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.
Miguel G says
…’about 85 percent of electricity in Sweden comes from nuclear power and hydroelectric power, neither of which generates carbon emissions..’
Both nuclear & hydropower are not options in Southern California. Wind and solar farms (the sun does not shine at night) will require wheeling electricity from distant locations. Are you ready to transfer of electrical power through transmission and distribution lines from one utility’s service area to another?
John Lawrence says
“Wind and solar farms (the sun does not shine at night) will require wheeling electricity from distant locations. Are you ready to transfer of electrical power through transmission and distribution lines from one utility’s service area to another?”
You are wrong about this. There is plenty of rooftop real estate in San Diego which could be producing solar energy if there was an incentive to do it like the German feed-in tariffs. The problem is that there is a disincentive because SDGE will not allow people to sell energy back onto the grid. The result is that the rooftops are underutilized because you can only generate enough for your own needs. Any more is wasted or given to SDGE for free. I’m not exactly sure which situation pertains.
Miguel G says
If every roof in San Diego were fitted with photovoltaic panels and the excess generation fed back into the grid, the supply would not meet the demand especially at night and on cloudy days. Electricity generation needs to be relatively fixed even though the demand for electricity fluctuates throughout the day and night. Absent generation plants within the service territory and/or wheeling electricity from outside the territory; how do you proposed to manage the amount of power generation needed to supply customers at times during peak load? Don’t forget to forecast the growing number of electric plug-in vehicles that will be charging at night.
Since you’ve mentioned German feed-in tariffs; are you also aware that Germany’s high subsidies for renewables has also resulted in some of Europe’s highest electricity prices? About half of an average German consumer’s bill now goes to taxes and subsidies for renewables rather than the actual price of electricity quoted at the European Energy Exchange
In Germany they are going to have to build a new network of transmission lines that will send electricity generated by wind farms in the north of the country, and offshore in the North and Baltic Seas, to the manufacturing belt in the south. Currently there is a bill to determine the outlines of this new power highway making its way through the German Bundestag. These new lines must cross the boundaries of Germany’s 16 states, as part of one integrated system.
On the surface it appears that wind and solar are easy solutions to electric generation. In reality the bottlenecks are the storage of renewable energy and its transport.
K. Mapson says
Actually the Israelis are making pretty amazing strides in developing more and more productive solar cells, and even solar paints.
Miguel G says
Yes, but we cannot always rely on technology for making strides in power generation. Twenty years ago cold fusion (nuclear reaction that would occur at, or near, room temperatures ) claims about power generation raised hopes of a cheap and abundant source of energy. Those claims are now considered dead.
We have to look at current technology and make decisions now on how much power can be generated from alternative power. Right now a square meter (10.8 square feet) of land devoted to wind power generates just two watts of power. For solar power, the equivalent area generates 20W. Nuclear power generates about 1,000W a square meters. With San Onofre being decommissioned, it will take huge amounts of real estate to generate equivalent amounts of power generation from wind and solar.
Frank Thomas says
Yes, Sweden’s 35% renewables today comprises primarily +-94% biomass, waste and hydro; and +-6% wind. Sweden has barely touched solar which remains another attractive course for supplementally going green and perhaps reducing nuclear power over long term … especially given the rapidly plummeting cost of solar. Also, Sweden is implementing an aggressive program of energy effficiency and reduction of energy waste — including eliminating fossil fuels for heating and becoming free of fossil fuels for transportation.
Germany and Denmark are forcused primarily on their own unique energy mix of solar, wind and biomass with Denmark having little nuclear and both countries having littel hydro. As is well-known, Germany is gradually closing down its nuclear power plants. Despite this, these two countries are now providing 25% of their electrical energy from renewables! They are thus on target towards achieving an 80% sustainable energy situation (with little hydro and no nuclear) by 2050.
