Published on June 10th, 2013 | by April Streeter0
Nordic Net Zero
The International Energy Agency is counting on the Nordic nations to be leaders in the de-carbonization of the global economy, and the corresponding control of climate change by stabilizing rising temperatures. How will the Nordics do it? Cleantech is crucial, with sun, wind, and biopower playing roles. But the forecast is also for lots of that dependable standby, hydropower.
From some perspectives, it’s a mystery that Norway, the Nordic country that contains the best wind resources in all of Europe, is nearly devoid of wind turbines, while its southern neighbor Denmark is crawling with the slowly rotating giants, and to the east Sweden is rapidly following Denmark’s lead in deploying windmills. The key to all three of these nations’ adoption of different renewable energy sources is based partly on natural resources, but also in large part on political will to subsidize development of clean energy.
Denmark was the first to step up with subsidies for wind-produced power, back in 1980. Now it leads the world in amount of wind integrated into its energy grid – 30% by February 2013 – as well as being a formidable force in the global wind industry via Vestas, and myriad other wind technology suppliers and innovators. The chief economist at the Danish Wind Energy Association, Sune Strøm, has said Denmark is on track to reach its official domestic target of 50% wind energy in its national grid by 2020. Denmark’s huge ambitions for offshore wind will help it get to that goal – the country has already unveiled a tendering timetable for a new 1.46 GWh of offshore wind, to come online over the next seven years.
Hydropower – a surprise
Demark’s investment in wind is prodigious. Yet looking at the International Energy Agency (IEA) scenarios in their new Energy Technology Perspectives (ETP) report, it is also a necessary step to achieve a 2050 energy mix that creates a climate neutral, or net zero emissions society. IEA, and the world, to a very real degree, are depending on the Nordic nations to continue doing what they’ve already proven can be done: reducing CO2 emissions and still promoting economic prosperity.
“The Nordic countries have chosen to go further than many others,” says Markus Wråke, project manager for the ETP. “We [Nordic nations] are 20-25 years ahead of the carbon-neutral curve and shown that it’s possible to decouple economic growth from emissions.”
One surprise in IEA’s scenarios regarding the energy mix is hydropower. In IEA’s best-case and worst-case scenarios, hydro is the steady elder – not growing, but still filling the energy-mix chart with solid, reliable, and carbon-neutral electricity generation.
A good portion of the hydropower in Scandinavia is Norwegian. Large and smaller-scale hydropower plants form the backbone of Norway’s electricity generation – comprising nearly 99% of the total power mix. Norway is Europe’s biggest producer of hydropower, and hydro still supports Norway’s power-hungry aluminum sector.
The most intensive phase of development of Norwegian hydro happened over a quarter of a century ago. This last year, however, has seen a boomlet in upgrades and plans for expanding hydro’s capacity. As was the case for Danish wind power, the new interest in Norwegian hydro is due to subsidies. But this time, the subsidies aren’t coming directly from the Norwegian state. Instead, a joint electricity certificates market between Sweden and Norway that started in 2012 is spurring hydro development in Norway, and hindering wind there, though encouraging it in Sweden.
“Based on a survey of investors, joint electricity certificates scheme could trigger between 14-15 TWh of new Norwegian hydro,” says Kristin Linnerud of the Norwegian climate think tank CICERO. That’s a big portion of the 26.4 TWh of new renewable energy that Norway and Sweden together committed to get online by 2020. Linnerud also said that because the certificates market is ‘technology neutral’ the cheapest technology gets the advantage – in this case, hydropower in Norway, wind power in Sweden. The Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE), which controls permissions for both wind and hydro projects, gave a record amount of licenses in 2012 – a total of 153 permits for 3.58 TWh of energy in the form of larger hydro, small hydro, and wind power.
In the future, Norwegian hydropower may have an even bigger role to play than being the backbone of the Nordic power balance – it may also end up as the rest of Europe’s ‘green battery,’ due to the fact that hydro is not only abundant, it is (unlike other renewable sources especially wind) easily turned on and off to balance loads. All the new hydro development will likely lead to a surplus of domestic electricity, which Norway can sell to the continent – if the country goes ahead with planning for and financing undersea cables to link to the rest of Europe. That possible electricity surplus is causing a bit of unrest amongst Norwegian consumers, who subsidize the development of this energy form, paying for green certificates through higher energy bills. That they might in future also be subsidizing power that will then be sold to the highest European bidder is causing current debate.
Onshore and offshore growth of wind
Meanwhile the same electricity-certificates scheme that is prompting hydro development in Norway continues to spur Swedish wind power. Wind output nearly doubled in Sweden between 2010 and 2011, and rose almost 20% last year, to total 7.2 TWh. In addition, the Swedish Wind Energy Association (SWEA) has said it believes that by the end of 2014 that output will rise to 11 TWh. Small and large companies are investing in wind power – huge Swedish conglomerate SCA, for example, is making a significant attempt through joint ventures with Norway’s Statkraft and others, at placing hundreds of wind turbines on its private forest land over the coming decade. CEO Annika Helker Lundström of SWEA has said she believes that Sweden should raise its wind development ambition to 30 TWh of wind in the system by 2020, a goal which would mean 20% of Sweden’s electricity was wind-driven.
This type of growth in wind, offshore (in Denmark) and onshore and offshore (in Sweden) is music to the IEA’s ears – the IEA says 13,000 new turbines will be needed to get to that ‘carbon neutral’ 2050 society. But as in other nations, in Sweden this great growth of windpower is no slam-dunk socially. While a recent poll from Swedish Vindval showed 86% of Swedes agreeing that building out windpower is a good idea, the reality of public opinion when windmills are planned nearer people’s homes and nature areas, is decidedly different. In Northern Sweden there is also an issue with freezing temperatures and windmill function, a problem that technology has yet to efficiently and cheaply solve.
Martin Wråke at IEA, when presenting the Energy Technology Perspectives report in early February, said that getting buy-in from Nordic populations for this forward march of clean energy technology is a very real challenge.
“It’s a pedagogical problem for politicians, to explain why all of this is good,” Wråke said. “To get acceptance for these fairly large investments is obviously not easy.”
But, Wråke said, the Nordic nations’ example of larger-scale transition to clean energy will clearly benefit its own economies while aiding the global quest for climate change control, and not incidentally, helping the rest of Europe.
“Europe needs the Nordics in order to decarbonize its own energy,” he said. “Without the export of clean energy to Europe, it will be much more difficult and expensive for them to do so.”
Electric certificates market
The system of electric certificates (elcertifikat) was introduced in Sweden in 2003 to increase the share of renewable energy generated in the country, with a goal of 17 TWh by 2016. For each megawatt hour of renewable energy produced, a producer receives one certificate. Electricity suppliers, on the other hand, are required to obtain certificates on a quota system, and embed the cost of the certificates in consumer pricing. The joint certifcates market that Sweden and Norway agreed on and adopted in 2012 specifies that jointly the two countries will produced 26.4 TWh of renewables by 2020.