In a stunning announcement to the UN assembly this month, Sweden’s Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, revealed plans for Sweden to become the world’s first “completely fossil-fuel free welfare state”.
The Nordic countries are already world leaders in terms of renewable energy and environmentally-friendly operations, and Sweden is particularly capable even for them, with a full two-thirds of its current electricity and heating energy output being generated by renewable sources. In fact, the Nordic quarter is so dedicated to renewable energy that, during one particularly blustery day this year, Denmark managed to produce all the energy it needed, plus an additional 40% through wind power alone! The extra energy was sold to its neighbours, and the country continued producing inordinate amounts of renewable wind energy.
Similarly, Iceland currently produces almost 100% of its energy from renewable sources, due to a tradition of investing in geothermal and hydroelectric power – an investment which is now reaping dividends for the almost completely self-sufficient, almost carbon-neutral nation.
However, the move to eradicate fossil-fuel dependency in Sweden is a different matter altogether. Sweden, while able to produce two-thirds of the energy it needs from wind-turbines and other renewable sources, is an industrialised country of over 10 million inhabitants, with multiple extant industries which depend on fossil fuel consumption.
The transition, says Löfven, is a matter of investment. As such, Sweden’s Autumn budget, which will be announced fully in September this year, has already been confirmed to contain 4.5 billion Swedish Kronor, worth roughly £365 million (at this week’s exchange rate, and probably considerably more next week) to exclusively environmentally-friendly infrastructure and developments: solar panels, wind turbines, more effective energy storage systems to make use of intermittent power surges, more effective transmission systems and more actionable, environmentally-friendly public transport systems.
The budget sets out annual spending for the next several years in this sector as well, dedicating 50 million kronor (which equates to about £4 million at the current exchange rate) to energy storage systems and new methods of storing captured energy, as this will allow the country to operate no matter the conditions. As solar panels and wind turbines need favourable weather conditions in order to generate energy, it is necessary to have good storage solutions in place, as power comes in continual cycles of “feast-and-famine” – gluts of power caused by favourable conditions, followed by poor energy output as conditions die down.
In addition, 1 billion kronor (or £80 million) will be spent on upgrading homes, residential buildings and accommodation to make them more efficient with energy and less likely to waste heat and light – which, given Swedish winters, is an excellent investment.
According to the budget, however, Sweden is not only investing in its own country’s energy ventures – 500 million Swedish Kronor is being sent overseas to be invested in environmentally-friendly infrastructure and renewable energy sources in developing nations, which Löfven hopes will “send a powerful signal” to the rest of the developed West, setting the stage for the UN Climate Change Conference in December, which is due to be held in Paris again.
This drive to clean energy and global cooperation is the brainchild of Sweden’s current coalition government, a union of the left-leaning Swedish Social Democrat Party, who have been the predominant force in Swedish politics since 1920, and the Green Party, who came to prominence after the anti-nuclear weapons movements of the 1980’s gained traction in the country.
As part of the drive towards all-renewable energy, several of Sweden’s older nuclear power plants are scheduled for summary closure, aided by the fact they are becoming increasingly obsolete and will soon need to be decommissioned in any case.
Contrast the position taken by Sweden on these issues with the position of the UK, which after the Conservatives won the last general election, announced a complete halt to renewable energy subsidies, and currently encourages fracking – let alone the fact that the Department for Energy and Climate Change has been replaced by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which sounds entirely less dedicated to renewable energy and climate change and entirely more dedicated to mass industrialisation.
Speaking to the Swedish Parliament after announcing the new drive to renewable energy, Löfven said that “children should be allowed to grow up in a world free of toxins and pollution.”
This honest, no-nonsense approach and complete disregard for the lobbying and harrying of the fossil fuels industry is meant to project a message to other UN countries – Sweden is proving that it’s possible to be independent of fossil fuels, and in fact, not only is it possible – it will soon be necessary.