Sweden is aggressively going green, but progressive crusaders are facing an inconvenient truth of their own. Even before shutting down the rest of their nuclear and fossil fuel energy sources, Sweden’s cities are already threatened by power shortages due to inadequate energy infrastructure.
According to Bloomberg, Sweden’s third largest city, Malmö, was on the brink of blackouts during the past winter. During an especially cold week, power costs spiked from an average 0.28 kroner per kilowatt hour in 2017 to 0.63 kronor.
Sweden is still growing. Energy demands in major cities are surging as their populations increase. Power shortages are limiting the ability of Swedes to build housing, subways, and businesses needed to keep their lives in motion. In Stockholm, new daycare centers have had to wait months for power, and a bread factory in Malmö was denied a license to expand because it would consume too much power. And it’s not just small businesses that suffer. Sectors from high tech to mining require huge amounts of affordable energy to remain feasible.
How did this happen?
A dry summer had depleted the country’s hydro power supply to its lowest levels since 2016. Calm conditions rendered wind farms useless, coal production was sharply reduced due to new regulations, and two nuclear power reactors were shut down due to a 1980 bill to phase out nuclear energy.
It was a perfect storm of sub-optimal weather conditions that highlighted the greatest weakness of renewable energy sources. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, they simply don’t work.
Even with optimal conditions, the usefulness of Sweden’s wind farms is limited because they’re clustered in northern Sweden, far from the largest population centers. Infrastructure to transport energy from these productive regions is inadequate, and adequate supplies of foreign energy can’t be imported for the same reason.
Some Swedes have described the current energy policy as “madness” because of the destabilizing impact on the country’s power supply. Power shortages would unquestionably undermine the country’s economy, which has benefited from cheap power, largely because of its abundance of hydro and nuclear power. Sweden’s generous welfare system cannot function without a strong economy and very high levels of wealth.
Bureaucratic and technical barriers to improve wind and solar energy infrastructure will take at least a decade to navigate, but the current Swedish government is firmly against reversing course on nuclear shutdown. A coalition of opposing political parties will force them to reconsider, though. Energy supply has become the center of public discourse in recent months.
And things could still get a lot worse. Sweden’s grid operator warned in 2017 that the country will need to add 2.6 gigawatts (GW) of power generation by 2040–enough to power 1.1 million households. (Sweden had 4.7 million households in 2018). And that estimate didn’t even factor in the impending loss of the country’s five remaining nuclear reactors, which will be phased out by 2040, a loss of another 5.5 gigawatts.
Henrik Bergstrom, head of affairs for the Swedish power company Ellevio, has stated that Sweden has “reached a point where we no longer can connect all the changes the society is facing.” Upcoming waves of new technology like 5G and will require massive amounts of data processing, which will require massive amounts of energy. Sweden has continually been on the cutting edge of technology, but inadequate power will undermine its competitiveness.
Even the green movement itself is threatened by power shortages: a federally subsidized surge in electric car sales led to a spike in demand for electricity, exacerbating supply problems.
Ultimately, the limits of Sweden’s current power infrastructure will force authorities to pick and choose who can access their artificially limited power grid.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Nuclear energy is not without its own environmental hazards, but it’s still an extremely efficient energy source with very low carbon emissions. And while solar and wind make sense in many contexts, especially in very sunny or windy areas, they simply can’t compete with fossil fuels for reliability and efficiency.
Policy makers with “green tunnel vision” fail their constituents by refusing to recognize the shortcomings of their good intentions. The passion of environmental alarmists needs to be tempered by a humble and realistic exploration of the limitations of green technology.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.