Energy use in Sweden is largely based on renewable energy. Thanks to cutting-edge technology and a wealth of natural assets, Sweden is in the front line as the world embarks on a shift to more sustainable energy systems.
Power for a sustainable future
Sweden has invested heavily in the search for alternative energy sources ever since the oil crisis of the early 1970s. In 1970, oil accounted for more than 75 per cent of Swedish energy supplies; today, the figure is around 20 per cent, chiefly due to the declining use of oil for residential heating.
Few countries consume more energy per capita than Sweden, yet Swedish carbon emissions are low compared with those of other countries. According to the latest statistics from the International Energy Agency (IEA), the average Swede releases 4.25 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO₂) per year into the atmosphere, compared with the EU average of 6.91 tonnes and the US average of 16.15 tonnes. Sweden has found a way to reduce emissions while the economy is growing.
The reason for this low emission rate is that 83 per cent of electricity production in Sweden comes from nuclear and hydroelectric power. Cogeneration from combined heat and power (CHP) plants accounts for 10 per cent of the electricity output in Sweden, and these are mainly powered by biofuels. About 7 per cent of the electricity comes from wind power.
Unclear future for nuclear power
Sweden currently has three nuclear plants with ten nuclear reactors in commercial operation, making it the only country in the world that has more than one reactor per million inhabitants. But nuclear power remains a topic which divides political parties in Sweden.
In 2010, the Riksdag (parliament) decided to allow new nuclear power plants to be built only to replace decommissioned ones, and only on the same sites as the existing power stations.
In 2015, however, all new construction plans were stopped and the nuclear energy tax was raised significantly to help transfer investment into renewable energy production. Shortly after the announcement, the government-owned power company Vattenfall decided to move forward the planned closure of two reactors from ten years to within three to five years.
World-class power market
Since its deregulation, the Swedish power market has become a shining example by international standards, according to the IEA. 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 200 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 53.9 million, USD 59.4 million).
This programme has been re-introduced; this time, the programme involves around 90 industries that together account for a fifth of the country’s total electricity consumption.
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 invests 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.
Companies investing in green energy
A growing number of Swedish businesses are investing in renewable energy. One example is the Wallenstam property company, which decided in 2006 to invest in green electricity – both for its own operations and also for tenants and other customers. In 2013, Wallenstam became the first property company in Sweden to be fully self-sufficient in renewable energy.
The energy production portion of Wallenstam became a subsidiary that by 2015 operates 66 wind and three hydroelectric power plants. 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, the Swedish multinational furniture retailer, adopted a new sustainability strategy in 2012. Its aim is not just to conserve more energy and invest in renewable power such as wind farms, but also to help customers make sustainable choices, such as in their choice of light bulbs or by taking a free IKEA bus to and from the store rather than using a car.
In 2014, IKEA’s renewable energy production represented 42 per cent of its total energy use. That year, IKEA also had a 58 per cent increase in sustainable product sales compared with 2013. IKEA aims for renewable self-sufficiency by 2020, wherever it operates around the world.
Large share of renewable energy
Sweden managed to reach its goal of a 50 per cent renewable energy share several years ahead of the Swedish government’s 2020 schedule, in 2012. The most recent figure of 52 per cent for renewable energy – including electricity, district heating and fuel – is the highest in the EU.
Sweden introduced green electricity certification 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 expanding in Sweden. Since 2000, Swedish production has increased from 0.5 to 11.5 Twh. Today, there are around 3,100 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.
Sweden puts considerable effort into developing renewable, alternative fuels. Ethanol research began in the 1980s, and Sweden is among the world leaders in this field.
Most of the ethanol sold today is produced from grain. Swedish researchers are pursuing the production of ethanol from cellulose, which is called a second-generation biofuel, since it is more effective than grain-based production and does not affect food crops.
For 2011–2015, the government allocated SEK 130 million for ethanol R&D.
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 2014, Sweden had reached 12 per cent, thanks partly to increased use of ethanol. There have been several government initiatives to speed up the transition, including a law that requires larger pump stations to provide at least one alternative fuel, and tax exemptions for vehicles that emit low or no levels of CO₂.
Electric and hybrid cars – vehicles that use electrical power and/or fuel – are on the rise. Though still accounting for less than 1 per cent of all vehicles in use, in 2015 there were 12,000 rechargeable vehicles in Sweden: 42 per cent electric and 58 per cent electric (plug-in) hybrids.
The combination of electricity and biofuels looks promising, with new solutions and price reductions opening the way to a wider market share.
- 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