Link roundup: Oil-free Sweden and We Luv Public Transportation

I wanted to write fuller posts on both of these, but they've been stagnating in my Bloglines for a while, so I'm just going to put them out there in case you haven't already seen them.

Treehugger had a post earlier this week on Sweden's plans the be the first fossil fuel-free country by 2020. Wow! In just 15 years, an entire first world nation aims to be fossil fuel free! Apparently, the goal is to rid the country of cars that run on gasoline, and heating oil for the home (Sweden has excellent capacity for geothermal home heating).

For the record, I think this is a great idea, and a goal which more countries are probably eventually going to have to consider, but I just don't know if it's going to happen by 2020.

Be sure to catch the comments to this post, many of which come from Swedes. And I personally liked reader Paul's contribution:

I'm curious, I'm sure it's possible to be completely rid of oil for power generation purposes, but is it possible to be completely rid of oil altogether? I'd have thought lubricants and some plastics are still needed and they're made from oil...
The other interesting story comes from Ranger Bob at Neocommons, who links to a study from the American Public Transportation Association showing that public transit ridership was up nationwide. In some cities, increased ridership was in the double digits. (In Minneapolis, there was an increase of 70.9%! But that could be because their light rail was significantly expanded over the past year. Still, at least it shows that if they build it, people will use it.)
One should also remember that Sweden has decided to close all their nuclear power plants. Might be cold out there soon... Anyway, one should remember that Sweden has also proposed extra tax for men (because men are pigs).
Sweden has for the last 70 years almost allways been governd by the social democrates and the opposition has probably due to our consensus culture been only slightly less socialistic. This worked out well since we were covardly and lucky enough to not fight in the second world war, instead we sold enourmous ammounts of critical supplies to both sides of the war. Then we enjoyed immense hydro and oil powered growth while our socialists where more practical technocrates then ideological socialists. Unfortunately they got more ideological right before the oil crisis in the 70:s and we have since then been a lot poorer then we could have been. Our socialists are extremely good at giving people what they want and winning elections and some people still belive that Sweden is the richest country in the world, we might in some ways be one of the nicest but we are definately not the richest. They got a lot less ideological in the 80:s and now they are corrupt after inheriting power from their grandfathers. Now they have the support of the greens and our former communist party. I am part of the opposition and I guess it shows... ;-)

When car use boomed in the 50:e and 60:s it was recogniced as a threath to the towns and it was decided by our socialists that it should be solved by tearing down nearly all old city centers and replace them with rational concrete boxes for parking, shops and business. Some vistors think a lot of our towns were bombed out during the second world war and we could not afford to recreate them but it is entierly self inflicted. They could have built at the edges of the towns instad where the small malls etc were built in the 90:s and are being built right now. During the same era we got large scale district heating where lots of worn down coal and oil boilers were replaced with rational oil fired boilers sice it was overall cheaper to run and increased the air quality.

Everybody wanted a strong military during and after the second world war so we had a nuclear weapons program in the 50:s and 60:s. We could not realy afford it so it was combined with a failed nuclear power program in hope of paying for uranium mining and reactors by selling electricity. It was a technicla failure, economical failure and the opinion changed about nuclear wepons and it was abandoned. We then did get a surprisingly market driven nuclear power program to continue the increase of the electricity production when we had run out of easy rivers to dam and early enviromantalists wanted to save the last 4.  The proof of this is that our own industry built 9 reactors but three was imported from USA since the bid was lower.  This is not so strange since large business and corporations have allways been liked by our socialists, business withouth (small) businessmen is the goal.

The nuclear program was overbuilt. Probably due to the energy scare from the 70:s oil crisis and it was decided to start phasing out oil and instead use resistive electrical heating and large scale heat pumps. During this build up TMI happened and we held a referendum with three choises. 1. Abandon nuclear power slowly after building a lot more. 2 Abandon nuclear power slowly after building a lot more and try harder to build replacements. 3. Abandon nuclear power fairly fast after building a little more. Abandon nuclear power after building a lot more won. Some think that our industry then could not refrain from building the last reactors that probably lacked customers.

