Sweden set to get 82% of its energy from non fossil based fuels by 2020.
By John Lawrence and Frank Thomas
Why is it that other countries can convert from fossil based energy which is destroying the atmosphere and producing global warming to renewables in a relatively short time while the US is lagging way behind? One reason is the lobbying activities of the gas and electric companies to deter individually based solar and wind systems that would detract from the profits generated by their centrally based energy producing systems. Here in San Diego, San Diego Gas and Electric (SDGE) lobbies against any law that would make it profitable for individual homeowners to expand their solar systems and sell their energy back into the grid. SDGE wants the role of selling energy entirely to themselves. And besides they want their ratepayers, not their shareholders, to pay for the decommissioning of the San Onofre nuclear plant.
However, Sweden has done things differently. An article by James Burgess highlights some unique reasons why Sweden has gone from a 75% dependency of fossil fuels in the mid-70s to 35% today. One key factor is that Sweden introduced this culture-changing transition over 22 years ago, as did Germany and Denmark. The incentive came in 1991 when Sweden seriously began taxing carbon to move consumers away from fossil fuels.
In the mid 70s, Sweden got 75% of its energy from fossil based fuels. Their goal is to get only 18% from fossil fuels by 2020. That means that 82% of their energy will be from renewables and nuclear by 2020. This represents enormous progress compared to the meager progress of the US in converting to non fossil based fuels. In the US less than 20% of energy production was from renewables and nuclear in 2010.
Not only Sweden but Germany and Denmark as well are making huge progress towards converting away from polluting carbon based energy production. As the following table shows, Sweden produces 65% of its energy right now from non fossil based fuels:
Table 1: Sweden’s % Mix of Total Primary Energy Supply — 2010
Sub-Total Fossil Fuels………35%…vs. Goal 2020 of 18%
Source: International Energy Agency — 2012 Report of Sweden’s Energy Outlook
One of the key elements in Sweden’s policy is a carbon tax. In 1991, or 22 years ago, they decided to heavily tax carbon in order to encourage consumers to get away from fossil fuels. The carbon tax system has changed a bit over the years, increasing from $133 per ton to $150 per ton. This forced consumers to pay more but it has been essential to help persuade people to pursue clean energy sources. Then in the 60s, 70s and thereafter, aggressive investments were made in nuclear and especially biomass and hydropower. This early and proactive action to go green (like Denmark and Germany have done) with their own unique mix of sustainable renewables has resulted in dramatic success.
How does Sweden “get ‘er done”? This is from Economonitor:
Firstly, thanks to extensive investment beginning in the 50s and 60s, Sweden now generates most of its electricity from hydroelectric and nuclear power plants. And with the recent rise in wind turbine installations, the country now gets over 47% of all consumed energy from renewable sources.
Oil now only accounts for 27% of Sweden’s energy supply, and is constantly falling due to the increased popularity of biofuels. Natural Gas contributes just three percent, and coal is only really used for industrial purposes and is almost unused as a source of electricity generation. The IEA states that “Sweden has the lowest share of fossil fuels in the energy supply mix among IEA member countries.”
This makes US progress to date to a sustainable energy future (with a few exceptions, e.g., California, Vermont) look like the incredible FARCE it truly is! We are nowhere close to Sweden’s (nor Germany or Denmark’s) sustainable energy transition to zero-and-low-carbon emitting modern energy systems by 2050 nor the strategic clarity of how to get there. Despite the fast move to low-carbon shale gas, the U.S. clearly appears on a path dominated by fossil fuels for decades.
And as we noted in a prior writing, China especially and India are on a world-leading disaster course as far as CO2/Ch4 atmospheric pollution goes. And this in turn has a huge positive feedback on the increasing rate of Arctic permafrost and deep sea ice meltdowns … potentially releasing earth-threatening massive amounts of CO2 and highly toxic CH4 into the atmosphere.
Elsewhere, Germany has made huge progress in converting to solar based energy production. Their secret is to encourage individual homeowners and farmers to install solar capacity at their places of residence and business. They do this by making it legal for individuals to sell solar produced energy back into the grid and make a profit on their investment unlike here in the US in general and San Diego in particular where SDGE and other energy producing companies have lobbied against the selling of energy back into the grid. Germany does this by means of a feed-in tariff which pays individuals for their energy production. As a result solar farms have sprouted all over Germany.
Since 2000 Germany has converted 25 percent of its power grid to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass. The architects of the clean energy movement Energiewende, which translates to “energy transformation,” estimate that from 80 percent to 100 percent of Germany’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2050.
Likewise, Denmark is on a mission to remove carbon-polluting fossil fuels entirely by 2050. In March of 2012, Frank wrote:
Remarkably, Denmark already produces 20% of its total energy needs from renewables versus 8% for the U.S. today. Denmark will increase this percentage to 33% by 2020, meeting the EU 2020 target of 30% comprising wind, biomass, biogas, biofuels, solar. The above range of gross energy consumption mixes in 2050 under different energy scenarios are calculated to meet expected energy demand in 2050 of 600-700 petajoule (PL) per year.
The Danish are not waiting to learn that fossil fuels are a finite global resource. Protecting future energy security and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are driving Denmark’s transition to a new energy strategy, NOW. The country’s planning for fossil fuel independence is thorough, covering all contingencies – a far cry from our seemingly “business as usual” market approach to energy supply security, environment, and financing policy initiatives. Danish clean energy investments will be offset by lower fossil fuel expenditures and CO2 reductions and a proposed security of supply tax. Denmark’s Commission on Climate Change Policy sums up the gradual increased pressure on public budgets as the result of tax revenues lost by reduced use of fossil fuels as follows:
“The government’s objective is to be independent of fossil fuels. This has the effect, that fossil fuels that are highly taxed will be replaced by other, more environmentally friendly types of energy taxed at a lower rate and in some cases tax exempt. In order to offset this detrimental effect on tax revenues, other energy taxes may be increased, provided the overall tax burden is not increased.”
In summary, while more progressive nations like Sweden, Germany and Denmark have adopted aggressive policies to get their countries off of dependence on fossil fuels and onto renewables, the US has left energy policy largely to be controlled by the oil and gas industries and their lobbyists at the state and Federal level. That is why here in San Diego consumers can look forward not to being able to solarize their houses and businesses and to selling energy back into the grid but to continuing rate increases as SDGE lobbies the California Public Energy Commission (PUC). They want to be the sole providers of energy for San Diego and in collusion with the heavily lobbied PUC the sole determinant of what energy consumers will pay.