear power in the EU, but faces considerable challenges if it intends to develop its nuclear energy programme further. No approved solution for the final disposal of nuclear waste has yet been identified, and there is a shortage of nuclear power engineers. Before any new power plants can be built, the costs and the environmental impact also have to be assessed.

World-class power market

Since its deregulation, the Swedish power market has become a shining example by international standards, according to the International Energy Agency. Two reasons for this are the freedom of choice available to customers and nationwide price-levelling. Since 1996, customers have been able to choose their power supplier, and today around 130 companies sell electricity to Swedish consumers.

Much of Sweden’s electricity is produced in the north, but this region uses less than the more populous south of the country. This is one reason the country was divided into four power price areas in 2011, with the aim of offsetting the costs of energy loss incurred when electricity is transported along power lines. Another reason was to facilitate power trading between Sweden and other countries in Europe.

Conserving energy in industry

In 2005, Sweden introduced a special five-year programme designed to boost energy efficiency in industry. Under this programme, the 180 or so power-intensive industries taking part were granted tax relief in exchange for drawing up energy plans and taking steps to reduce energy use. When it ended in 2009, the programme had yielded energy savings of about 1.45 TWh per year at a value of about SEK 500 million (EUR 57.6 million, USD 76.9 million). It has now been re-introduced. This time, the programme will involve around 90 industries that together account for a fifth of the country’s total electricity consumption.

Energy-efficient households

Since 1 January 2008, a new law on energy declarations has been in force in Sweden. A declaration, used in conjunction with a sale, for example, is designed to show clearly how much energy a building consumes in comparison with others. Based on an EU directive and applying to all owners of private homes, blocks of flats and other premises, the declaration scheme aims to promote more efficient energy use.

The Government is investing heavily in information and advice for households on how to save energy. Each municipality – there are 290 in Sweden – has an energy adviser to whom people can turn for help and guidance. Advice is available on topics such as replacing windows, using low-energy lights and switching to different heating systems.

Swedish companies investing in energy conservation

A growing number of Swedish businesses are investing in renewable energy. One example is the Wallenstam property company, which, besides dealing in real estate and renting out flats, owns 41 hydroelectric and wind power plants around Sweden. Wallenstam produces green electricity that it uses in its own operations and also offers to tenants and other customers. The company’s goal is to become fully self-sufficient in renewable energy in the course of 2013, meeting both its own and its customers’ monthly needs in the process. Several other Swedish property companies are now following in Wallenstam’s footsteps.

Other sectors are also putting greater emphasis on green energy and energy conservation. IKEA, for instance, adopted a new sustainability strategy in 2012. Its aim is not just to conserve more energy itself but also to help customers make sustainable choices. IKEA’s goal is to become totally self-sufficient by 2020 wherever it operates around the world. In Sweden, it has already achieved a 98 per cent green energy rating through investments in wind power, geo-energy and renewable district heating.

Large share of renewable energy

Based on a 2009 EU directive to promote the development of renewable energy sources, Sweden aims to increase renewable energy to 50 per cent of national supply by 2020. The present figure is 48 per cent, largely thanks to the large proportion of hydropower and biofuels in the energy system.

The 48 per cent figure for renewable energy – including electricity, district heating and fuel – is higher than that in most EU countries.

Green electricity certification was introduced in 2003 to promote renewable energy. To qualify, electricity must come from wind, solar, geothermal or wave power, biofuels or small-scale hydroelectric plants. Electricity retailers are required to buy a proportion of “green electricity” as part of their normal supply, while power producers receive certification for the renewable electricity they generate. The goal is to boost renewable generation by 25 TWh from 2002 to 2020.

At present, Sweden is slightly more than halfway to this target, due chiefly to the increased use of biofuels and a steadily expanding wind-power programme.

Fast-growing energy source

Wind power has been the fastest-growing source of renewable energy around the world in recent years, and capacity is also gradually expanding in Sweden. Since 2000, Swedish production has increased from 0.5 to 7.1 TWh. In early 2011, there were around 2,000 wind turbines in Sweden. However, the combination of wind power’s rising market share with its fluctuating production levels places heavy demands on the electricity supply grid, which must be strengthened and expanded.

Swedish companies are increasingly including energy efficiency as an integral part of their business planning and activities.

Photo: Wallenstam

Alternative fuels

Sweden puts considerable effort into developing renewable, alternative fuels. Ethanol research began in the 1980s, and Sweden is among the world leaders.

Most of the ethanol sold today is produced from grain. Swedish researchers are pursuing the production of ethanol from cellulose, what is called a second-generation biofuel. In most cases, this is more effective than grain-based production, and this type of ethanol does not affect food crops. Other biofuels of interest include biogas extracted from manure and waste.

Cleaner transportation

European Union targets call for 10 per cent of all transport fuel to be derived from renewable sources by 2020. Sweden’s own policy goal is a totally fossil-free vehicle fleet by 2030, but progress so far has been slow – by 2012, Sweden had reached 9.8 per cent, thanks partly to increased use of ethanol. To speed up developments, a “pump law” was introduced in 2006 under which all petrol stations selling more than 3,000 cubic metres (about 100,000 cubic feet) of petrol or diesel per year are required to provide at least one kind of renewable fuel. Three years after the introduction of the pump law, a government report found that while it had helped boost the supply and provision of renewable fuels, it had also imposed an economic strain on the owners of petrol stations, who were obliged to pay the investment costs, and sales had been relatively slow.

Rechargeable cars

Hybrid cars – vehicles that use electrical (battery) power and fuel – are on the rise. The combination of electricity and biofuels seems promising. The next step is plug-in hybrids – cars with larger batteries charged from the power grid. Most carmakers are currently planning to produce both kinds of vehicles. Battery production plants are now being established to cope with anticipated demand. It is still hard, however, to assess the extent to which electrical cars and rechargeable hybrids will reach mainstream production, and this market is not expected to outstrip the one for ordinary cars for many years.

Non-fossil fuels are gradually becoming more popular.

Photo: Björn Larsson Ask/Scanpix

No more energy-wasting products

It started with light bulbs. Following a three-year phase-out, conventional light bulbs may neither be imported into nor manufactured in Sweden, and have been replaced by low-energy bulbs, halogen lights and LEDs.

Today, more and more products that waste energy are being phased out through the EU Renewables Directive.

As a result of minimum standards being set for various technical products, there is great potential for reducing energy consumption – and climate-changing emissions – across Europe. Among the products that have been made subject to stricter energy requirements – along with light bulbs – are televisions, digital TV boxes, white goods, circulation pumps and electric motors.

The EU’s Ecodesign Directive applies to sales of new products throughout the EU. The minimum requirements imposed on product groups will lead to major reductions in energy consumption. The ecodesign requirements, together with the energy labelling of products, are expected to save about 1,110 TWh within the EU by 2020 – the equivalent of almost twice Sweden’s annual energy consumption.

Useful links

Elforsk – a research and development centre for the Swedish energy industry
The Swedish Energy Agency - responsible for Sweden’s energy policy
The Swedish Energy Markets Inspectorate
Energy.eu - Europe’s energy portal
The International Energy Agency
ManagEnergy - European Commission initiative aimed at local and regional energy management agencies
The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency
Swedish Energy - non-profit organisation representing companies involved in the production, distribution and trading of electricity in Sweden
The Swedish Research Council

Last updated: 25 March 2014