Several billions were used to research for and try to build replacements for nuclear power and save power while we had a boom for resistive electrical heating and a more then ten year long fire sale of electricity. Some of this research helped establish the Danish wind power industry. It did give a lot more biomass and garbage heating of mostly district heating systems that then often ran on electricity during the summers.  Oil use for heating shrank enourmously.

The nuclear power debate and its aftermath gave a lot more energy savings and insulation work then we had economical incentives to build. The 70:s crisis response of hermetically sealed 3-pane windows turned into argon filled IR-reflective surface treated hearmetically sealed 2- and 3-pane windows. The research into extreme 4-pane windows gave windows with frost on the outside and remained a curisoity. ;-)

During the late 80:s and onward a lot of money started to be invested in our railways. I do not realy know why, it might have been for enviromental reasons, it might have be a scare of oil crisis or it might have been the idea of long range and fast rail commuting, probably it was a combination. This slow boom for the rail network that was electrified during the second world war continues and we will have fairly high speed connections between all cities and a robust freigh network around 2030. Long range commuting between towns is growing steadily and is often combined with bicycling and short and medium range car and bus commuting to the nearest railway station.

People are moving in two directions. Into towns and cities and out to countryside near towns getting larger. The fuel use for car travel has almost stayed flat for some 20 years of this. The fuel use for trucks increases steadily. Towns and villages withouth fairly short range car commuting or long range rail commuting to cities are more or less dying out. They leave a sparce settlement of farmers and part time forest-farmers traveling out to their cottages and grand parents old houses during weekends.

The last of the oil heating will be gone within a few years taxed and world market priced to death. It is being replaced with heat pumps and wood pellet burning. The very large ammount of resistive heated houses are quickly being complemented with heat pumps. The private electricity consumption anyway stay nearly flat due to the numerous chargers for small electrical appliances, computers and heat pumps replacing oil heating.

There are already successfull projects for running buses and cars on methane from biomass and E85 is established as a fuel and growing fast. This has been accomplished by pilot projects, often with local tax money and heavy taxation on fossil fuel.

We have had an odd combination of good decision, bad decicions, dumb luck and missed chances. What happens now depends on how we use this legacy of infrastructure and capbilities and get our now not very efficient government to do the right things. We have problems with inefficiencies in our schools, hospitlas and a lot of the euthorities. Our socialists are not realy socialists any more, they are optimising for power withouth using much ideology at all. More true to their nature "nordic" socialists can be found in our neighbour Norway who with oil money have not had to change a lot of the old ways. An overall better run nordic country is Finland, they have not done as manny dumb experiments as our rulers have done.

That propsed tax for men since they are pigs was a suggestion from the former leader of our former communist party who is a PR genius. Thank god she has become more nutty then before and started a truly crazy feministic party.

Rambling on, I should have split this into multiple replies, sorry. :-(

Wonderful post, wish I could have given a similar writeup on Norway :-)

About the only things I find worth mentioning is:
Electricity prices are up, way up, because power companies are tapping the reservoirs in summer to sell power to european air conditioners (consumption is up, too). Free power market did that. The opening up of the power market created some market failures. I don't have the details, but SOMEONE is incurring an expense they don't have to pay, and the result is that the grid infrastructure is being undermantained while the power companies reap record profits.

The higher prices have lead to everyone and their aunts buying a heat pump or two, but it has not lead to any significant insight. Our power-intensive industries, which for decades enjoyed the cheap electricity, are now complaining and demanding natural gas power plants.

Norwegians ARE rich and we don't want any huge offshore windmill parks spoiling our views, dammit! (Some impressive ones have come online nonetheless, though. The grid infrastructure issues mentioned earlier is a limiting factor)

So, danish windmills and swedish heatpumps has made initial progress here cheaper than with our neighbors, but we're still way behind them.

That our nation peaked in oil in 2000 is something few know, and no one talks about.

Over here grid maintainance got worse and then a lot better after pulic outcry and new legislation. But the investments were going up sharply before the legislation, perhaps they listened to their customers?

