The Energy System of Sweden

In 2017, fossil fuels accounted for 22% of Sweden’s energy supply and only 1.2% of electricity generation.
Roughly equal shares of nuclear, hydro and biofuels supply almost ¾ of Sweden’s energy, enabling it to report that it has substantially decarbonised, but the Swedish government and the bioenergy trade association claim biofuel energy is carbon-neutral, which may not be the case and may have resulted in an under-reporting of CO₂ emissions.

This page has not yet been updated with energy data from BP for year 2019, which was the most recent as of August 2020. The most recent year of data on this page is 2018.

The concepts presented here are explained in the post Energy Accounting.

CO₂ Emissions

Chart 1.(a) Sweden’s annual fossil fuel CO2 emissions. Data: BP(2019).1 (b) Sweden’s fossil fuel CO2 emissions by source from 1959 to 2018. Flaring shown from 2000 to 2018. Data: Global Carbon Project.2

Primary Energy Supply

Chart 2. Sweden’s primary energy supply, 1990 to 2018. RH-most shaded bars indicate years 2017 and 2018. Data: BP(2019).1 3 4
Chart 3. Sweden’s primary energy supply, 1990-2018, expanded. RH-most shaded bars indicate years 2017 and 2018. Data: BP(2019).1 3 4
Chart 4. Sweden’s primary energy supply by share in 2017. Data: Calculated using IEA(2019) online free version.5 This dataset is the only available that shows all energy sources.
Chart 5. Sweden’s primary energy supply by share. Data: Calculated using IEA(2019) online free version.5
Table 1. Numerical values of Sweden’s primary energy supply. Data: Calculated using IEA(2019) online free version.5 Dashes indicate negligible or zero values.

The increased share and quantity of nuclear energy between 1979 and 1984 resulted in rapid decarbonisation, at a linear rate of -5.6%/yr over the period.6

About 55% of Sweden’s land area is forested,7 so it’s not surprising that biofuel features in the country’s energy system.

Autumn view towards Stora Sjöfallet National Park.8 9

Chart 6 shows that 85% of the biofuel share of Sweden’s energy supply is solid, which is simply vegetation, or biological matter that was created by photosynthesis. While this term does not distinguish between slow growing biofuels such as trees, and fast growing biofuels such as grass that may be carbon-neutral, the IEA reports that solid biomass in Sweden is predominantly from trees as wood-chips, bark and sawdust.10 In 2017, 1.68 billion Euros worth of new biofuel combined heat and power projects were underway.11

As the share and quantity of energy from biofuels continues to increase, Sweden may be carbonising, although reported carbon emissions and carbon intensity reduce. The Swedish government and the Swedish bioenergy trade association, Svebio,12 claim biofuels are carbon-neutral, but the arguments on which this claim is based are not credible, as explained in the post Biofuels.

Chart 6. Energy production by biofuels and waste in Sweden in 2017. A relatively negligible amount of liquid biofuels is not shown. Data: IEA.13

A measure of carbonisation is the carbon intensity of primary energy supply, which is the mass of carbon dioxide emitted per Joule of supplied energy. This is shown below for Sweden, the world and other countries discussed on this site. While Sweden’s carbon intensity is relatively very low, this calculation depends on reported CO2 emissions, so may not be credible.

Chart 7. Carbon intensity of primary energy supply. Data: Calculated using IEA(2019) online free version.5

Energy Consumption

Chart 8. Sweden’s energy consumption (Total Final Consumption, TFC) by share in 2017, showing electricity generation. Data: Calculated using IEA(2019) online free version.5
The dashed segment in the left hand most pie chart represents the equivalent share of electricity if the quantity produced in 2017 was produced within a 100% wind/water/solar (WWS) energy system, serving to demonstrate the remaining change needed for full electrification. The 35.1% in 2017 equates to 81.8% under WWS, as shown. The share of electricity becomes greater because total energy consumption of a 100% WWS system reduces to 42.9% of business-as-usual.14 15
This is due to: (a) using heat pumps for building heat; (b) using electricity for industrial heat; (c) using battery and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles; (d) eliminating mining, transportation and processing of fuels, and (e) efficiency improvements.
Also note: (i) Non-energy use of energy sources excluded (e.g. oil used for lubrication); (ii) Transport & Distribution Losses include gas distribution, electricity transmission, and coal transport, and (iii) Examples of Electricity Industry Own-Use include energy consumed in coal mines, own consumption in power plants and energy used for oil and gas extraction.16

Sweden’s topography and climate has facilitated hydro energy, with 47 hydroelectric power stations with capacities greater than 100MW,17 and 2,057 hydro electric power stations in total.18

