Mona Sahlin misses again

Mona Sahlin, Minister for Sustainable Development, has announced an initiative to reduce our dependency on imported oil. Target year is 2020 when we’re supposed to have a society where these is always a better alternative to oil for heating and transportation as well as our industry. 

Some will dismiss this as politics as usual. So it is, of course. Any seemingly courageous initiative less than twelve months before an election which just happens to coincide with the current debate (in this case about petroleum prices) should be met with a bit of caution. This is particularly true for a ministry which has specialized in words rather than action and for a government which is pressed by lousy poll figures.

Nevertheless, Sahlin’s initiative is bold and mostly constructive. Sustainable development is a necessity and a question far more important than the never-ending whining about the price of petrol.

Unfortunately, the ministry hasn’t been able to come up with a consistent policy. Specifically, any attempt to reduce oil dependency and CO2 emissions should embrace nuclear power rather than dismantling it. Sahlin knows this and therefore she doesn’t mention nuclear power at all in her lengthy article. Sweden has deliberately given up a position of world leader in this field. In the wake of Kyoto there are immense possibilities for those able and willing to export civilian nuclear technology.

At the end of the day, sustainable development – like many other areas – requires a new and different government. Let us replace Sahlin, embrace nuclear power and go forward with the goal of eliminating oil dependency by 2020.


Dave Erickson said...

Why do you believe that nuclear power is a necessary part of this initiative? See my posts on nuclear power here:


stromsjo said...

Hi Dave. I think we need to utilize several energy sources while trying to improve efficiency. As far as I can see the only feasible alternative to nuclear power today is an increased dependency on fossil fuels. And that choice is really a no-brainer, don't you agree?

Dave Erickson said...

Hi Per. I don't believe any of these choices are "no-brainers"! This is a complex problem. But thanks for the opportunity to discuss. I agree with you that it is necessary to use a variety of energy sources, along with improving efficiency. Where I disagree is on the "necessity" for nuclear. From my research, I draw the conclusion that if you add up the total power from "negawatts" (efficiency improvements), both large-scale and distributed wind, active (PV and thermal) solar and passive solar and biopower from waste(anaerobic digestion and pyrolysis), you can comfortably provide all the electricity and natural gas/other fossil requirements. And, these methods are as, or more, cost-effective than nuclear or clean coal. So, in a strict sense, nuclear is not "necessary". Neither is "clean coal" with carbon capture and sequestration. I notice that the Swedish plan involves increasing the amount of district heating, which is often overlooked in America. We do need to remember, however, that in America, at least, electric power generation accounts for about 33% of the total GHG emissions. Transportation accounts for 26%, and is a much larger problem, particularly in the US. Our culture is so dependent on the individual, gasoline-powered automobile, and our mass transit systems are so poor that we have much farther to go than Sweden in this regard.

stromsjo said...

Hi Dave. I appreciate your comments.

District heating is a mixed blessing. When a city stops functioning, no matter why, the consumers are literally left in the cold. Otherwise it’s probably efficient and environmentally friendly.

I agree about transportation being a major issue.

We had a disastrous referendum in Sweden where we (well, a majority of “us” anyhow) decided to phase out nuclear power and make room for all sorts of alternatives which were supposed to pop up given the proper incentives. 26 years later, having spent billions of crowns in various subsidies we’re still at square one. Energy consumption is increasing. The alternatives, however nice, haven’t gained much ground. Oil, coal or nuclear remain our current options.

Dave Erickson said...

Hi Per. Interesting comments. I wish I knew more about what has happened in Sweden over the past 26 years that has been a failure. I think we can learn much in the US from the experience of Sweden. What do you think were the mistakes?

I pulled this off the sweden.se website:

"Sweden's supply of renewable energy has nearly doubled in the past three decades. Despite rapid growth, there is sizeable potential for additional renewable energy use. This applies especially to biofuels and wind power, but solar energy also has future potential in various applications."

From WRI, the CO2 emissions per capita in Sweden have gone from 11.83 tonnes in 1970 to 5.51 tonnes in 2000. Compared to the US which has remained constant at over 20 tonnes per capita. So Sweden has achieved a 53% reduction in CO2 emissions per capita in the last 30 years without nuclear power. In addition, as of 2000, Sweden's CO2 emissions per capita were a quarter of the US emissions per capita.

Over the same period, Sweden has reduced its emissions per GDP from 613.8 tonnes/mil USD to 175.4 tonnes/mil USD, a 71% improvement in efficiency. In the US, emissions per GDP have been reduced from 1,234.6 tonnes/mil USD to 641.2 tonnes/mil USD, a 48% improvement in efficiency. Today, Sweden is almost 4 times more efficient in emissions per GDP than the US.