The consolidation of the numerous small electricity distributors left the often fairly old 400V - 40 kV network withouth adequate babysitting by servicemen living close to the lines. It is now being replaced in a massive cablification program. The cablification has been speeded up as much as is doable after a for US people tiny but for us large hurricane a year ago.

Even a significat number of 130 kV lines went down, fully grown spruce trees flied thru the air, were stopped by the power lines, piled up on them and brought them down while breaking the wooden poles. They are normally conciderd to be tree fall secure, we dont usually have storms bringing trees down, not storms flinging them thru the air. The rumour is that the backbone grid emergency repair organisation had to empty the civil defence supply of  "meccano" emergency poles for the 220 and 400 kV lines to get 130kV to half a dozen smaller towns. We are not used to have towns with tens of thousands of people withouth power for days. Probably since the 130 kV level most often have complete redundancy, but now every line were broken in a wide swath across southern Sweden.

The "backbone" grid with 220kV, 400kV and HVDC lines is almost completely state owned. My impression is that they historically had a tendency to overinvest. My impression is also that they during the deregulation got the order to have low transmission cost as the top priority. Then the top priority quickly became to start getting rid of the bottlenecks limiting the power trading. But those bottlenecks often are the same as weaknesses in the grid so this goal is doing good in two ways.

Then we had some accidents that maybe had to do with too little maintainance and definately had been less troublesome with better redundance. (Two consecutive cable fires that stopped the feed to the same major parts of Stocholm and an N-2 or almost N-3 fault in the 400 kV network during the summer minimum load that might not have happaned with better maintainance or better redundancy. ) A revision of the 70-400kV network in Stockholm has started, the backbone grid maintainance is increased and the backbone grid is being complemented with new power lines. But it goes very slowly forward due to enviromental bureaucracy, organisational inefficiencies and probably also too little money even when speeding up the work significantly only would add a tenth of a cent per kWh.

The process of keeping the backbone grid in good enough shape for large scale power trading has probably become easier since it is a cooperation between Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden. No country want to have its services limited by another countries capacity, penny wise and pound foolish politicians in one country have been overruled by those in other countries who do not wish to endanger their grid. We now have purely technical grid performance standards that are the same for everybody and political decisions that those standards are to be followed.

For example, when Finland started to build a 1600 MW nuclear powerplant the numbers were run and we immediately started planning for grid strenghtening in Sweden to handle increased power trading and a sudden loss of production if it goes off line to some fault while delivering its maximum capacity. Our greens have tried to stop this investment since it is related to nuclear power but they dont seem to be able to sabotage it. Very few like being cold in the dark and when the old nerds who know the grid say that we realy need this people and the government tend to believe them. They then refer to when things went wrong and anybode can download the official reports about the failures etc. Its quite intresting to read them but I have not found any translations into english.

I  think that unlimited power trading is a great idea. It would probably work everywhere but you have to maintain and increase the grid capacity so that trhe grid can handle it.

The main problem left is who will pay for the spare capacity only used during cold spells every other or every ten years. Those spare powerplants has no economy in them, they are a money sink. About 2/3 of what I think is needed is now being financed by a temporary fee on backbone grid transmission of power. I guess that in the long run it could be replaced by more customers who cut production when the weather is cold and perhaps we could add new powerplants and new such loads such as hydrogen production for refineries and FT-diesel from biomass plants. Another idea is to add larger fuel supplies and remote control to the increasing number of emergency diesels. Instead of staring up one large 40 year old condencing powerplant boiler you start a a few hundred  emergency diesels in hospitals, waterworks, teleco stations, etc where you anyway need them for other reasons then cold spells.

The only general capacity for geothermal power that we have in Sweden is that most houses have only a few meters or tens of meters to reasonably heat conducting bedrock.  The main benefit with drilling a vertical hole to get to a constant temperature fairly chilly heat source is that you do not have to dig up all of your garden.

2020 is probably too close a goal but making oil insignificant for transportation to 2030 is probably doable without any major problems with a mix of more rail transportation, more efficient wehicle, plug in hybrids and electrical wehicles, biogas, ethanol, some RME from rapeseed and lots of FT-diesel or DME from biomass.

