climate change energy peak oil politics sustainability transition towns

Sweden – the world’s first oil-free country

In the course of some research today, I came across the fact that Sweden has declared its intention to go completely oil-free by 2020. That’s pretty impressive, so I read the report of their Commisson on Oil Independence to see how they plan to do it.

They have a number of reasons for doing it, to reduce Sweden’s contribution to climate change and secure a long term energy supply, but also to ‘strengthen international economic competitiveness’. That should be worth noting to those who claim that preparing for climate change and peak oil will devastate the economy.

Five basic strategies will guide the transition:

  1. Energy efficiency – the whole society will need to make efficiencies of 1.5% a year until 2020, a 20% improvement overall.
  2. Invest in ‘forest fuels’ – Sweden has wood, lots of it, and by 2020 all heating in residential and commercial buildings should be wood-fired. Research is also underway to find ways of creating biofuels from wood. Any unused agricultural land will be planted with trees to increase the wood supply.
  3. Sustainable electricity – a series of efficiency measures will reduce the need for electricity, and more will be generated domestically. Wind power is one avenue for investment, and a smarter distribution network will route electricity more effectively to where it is needed.
  4. Reduce external dependency – Sweden uses natural gas from Norway and Denmark, with a pipeline from Russia also planned. The commission recommended scrapping those plans, so that there would greater incentives to develop the aforementioned forest fuels.
  5. Work with the EU to tighten controls – this is a political one. Aas a member of the EU, Sweden is subject to its guidelines on emissions trading. Since Sweden is considerably more ambitious than the EU, it could find its plans undermined, and therefore aims to raise the bar on EU targets.

Within those five overarching strategies are a whole host of more detailed proposals. On buildings for example, regulations will be tightened so that all new houses will be built without an external heating system, with heat exchange systems, ‘clever windows’, and airtight ‘climate shell’ construction instead. Old buildings will be renovated, starting with government buildings as an example. Leading the way is Stockholm Central Station, pictured on the left, which uses the body heat of travellers for its heating.

The biggest challenge will be transport. Public transport will be improved and encouraged by convenient, universal payment mechanisms. A scheme has been proposed where employers would provide staff with free public transport, and investment in IT for home working will reduce the number of commutes. An improved rail network, with the Stockholm bottleneck removed, will reduce longer journeys and internal air travel.

Many people will still want private cars, and a range of measures will combine to make private motoring sustainable. Car tax will be based on carbon emissions, creating an obvious incentive to choose an efficient car, and hybrids, electric cars and diesels will also get tax breaks. Eco-driving has been added to the driving school curriculum. Car-sharing will be encouraged, and load-sharing in the transport industry will mean fewer empty or half-full lorries on the roads.

Overall, transport will be more efficient, reducing the overall load. This will make it easier for biofuels and electric vehicles to gain an advantage, so that oil can be gradually phased out.

There’s a lot more I could say, but you can read the report yourself if you’re interested. It’s an inspiring document, and proof that turning a whole country around is not a political impossibility.

Last time I checked, the UK government didn’t even recognise the idea of peak oil. They should take a look at the Swedish model.

Read more….

9 comments

  1. How is having a whole country burning wood for heat going to be good for the environment with all the particulate matter that’s going to be spewed out of every chimney?

  2. Stockholm Central Station doesn’t use the body heat heat of travellers for its heating. The article states:

    It is the heat generated from these visitors that the state owned company, Jernhuset, wants to use for heating the new complex which will include an office building, a hotel and a retail section. How does it work? quite simply, the heat generated will warm up water running through pipes which will be installed in the station. The water will be pumped to the new building and used to heat the spaces inside.

    It will be interesting to see if that works out. At least they’re making plans to do something.

  3. “Chris Says: March 2, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    How is having a whole country burning wood for heat going to be good for the environment with all the particulate matter that’s going to be spewed out of every chimney?”

    In terms of the wood, yes there is a particulate concern but that can be mitigated by efficient filtration in the heating systems. They are not talking about fireplaces; they are talking about wood or wood-oil fuel for furnaces. Since most of them would be new (replacing the older ones) the filtration media would surely be really efficient. Again, they would have to make policies to encourage this sort of thing.

    The big benefit comes from CO2. You are emitting CO2 that was taken in by the tree, and theoretically will be absorbed by its replacement tree (I assume they want a sustainable cycle). So you are not adding CO2 into the system that was not already there (like we do when we burn petroleum-based fuels).

  4. Yes, fossil fuels are CO2 intensive because they are so concentrated. It’s been estimated that each gallon of oil represents an incredible 89,000kg of ancient plants*, distilled over millions of years. Burning wood just burns the one tree, and releases the carbon that it absorbed over its lifetime, making it carbon neutral. It’s not quite that simple, but it’s certainly better than oil, provided forests are managed sustainably.

    *(those calculations here:
    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2003-10/uou-bm9102603.php)

  5. transport will be more efficient, reducing the overall load. This will make it easier for biofuels and electric vehicles to gain an advantage, so that oil can be gradually phased out.

  6. Newer wood stoves should be fairly clean burning. The big challenge will be aviation; there is really no good replacement for fossil fuels there, especially internationally.

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