Roughly equal shares of nuclear, hydro, and biofuels supplied 71% of Sweden’s energy in 2017, and the share of fossil fuels was only 22%. (2017 is the most recent year of free IEA data, and the only with sufficient detail to calculate this).
Sweden has rapidly decarbonised but the Swedish government and the Swedish bioenergy trade association claim biofuels are carbon-neutral. The arguments on which this claim is based are not credible and has resulted in an under-reporting of emissions.
This post discusses the topics energy supply, energy consumption and electricity. To learn about the differences between them, refer to the post About Energy Systems.
Sweden’s Energy Supply
Sweden’s energy supply is shown below in chart 1, and in expanded form in chart 2.
Charts 3 and 4 show Sweden’s energy supply by share, demonstrating that Renewables in chart 2 above is almost all wind energy.
Numerical values are shown below.
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.5
About 55% of Sweden’s land area is forested,6 so it’s not surprising that biofuel features in the country’s energy system.
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,9 claim biofuels are carbon-neutral, but the arguments on which this claim is based are not credible, as explained in the post Biofuels. Emissions from burning biofuels is reported in the land-use sector only, not the energy sector, and only by the country supplying the biofuel. Furthermore, countries such as US, Canada and Russia which are all significant exporters of biofuels, do not account for the carbon emissions of biofuels.3
The chart below 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 solid biomass in Sweden is predominantly from trees as wood-chips, bark and sawdust.10 Unfortunately in 2017, 1.68 billion Euros worth of new biofuel combined heat and power projects were underway.11
Sweden’s reported annual fossil fuel CO2 emissions are shown below.
A measure of carbonisation is the carbon intensity of the energy supply, which is the mass of carbon dioxide emitted per Joule of energy supplied. 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 described above, so may not be credible.
Sweden’s Energy Consumption
As shown in figure 1 above, energy consumption describes energy after conversions. For example, some energy supplied by coal is converted and consumed as electricity, and the rest is instead combusted and consumed in industrial applications (e.g. steel manufacture) and domestic applications (e.g. cooking). Sweden’s energy consumption is shown below.
In 2017, Sweden consumed 35.1% of its energy in the form of electricity, 69% greater than the world average of 20.8%.20 More than all of Sweden’s total electricity requirement for 2017 was produced by roughly equal shares of 45% nuclear and hydro energy, 12% wind energy and 7% biofuels. Combined these total 109%, partly because while Sweden imported 8% of its electricity during the year, 21% was exported.
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.23 24 In total 12 reactors were commissioned in Sweden, progressively between 1972 and 1985, with a total capacity reaching 11GW.25 This caused rapid and significant lowering of CO2 emissions by about a third in only five years,26 as shown in chart 5(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).27 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)28 have been shutdown permanently.
Chart 8 shows electricity generation over time using data from the IEA up to year 2017. BP’s energy statistics doesn’t provide any information specifically about Sweden, so the information from BP shown about electricity this in other posts on this site is unavailable.
The following two charts below show Sweden’s energy consumption over time by energy source and by economic sector.
The following charts show energy consumption in each economic sector.
Oil in the industrial sector declined as industrial output in China increased, and while oil dominates the transport sector, consumption of liquid biofuels has become significant.
In 2017 biofuels, mainly biodiesel, accounted for 20% of all road transport fuels in Sweden.29
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.29
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.
While Sweden has undertaken significant efforts to decarbonise its energy supply using nuclear energy, the quantity and share of energy from biofuels has grown significantly, seemingly without honest and rigorous regard to the possible consequential carbon emissions. The Chatham House report, Woody Biomass for Power and Heat: Impacts on the Global Climate,30 makes detailed recommendations that Sweden’s government could utilise to produce honest and transparent accountancy of territorial carbon emissions, and then perhaps factual decarbonisation.
- https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Forsmark3.jpg, photo credit: robin-root (CC BY-SA 2.0)
- 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.
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forests_of_Sweden, https://www.sveaskog.se/en/forestry-the-swedish-way/short-facts/brief-facts-1/
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Vy_mot_Stora_Sjöfallet_från_Saltoluokta.jpg, photo credit: STF Saltoluokta Fjällstation
- https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FIL2938.JPG, photo credit: Mattias Hedström (CC BY-SA 2.5)
- Stefan Nilsson/SJ [CC BY 3.0], https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SJ_X2_in_snow_Jonsered_2007-01.jpg
- 615 + 615 + 865 + 900 + 1070 + 1120 + 1450 + 494 + 664 + 984 + 1120 + 1170 = 11,067MW, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_in_Sweden
- Territorial emissions in 1979 = 85MtCO2), 1984 = 57MtCO2), (57 – 85)/85 = -33% over 5 years
- (615 + 615+865 + 900+ 494+ 664) / 11,067 = 38%
- (615 + 615 + 494 + 664) / 11,067