Nuclear power has been a politicah headache for 30 years. We had 12 reactors, 2 are now mothballed. The 10 left are getting significant upgrades and life extensions that gives as much additional power production as the two mothballed in Barsebäck. We are abandoning nuclear power by investing about a billion dollars in it. I would prefer to upgrade the mothballed reactors too and build a couple of new ones.

This was reported at EnergyBulletin on December 17th 2005, I mentioned it somewhere here about 2 weeks ago:

The last few percent of becoming fossil fuel independant will be difficult, but I am pretty confident that Sweden could become virtually so for all energy use by 2020 if they really put their minds to it. Some other products may be harder to substitute (plastics, chemicals etc) since they are used in many fabricated goods that Sweden probably imports but these consume relatively little fossil hydrocarbons in comparison with energy uses.

Bravo Sweden, say I; it will be interesting to see their more detailed analysis and proposals later this year.

I am very curious on how this plays out in this years swedish election.

The current government is our socialist party supported by greens and former communists. The socialist party have in peak oil found an issue very well suited for their old traditions of statemanship. I think they are able to successfully accelerate this process. But I do not find them able to make our authorities more efficient and our business climate better. We need those improvements for thousands of small changes and new business needed to cope with peak oil and our lack of workplaces.

The opposition is a coalition of four parties M, Fp, C, Kd that are more liberal in the free market and free choise way and we are not afraid of doing changes since it is not our realtives who has jobs in the inefficient authorities.  M has allways been pro nuclear, Fp and Kd are now pro nuclear power. C has for 30 years been strongly anti nuclear. C is the traditional farmer party and very green but in reality their members would benefit enourmously from a focus on biomass power. (And our environmnet would benefit).  C are trying to change their nuclear policy but it is a delicate process. This might give a very strong pro biomass power policy for the oposition.

Peak oil might become an important election issue, this depends a lot on the oil world market during this spring and summer. We might get a situation where the current government and the opposition overbid each other with different kind of policies.

Both sides have a strong tendency to listen to well argued scientific reasoning.

Myself I am more or less jumping up and down in internal electronic forums shouting "peak oil" while trying to be a one man think-tank on what would be a better more focused peak oil policy then the emerging social democratic policy. I am part of the fringe of the opositions internal debate.

I think it is a question about focusing on a limited number of key technological  and market bottlenecks and policy issues and leave most of the work to the free market.  Our socialists dearly like to have expensive non focused programs of micromanaged incentives that give lots and lots of work for party members and byrocrates wich is logical since a fair number of them also think this is the best way to do things.

I am sure it is a dumb goal to become totally fossil fuel independent. The good one is to maximise the use of the biomass resources and other things we are better at then most of the world and then trade. This makes us nearly independant, it makes us more efficient in minimizing the global fossil fuel use and it is wise to have good things to export to be able to import whatever we need. That is, not having to buy much and being able to outbid anybody.

Thanks for that analysis of Swedish politics on this issue, Magnus. I hope you will keep us informed as the Swedish elections near and perhaps post some useful news sites (in english if possible) - there isn't much decent news on Swedish politics and events in the ones I use.

Biomass ought to be a good route for Sweden. It could add industry and employment in country areas and there is a fair bit of marginal agricultural land that could be more profitable if used for biomass crops.

Though I am more socialist at heart than many in UK seem to be, I would probably be close to centre in the swedish population, I don't like government micromanaging nearly everything. I totally agree with your final paragraph.

I liked your comment: "Both sides have a strong tendency to listen to well argued scientific reasoning." Perhaps you don't appreciate how lucky you are! When you look around this planet can you honestly say that of any other government or political system?

I should add that listening to well argued scietific reasoning only works well if it is about non ideological matters. Making something into a symbolic and politically important issue can make it harder to resolve in a logical way.

But sometimes problems get big enough to overcome that. Our pension system were destined to go bankrupt in about 20 years. All parties did almost quietly reform it into one that wont go bankrupt with a bang but rather scale down and slowly make most retirees poorer when the growth no longer can cover the old promises. This will now be done automatically withouth any further political decisions. Half our population got screwed with a fairly quiet "we realy have to do this".  On the other hand, the system will not crash as for instance the current German pension system.