The US has had no commitment to increasing renewables or decreasing GHG emissions at the Federal level over this time, where Sweden, it seems, has made significant investments.

So it seems, at least compared to the US, Sweden has made significant progress in the past 30 years in decreasing reliance on oil and decreasing CO2 emissions both in intensity and per capita. So it would appear that you did get something for your "billions of crowns".

Dave Erickson said...

I did some further research on nuclear power in Sweden, and the phase out that was voted in in 1980. All Sweden's nuclear plants were built between 1972 and 1985, with one plant being closed in 1999 and one closed in 2005. Sweden currently has 10 nuclear plants, which generate 51% of the electricity used by Sweden. I presume that at the time of the referendum, the 6 plants finished in the 1980's were already under construction. Up until 1960, most of the power used in Sweden was generated by hydro. Today 36% to up to almost 49% is generated by hydro. It appears that electricity from fully renewable sources (wind, solar, bio) is still a small fraction (less than 1%). Shortfalls are made up from imports, which are primarily coal and nuclear.
I would say that since the growing electric need during the '70s and '80s was supplied mostly by hydro and nuclear, that explains why the CO2 emissions per capita and per GDP are so low, compared to the US.

However, the renewable energy policy did not really kick in in Sweden until 1997. Is this true, Per? At this time, it appears that significant subsidies for research and development, on the one hand, and replacement of the production lost by the closure of the Barseback plant on the other, were put into place. I guess I am curious how things are going with replacing the Barseback plant with renewables?

stromsjo said...

>However, the renewable energy
>policy did not really kick in in
>Sweden until 1997. Is this true,

The only effective energy policy in Sweden is the decision to stop building nuclear power plants and the law which prohibits research (!) in this area. Thanks to this policy we're nowadays dependent on importing electric power. Weather and pure luck will decide if we'll make it through another winter without rationing.

As far as I can see there are a lot of words and very little action regarding renewables.

>I guess I am curious how things
>are going with replacing the
>Barseback plant with renewables?

Barseback is being replaced with other nuclear power. The government decided a few months ago to allow an increased output from the remaining nuclear plants to compensate for the loss of Barseback. So, in terms of power output, I guess the phase-out hasn't even begun in Sweden. That's how far we've come in 36 years.

Dave Erickson said...

Why do you think renewables haven't come on line at a faster rate? Do you think building new nuclear plants will provide the electricity that Sweden needs in a more timely way?

stromsjo said...

Hi Dave, I appreciate your comments in this matter.

Just to correct my latest post, it's been 26 years since the referendum - not 36.

The renewables are enjoying a lot of governmental support and still haven't gained much ground in the marketplace. My conclusion is that we'll have to pursue further research to make them competitive.

For this generation I'd recommend building another 4-6 nuclear reactors, bearing in mind that this would take a decade even if we had the political majority for such a decision in place today.

Since we keep reelecting red-green governments we can look forward to an increased energy shortage, possibly rationing, an increased dependency on power importing and most likely a reduced growth due to ever increasing energy prices. I hope their voters are happy. I'm not.

And returning to the topic, I fully agree that we should make every effort to reduce and hopefully eliminate our dependency on oil. I just bought myself a hybrid car to do my part.

Dave Erickson said...

Per, thanks for engaging me on this topic. I find your comments about nuclear interesting. As you seem to believe in nuclear, I believe in large scale wind power. I'm sure you didn't notice my bias!My research indicates that Sweden has the capacity to generate large amounts of wind power, as does the US, both on shore and off shore. Modern wind turbines can generate power at a cost of about $0.03 USD per kWh, which is competitive with both nuclear and coal. If you factor in the "external cost" of the impacts of the production and disposal of nuclear fuel, (you can see what these are here: http://climateprotectioncampaign.typepad.com/cpc/2005/12/nuclear_fuel_pr.html ) wind is cheaper than nuclear. The barrier to wind is somewhat technical in the United States: that the wind turbines must be widely distributed geographically to account for intermittency in wind. This impacts the structure of the power grid. However, the siting of any kind of power plant, particularly nuclear, involves many hurdles, including additional power transmission facilities.

The bottom line is, Sweden appears to be poised to take advantage of a unique situation: the political orientation and the government programs exist to create a demand for wind power unlike any in the world today. From reading, and the exchange with you, however, it appears that many Swedes are uneasy with the prospect of completely abandoning nuclear...perhaps because they are not convinced that large-scale wind "has what it takes". Is this your view?

stromsjo said...

