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Cap And Trade US President Barack Obama, center, and Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt hold a press conference at Rosenbad, the seat of the Swedish government in Stockholm, Sweden, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013.
CREDIT: (Credit: AP/Frank Augstein)

Published on September 10th, 2013 | by Important Media Cross-Post

10

Obama Names Sweden A Model For Energy Policy — Here’s Why

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September 10th, 2013 by
 

Originally published on Think Progress.
By Ryan Koronowski.

US President Barack Obama, center, and Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt hold a press conference at Rosenbad, the seat of the Swedish government in Stockholm, Sweden, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013.
CREDIT: (Credit: AP/Frank Augstein)

During a press conference with Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt on Wednesday afternoon Stockholm time, President Obama was asked what the United States could learn from Sweden. His first thought was sustainable energy development:

What I know about Sweden, I think, offers us some good lessons. Number one, the work you have done on energy I think is something the United States can and will learn from. Because every country in the world right now has to recognize if we are going to continue to grow and improve our standard of living while maintaining a sustainable planet, we are going to have to change our patterns of energy use. And Sweden I think is far ahead of many other countries.

So what can the U.S. learn from Sweden?

Sweden gets most of its electricity from hydroelectric and nuclear power, dating from investments in the 50s and 60s. Renewable energy — mainly wind — has also been on the rise, such that right now, over 47 percent of all energy consumed in Sweden comes from renewable sources. The vast majority of the electricity mix comes from renewables and nuclear:

swedenenergy

 

Source: Swedish Energy Agency

But this hasn’t happened on its own. The switch is the result of a concerted effort to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, which in the mid-70s had constituted around three-quarters of total energy supply. The main driver has been a long-standing and uncontroversial carbon tax.

Sweden began taxing carbon emissions back in 1991, at around $133 per ton. The system has changed a bit over the years, with industry paying less of the tax and consumers paying more, and the tax up to around $150 per ton. Daniel Engström, the director of climate at the Forum for Reforms, Entrepreneurship and Sustainability in Sweden, said that Sweden does not have as many people who deny that climate change is a problem as the U.S. does (most Swedish energy critics are of onshore wind farms). There have been some concerns about higher fuel prices, but because oil is so expensive to import, and the carbon tax went into effect so long ago, and because biofuels are an increasingly feasible option, many people do not notice the carbon tax. Revenues have been high, the tax is efficient, and emissions have dropped more than expected.

According to the IEA, “Sweden has the lowest share of fossil fuels in the energy supply mix among IEA member countries.” Oil accounts for 27 percent of the total energy supply, and has been steadily losing ground to biofuels. The country imports all of its oil — and more than half of those imports come from Russia. Total domestic demand has actually dropped since 1985.

Other fossil fuels are a similarly small share of the electricity mix. Only 3 percent of the country’s total energy production comes from gas. Most of the coal used in Sweden is used for industrial purposes — it barely registers as an electricity generator.

Even so, Sweden is committed to reducing carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2020. The country also invests in renewable energy through a market-based certificate system.

After the press conference with the Prime Minister, President Obama visited an energy expo at Stockholm’s Royal Institute of Technology. He spoke with people at Volvo who are aiming to have fully electric public transit buses up at running by 2015, which would pay for themselves within 10 years. Obama also looked at some fuel cell and electric personal vehicles, and posed the challenges of scaling up such a system as a “chicken and egg” question: “In the United States, one of the challenges has to do with distribution… if I was going shopping, where am I gonna refuel, right?”

Sweden’s longstanding carbon tax and emissions and renewable targets have been in operation while the nation thrived economically as much of the rest of Europe fell to pieces. C. Fred Bergsten, director emeritus at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said that “Sweden has one of the lowest inflation rates in Europe; it runs a budget surplus every year; its corporate tax rates are considerably lower than U.S. rates; and it spends more on research and development, as a share of its economy, than we do.”

So it seems that the main thing the U.S. can learn from Sweden on energy policy is that carbon pollution is not essential to economic success.

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  • Aegys87

    Well thats interesting, Sweden did have a big portion of its power of nuclear, so that is something Obama can learn after all…

  • Matt

    Another big difference between Sweden and US. Is the portion of GDP is spent on military. Sweden(1.3%) US(4.8%). The US spend more on military than the next 13 largest spenders combined. This is a big drain on the US, and not just in dollars, but in talent. It eats up many talented scientist and engineers.