The fringe parties do from my point of view listen less to logical reasoning and that is probably one of the forces moving voters from the socialist party to the opposition.  The logical voters have a lot of patience for stupid arguments tailored to attract the most mobile voters, the last 5-10% that decide the outcome of the election. But too much stupidity for too long to attract the fringe and keep fringe parties happy and the logical part of the core voters will start to move.

If any country on earth would do it, Sweden would.  
If they succeed (and I hope they do!), it would literally shame others into emulating, or at least attempting to emulate, them.
Sweden has a population = Michigan 9.001 million, and land area = to California.158,000 sq. miles. Or 410,000 sq. Km
does the plant life in Sweden exude methane ?  If so, would it be considered a greenhouse gas if it originated  in Sweden ?  
Sweden is quite a huge country with a lot of forests. The role of biomass energy is very important to become energy dependent. Here in Germany is on village area, which already gets its entire energy for heating and electricty from renewable energy sources, especially from biomass.
This pilot project triggered several efforts in other rural and not so rural areas (mostly southern of Munich). These places decided to become energy dependent within the next 25 years and maybe even exporting energy to large city areas.

No doubt, these efforts will boost the technology, which ist necessary. I am comvinced something can work, even within 15 years.
greeting from berlin

Main Swedish radio news reported today that 10% of 2005 car sales in Sweden were green; hybrid, CNG (biogas) or ethanol. This is boosted by tax benefits and in some citys free parking.
Iceland is an interesting contradiction (and forgotten in the Swedish list of Nordic countries).  Never a Social Democratic Gov't except in coallition, and usually in opposition.

100% of electricity from renewable sources (83% hyfro, 17% geothermal). A bit over 90% of space heating from geothermal (they are drilling a well on Grimsey (pop. 100) to solve the problem of oil heating there) with electrical resistance common for the rest (oil here & there).

High electrical consumption industry (mainly aluminum) is a growing part of their economy (soon 2.5% of world Al).  All with renewable electricity.

Yet they have the highest oil consumption per capita in the world.  It is not just the large cars & trucks (despite very high prices, they are rich) but their large fishing fleet uses a LOT of diesel.

Plans are being talked about for renewable methanol production but the economcis are iffy.  I have talked to Straeto (Reyjkavik city bus system) about trolley buses but they are playing with 3 fuel cell bsues from Daimler-Chrysler.

They have a national goal of becoming the world's first Hydrogen Society (and they have the cheap power to do this with) but few concrete steps are being taken.

They have the potential for a forest industry but are slowly planting one (17 trees/person/year BUT only 4% forested).  Once they are 30% forested, there would be good biomass possibilities.  (100,000 km2, ~275,000 people).



The swedish petroleum insitute has made some statistics for 2005 available.

Compared with 2004:
Gasolene is down 0.9% with a total sale of 5 500 000 m3
Diesel is up 5.7% with a total sale of 4 100 000 m3
2.5% of the transportation fuel sold was biomass based, 80% of that were low level mixing of ethanol into gasolene.

Heating oil sales are down 18%, I did not find the total volume.
The top year of heating oil sales were 1973 now it is 83% lower.

The total number of people living in Sweden was 30 nov 2005  9 044 789

I have a question to the audience, or rather a few versions of the same question.

Assume the next Swedish government start an ambitious investment program in post peak oil infrastructure to get rid of key bottlenecks slowing down conversion to non fossil fuels. Would that attract investors and manufacturers who need a market for testing their products?

For instance, would plenty of charging outlets on most of the public parking lots attract car companies selling electric cars or plug in hybrids? Would it stimulate the development of new electric wehicles and plug in hybrids?

How attractive is complete coverage of E85 and wehicle (methane) gas on a 270 000 cars/year market? Would it be enough to get car manufactureres to prioritize our country as a market?

Ours is a tiny country, we are not a US California that can get car manufactureres to jup thru hoops.

Probably not on their own. But I will be surprised if several other countries don't jump on the Swedish bandwagon quite soon after it starts rolling. There will also be opportunities for innovative and farsighted companies to develop solutions for Sweden's plan, they could grow fast and be profitable investments.