I suppose we're both biased... :)

Most Swedes couldn't care less how their energy is produced as long as its cheap and always available. If it's being produced in an environmentally friendly fashion that's a plus but a large majority wouldn't pay extra for this.

There is certainly a lot of wind to harvest along our coastline. But whenever a project is attempted strong local opposition emerges, you know the principle not-in-my-backyard, so economy and unfriendly neighbors remain sobering factors for those contemplating wind mills.

If the current opinion polls are an indication of the upcoming election result we could soon have a different government. The current four-party opposition alliance is split 3-1 in favor of nuclear power but as of yet they have not agreed on their common energy policy.

As always, time will tell.

Dave Erickson said...

I find it interesting that people prefer to have more nuclear power plants rather than more windmills. Aesthetically, I would much rather look at a windmill. As I mentioned, the cost of wind power is competitive in the 2.5 MW units and above. (a 5 MW wind turbine is now being made by REPower).

I guess my preference would be guided by the fact that nuclear fuel production is so nasty, and involves so many toxic processes aside from the radioactivity. In addition, these days producing and transporting both the fuel and the high level waste has to be done under high security, due to the interest in "dirty bombs", etc.

Wind power, on the other hand, has none of this. There are no dangerous substances used in the manufacture. The manufacturing process itself is benign. The operation of a wind turbine has no negative impact on the environment, other than the visual, and some would find that positive compared to a nuclear plant.

In any case, I think we have beaten this particular horse thoroughly and completely. Thanks for the interesting discussion, and good luck to you.


MGB said...

Dear gentlemen

Following actions of Swedish Minister of Sustainable Development Mona Sahlin, I came across your blog here and it's a very interesting reading, indeed. Many thanks for this post.

Myself, however by profession entrepreneur in the sports field, I am very much interested in energy issues and mainly why efficient sources are not used more widely. Last year Business Week actually printed my comments about ethanol and political impact of using this souce.

I strongly believe that countries like Sweden, Norway, Austria and Switzerland where I live can in less then 15 years become completly energy independent with the combination of hydro energy and ethanol, additional sources like nuclear for the time beeing and wind are also to be used.

Unfortunatelly, there are political and industrial powers, who do not wish this. Big oil wants to use all of its oil and its investment into this field. But I am sure, there are ways to persue them for the change in leting them into ethanol business and to make their profit there.

All 4 of the above mentioned coutries, could have many more hydro power plants. Then unfortunatelly enviromental groups come into the plan with their criticism of changes in nature, imposed by the artificial lakes..., I much more prefere these changes to CO2 increase...

Here in Switzerland, 1 liter of gasolin costs currently around CHF 1.62. Importing ethanol from Southern America, 1 liter including transportation costs would cost CHF 0.30 - yes, you read right less then 1/5.. I am sure, this ration looks similar in all of the coutries listed. In todays cars, without any changes made on the engine, we can burn E15 - meaning gasolin with 15% ethanol. Ethanol produced from green mass is CO2 neutral. Any government serious about reduction of CO2 output must bring a law requesting oil companies to put ethanol into gasolin almost immediatelly - 5% until 2008, 10% until 2009 and 15% until 2010.

I an addition, an engine was developed with SAAB in Sweden, which can without any adjustment burn mixture of gasolin and ethanol in any combination, from 100% gasolin to 100% ethanol. In general, these engines would have to be mandatory in all new cars in let say 5 years and so the ethanol suply, both imported from South America as well as produced from farming waste at home (1 barel this producet ethanol cost around US$ 50).

So, if the political will would be really here, it would be no brainer..

If there is somebody among you, who has political power to impose changes, I am willing to share all details of my concept including all political and financial impacts of this change


stromsjo said...

Thanks for further comments on this one.

When I was a kid (it’s been a while) there were already sound reasons to stop wasting our oil reserves. Then the Arab countries suddenly realized that they could in fact charge substantially more and we had a couple of oil crisis. None of this had any significant impact on the way we squander this resource simply for propelling cars. Now with the very real threat of global warming looming we just might have enough incentive to change things but I wouldn’t bet my last Euro on this. Reducing our dependency on oil is sound politics from just about any perspective. And yes, my hybrid car is running just fine thank you…

As for hydro power, yes by all means, but our Riksdag has decided to refrain from exploiting our four remaining large rivers so that particular policy shift will take a while. Nuclear, absolutely, if you ask me. We’ve been through that in this thread already. And wind, that’d be great if we can only make it commercially viable.

As for ethanol, I believe we’re constrained by physical limits. Specifically, if all the forests of Sweden were used for ethanol production they still couldn’t keep our millions of cars running. Most countries have more cars and less forests of course so ethanol alone won’t replace oil.