    • agelbert

      Well said. And the two (fossil fuel energy use percentage and a large military), are intimately connected through massive hidden subsides to the fossil fuel investor stockholders in the form of “defense and national security” (for fossil fuel corporations, not the American public).

      Jump on the way back machine and go back to that war you thought worked out just great for the USA, the first Iraq war back in 1991. Read what this peer reviewed book (for those who disagree with the data, that means the facts are not disputable) quote by Dilworth has to say about how we-the-people have been suckered big time for many decades.

      Dilworth (2010-03-12). Too Smart for our Own Good (pp. 399-400). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

      “As suggested earlier, war, for example, which represents a cost for society, is a source of profit to capitalists. In this way we can partly understand e.g. the American military expenditures in the Persian Gulf area. Already before the first Gulf War, i.e. in 1985, the United States spent $47 billion projecting power into the region. If seen as being spent to obtain Gulf oil, It AMOUNTED TO $468 PER BARREL, or 18 TIMES the $27 or so that at that time was paid for the oil itself.

      In fact, if Americans had spent as much to make buildings heat-tight as they spent in ONE YEAR at the end of the 1980s on the military forces meant to protect the Middle Eastern oil fields, THEY COULD HAVE ELIMINATED THE NEED TO IMPORT OIL from the Middle East.

      So why have they not done so? Because, while the $468 per barrel may be seen as being a cost the American taxpayers had to bear, and a negative social effect those living in the Gulf area had to bear, it meant only profits for American capitalists. ”

      Note: I added the bold caps emphasis on the barrel of oil price, money spent in one year and the need to import oil from the Middle East.

      • Bob_Wallace

        I think you want to differentiate between all capitalists and some capitalists. Some economists hold that war, while it may enrich a subset, it lowers overall profits.

        • agelbert

          True.

          The quote came from Dilworth’s peer reviewed book, “Too smart for our own good”.

          He has a larger theme than simply the energy use of Homo sapiens.

          He makes many points but his main issue is that techno-fixes to energy needs have always backfired because, instead of the population and infrastructure making use of new technologies and efficiencies to live symbiotically with the biosphere, we instead continue our parasitic behavior with nature and each other.

          He may be right. However, I have hopes that a paradigm shift is in the works and we are maturing as a species and will soon stop shooting ourselves in the environmental foot.

          The “ism” involved isn’t the problem; it’s the rampant, conscience free greed celebrated over cooperation and altruism. If we do not put the kibosh on parasitic greed, we perish.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I think we’re evolving, but evolution is across generations.

            My father’s family traveled to the West Coast sometime early in the 1900s. It was before my father was born in 1908, but he had brothers several years older than him.

            My oldest uncle would talk about how many trees there were “out there” and how we could never cut them all. He certainly wasn’t a greedy capitalist or anti-environmentalist but someone who grew into adulthood long before we started pushing the limits of our planet.

            I’ve evolved within a generation to understand that we have limits and we are pushing up against them.

            I suspect people younger than me, especially those under 30 have grown up realizing the limits.

            I don’t think we will stop greed anytime soon. But I think we can channel it in different directions. Let those who must get massively wealthy do so off wind turbines, EVs, efficient refrigerators. And fence them in a little so that those on the bottom get a decent share.

            That’s my grandfather on the left. Perhaps dropping trees the way they did back then they wouldn’t have ever cut them all….

          • agelbert

            Thanks for the photo. That was a big tree. I read somewhere they were once quite common.

            I agree we are maturing. I realize greed cannot be eliminated. I just want it to be considered a negative rather than a positive trait. That way we can rein in the excesses (hopefully).

            If not, we are all dead and extremophiles like the tardigrades will inherit the earth.

            http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/image/1303/tardigrade_eyeofscience_1024.jpg
            Water bear (a type of tardigrade)
            The Water Bear is the only tiny life form that has survived hard radiation and the vacuum of space for extended periods without ill effects.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Actually, not all that large a tree. I see logs that size on trucks all the time. And I’ve got trees almost that large on my land.

            Now here was a big tree….

          • agelbert

            I love Sequoias!

      • Aegys87

        That is why its great the we are moving towards the EV era, not even hybrids nor NG can solve the oil problem because OIL is the problem, 2014 is going to be an exciting year for EV will quite a few good models coming

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