Where there’s the will and solid leadership to get behind a “bottom-up” GHG-free energy transformation, anything is possible. Sweden, Germany, Denmark are showing just that in different ways … as is Los Angeles. For example, even considering only solar energy without storage, Los Angeles’ ability to provide up to 100% of its peak energy demand from locally deployed PV on most days is a significant contribution to reducing the need for fossil fuel or nuclear generated electricity.
A report by the “Institute for Local Self-Reliance” concludes that at least three-fifths of our 50 states could meet all their internal electricity needs from renewable energy generated inside their borders.
But do we have the will? George Kennan’s words in 1951 ring true today: ” A nation that excuses its own failures by the sacred untouchableness of its own habits can excuse itself into complete disaster.”
Facts about the real cost of solar:
Given China’s environmental record, and the still not considered cost of e-waste into landfills… it may be the worst of all of them. Hey, sounds great, the sun shines. free power! Maybe not.
At every turn, every alternative, has a cost. Sometimes worse.
This just in: 5.8 earthquake struck the Fukushima power plant.
Wes Demarest says
Thanks for the report John. At long last the Greenies are starting to get through to the politicians and public that seems so addicted to petroleum products. Perhaps now we can get rid of the oppressive Rare and Endangered Species Act that so inhibits social advancement. Such absurdities as protecting Snail Darters, Spotted Owls, Eagles and the like were created to merely stop development. Now we can let nature takes its course and either wildlife can survive or go the way of the Dodo (by the way I don’t see any demonstrations lamenting their loss). The reports of bird fatalities at wind farms seem to be growing as they pop on just about every ridge top that Warren Buffet can tie up, and these reports only highlight eagle deaths, nothing of song birds.
We can also get rid of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and build the Tocks Island Dam here in NJ, PA, & NY, and I bet there are other plans for such places across the country that have been shelved as well such as the Columbia River project. There will be fish living in them anyway. The worth of such projects is more than proven, just look at TVA. Where else would Alcoa and the Atomic Energy Commission have gotten the energy needed to win WW2?
Just think, no more disputes over fraking and the lies being told about that mess, plus it is probably better that we slow the wind speed and shade thousands of acres of unused land. What difference can that have on the environment. Damn the stupid regulations, we need more bird thrashers, solar deflectors, and hydro damns if we are ever going to save the earth. Oh yeah, I forgot nuclear – the cleanest production of all.
Wonder if there are any Dodo rallies?
John Lawrence says
Well you got it partly right, Wes. We do need more dams like Tocks Island to catch all the prodigious amounts of rainfall that are falling because of global warming in order to prevent flooding and as an additional water source to make up for the groundwater we’re rapidly depleting and the snowpacks that are rapidly dwindling. It doesn’t make sense to let all that water go to waste and to cause massive amounts of damage.
Thanks for your comment.
bob dorn says
Why is petroleum a religion with you people?
Okay, you get off on Bayfair and the power. You love them big cars with powerful surges that you use sparingly. It’s all about NOW, right? Making sure you have a good time while the getting is good.
You ought to try working out and building some personal muscle, instead of draining the oil lake underneath us.
Let’s get this straight: The solution/model we should follow involves not burning something thousands of feet underground that isn’t doing anything good for anyone down there… and instead building insanely dangerous nuclear power plants which when things go wrong make whole regions uninhabitable for a thousand years… or using land used now to grow crops that’s barely enough to feed the existing populations, to grow biomass fuels instead…. or building dams which cause massive methane releases for decades when the organic material that dies when flooded, decomposes.
And all along the way we should jack up taxes so our honest political leaders can have more public revenues to wisely use for our benefit and not their own greed and avarice. Sounds great!
John Anderson says
John & Frank – thanks for a good read. Especially things like rooftop solar which does not affect untouched lands or kill wildlife should be strongly encouraged and incentivized. Storage and distributing power from many small sources remain issues but will continue to improve.
K. Mapson says
I saw a program just a few days ago which shows how, after only a few generations, migratory birds have adapted to the presence of wind turbines and so are no longer in danger from them.