Sweden constructed four nuclear power stations, each consisting of multiple reactors. Interestingly, construction times for the first reactors was typically only 6 years, despite their capacities being large at 600MW to 800MW.19 20 In total 12 reactors were commissioned in Sweden, progressively between 1972 and 1985, with a total capacity reaching 11GW.21 This caused rapid and significant lowering of CO2 emissions by about a third in only five years,22 as shown in chart 1(a). No reactors were commissioned after 1985, and after 2020 half are planned to be decommissioned (i.e. 6 of the reactors or 38% of the original 11GW capacity).23 The remaining 62% of capacity is expected to operate until at least 2040. Currently 4 of the 6 reactors to be decommissioned (22% of original capacity)24 have been shutdown permanently.

Chart 9. Sweden’s energy consumption (TFC) by: (a) Energy source; (b) Economic sector. Data: Calculated using IEA(2019) online free version.5
Chart 10. Energy consumption (TFC) in economic sectors. Note: The transport sector includes rail and aviation. Gridlines removed for clarity. Data: Calculated using IEA(2019) online free version.5

In 2017 biofuels, mainly biodiesel, accounted for 20% of all road transport fuels in Sweden.25

Energy consumption of the transport sector in Sweden, 2017, showing further detail for that in chart 10 above.25

The rapid growth of biofuels in recent years is mainly attributed to the increased use of hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) renewable diesel fuels, which are produced from various bio-based raw materials.

Bioenergy International, 2017 another record year for biofuels in Sweden.25

HVO is based on feedstocks like tall oil, animal fats, and recovered vegetable oils.

IEA bioenergy country report, Sweden 2018.10

Because tall oil is obtained from woody biomass in Sweden, and that HVO is also based on animal factory farming, it can’t be assumed that biofuel consumption by Sweden’s transport sector is carbon-neutral.

Electricity

Chart 8. Sweden electricity generation by fuel type as share of total generation (i.e production). Data: Calculated using IEA(2019) online free version.5

Footnotes
  1. https://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/energy-economics/statistical-review-of-world-energy.html()()()
  2. http://folk.uio.no/roberan/GCB2018.shtml()
  3. Note: (i) BP’s definition of Renewables is energy supplied by Solar, Wind, Geothermal, Solid Biofuels & ‘Other’; (ii) BP does not fully account for biofuels; and (iii) Solid biofuels may not be carbon-neutral.()()
  4. https://www.worldenergydata.org/biofuels/()()
  5. https://www.iea.org/data-and-statistics/data-tables?country=SWEDEN&energy=Balances&year=2017()()()()()()()()
  6. Territorial emissions in 1979 = 85MtCO2, 1984 = 57MtCO2 (ref: http://www.globalcarbonatlas.org/en/CO2-emissions), (57 – 85)/(1984 – 1979) = -5.6%/yr of original amount.()
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forests_of_Sweden, https://www.sveaskog.se/en/forestry-the-swedish-way/short-facts/brief-facts-1/()
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stora_Sjöfallet_National_Park()
  9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Vy_mot_Stora_Sjöfallet_från_Saltoluokta.jpg, photo credit: STF Saltoluokta Fjällstation()
  10. https://www.ieabioenergy.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/IEA-Bioenergy-Countries-Report-Update-2018-Bioenergy-policies-and-status-of-implementation.pdf()()
  11. https://bioenergyinternational.com/heat-power/eur-1-68-billion-worth-biomass-power-projects-sweden()
  12. https://www.svebio.se/en/()
  13. https://www.iea.org/statistics/()
  14. 8.7/20.3 = 42.9%, https://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/TimelineDetailed.pdf()
  15. https://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/CombiningRenew/WorldGridIntegration.pdf()
  16. https://www.iea.org/statistics/resources/balancedefinitions/()
  17. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_hydroelectric_power_stations_in_Sweden()
  18. https://www.worldenergy.org/data/resources/country/sweden/hydropower/()
  19. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barsebäck_Nuclear_Power_Plant()
  20. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ringhals_Nuclear_Power_Plant()
  21. 615 + 615 + 865 + 900 + 1070 + 1120 + 1450 + 494 + 664 + 984 + 1120 + 1170 = 11,067MW, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_in_Sweden()
  22. Territorial emissions in 1979 = 85MtCO2), 1984 = 57MtCO2), (57 – 85)/85 = -33% over 5 years()
  23. (615 + 615+865 + 900+ 494+ 664) / 11,067 = 38%()
  24. (615 + 615 + 494 + 664) / 11,067()
  25. https://bioenergyinternational.com/markets-finance/2017-another-record-year-biofuels-sweden()()()