Superb Sweden: How they’ve achieved 52% renewable power

Sweden is following in the footsteps of many countries in mainland Europe with its progressive approach to renewable energy.

In Sweden, 52% of energy comes from renewable sources. This is a result of both a progressive political structure and the country’s access to natural resources: hydropower makes up an estimated 95% of this figure, with wind and biofuels also playing a role.

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The embracing of renewable energy technologies is a particularly strong trend across the Nordic countries; Denmark and Norway, in particular, have demonstrated that wind and hydropower can play leading roles in the future, post-fossil energy system.

Sweden is aiming for 100% renewable energy by 2040, and as the country looks to reach that figure over the course of the next 20 years, there is a two-pronged approach underway.

Pick-up of hydropower, nuclear and wind

First and foremost is the uptake of renewable energy. Despite having an energy industry which was historically predominately based on oil – as much as 75% of energy in 1970 was derived from oil – Sweden has turned around its electricity system to run primarily on renewable sources.

There are two reasons for this. The first is the variability in the generation of hydropower; the second is Sweden’s stance on nuclear energy, which has traditionally been the main source of energy for the country.

While hydropower plays a huge role, as it does in Norway, the overall output is dependent on rainfall throughout the year. This means that there is variance in output levels, and so it can’t always be relied on to provide a consistent source of energy – this is not good for grid stability.

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Meanwhile, the country’s position on nuclear energy has experienced much political uncertainty – however, it contributes significantly to the national energy mix in Sweden, with around a 40% share. Until recently, a specific tax on nuclear power made the source prohibitively expensive, and so it was being phased out in favour of cheaper sources of energy. A recent turn, however, has seen this tax abolished, with plans to phase out the capacity tax by 2019 thanks to shifts in perception of the power source. Currently, over two-thirds of the public in Sweden have been polled as supporting nuclear power, but these recent challenges have driven much focus to other sources.

As such, the country is turning to other sources to supplement generation. Wind energy is currently being seen as the solution to the problem; since 2010, it has been the fastest growing renewable technology in the country.

From 2010 to 2015, wind energy grew year-on-year, contributing a greater share to the national energy mix. From 2010 to 2015, the figure rose from 2% to 10%. According to 2016 figures, Sweden has around 6GW of installed wind energy capacity; this is projected to increase to 8GW by 2020.

Powering of transport network with biofuels

With the renewable movement of the energy network well underway, the Swedish government is also determined to begin the decarbonisation of the country’s transport network by ramping up research and development around new biofuels.

In Stockholm, this is already underway. Each month, 993,000kg of food waste is collected and converted into biofuel which is used to power the city’s buses and taxis.

In fact, Sweden is noted as having the most biofuels in the whole of Europe. The “Pump Act” came into force in 2005, which required filling stations with a certain amount of petrol and diesel to also provide a renewable fuel option. This increased use of biofuel has been cited as one of the main reasons why Sweden has managed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25% between 1990 and 2014.

 

By taking a twofold approach reducing emissions from transport as well as turning to renewable energy technologies, Sweden is demonstrating its commitment to reducing its environmental impact.