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Power Struggle In Sweden Means Lights Out

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Power Struggle In Sweden Means Lights Out

Power Struggle In Sweden Means Lights Out
December 23
00:30 2019

There is a power struggle going on right now in Sweden. Literally.

In one corner are environmentally-conscious pioneers going completely off-grid with 100% sustainability from renewable resources such as wind and light. In the other are economists and social forecasters who say that the Swedes are running out of stored energy and facing a serious crisis.

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The Swedish government has committed to eliminating the burning of fossil fuels to produce electricity by 2040. To reach this goal, scientists are inventing up a storm of clever ways to defeat the major obstacle to non-petroleum energy systems: storage.

Traditional chemical batteries are heavy, bulky, and expensive. Big brains around the world have been searching for more viable ways to stash energy from the wind and sun to use when it isn’t breezy or bright. Creative thinkers are breaking new ground in alternative energy.

A 2014 survey found that nearly 20% of Swedish homeowners were considering getting a self-generation system, either a PV or a small wind turbine.

In September 2016, scientists at Sweden’s SP Technical Research Institute provided proof of concept for a novel hybrid renewable energy system that combined hybrid solar photovoltaic (PV) with geothermal power to create an efficient solar power system.

At about the same time, Sweden rolled out financial incentives to defray the cost of home energy storage systems. Effective from November 1, 2016, to December 31, 2019, the plan covers up to 60% of system costs – purchase and installation of the battery, wiring, control systems, and smart energy hubs for houses with solar PV systems – up to a maximum of SEK 50,000 (US$5,600).

Andreas Gustafsson, program manager within the Research and Innovation Department of the Swedish Energy Agency, explained that the financial aid targets the growing sector of “prosumers” – private persons or companies dealing in PV for self-consumption:

“The scheme represents a complementary support system to the existing scheme supporting solar PV generation in Sweden. It’s one step, but an important step towards establishing a smart, distributed grid-based around clean, renewable energy.”

In 2018, a rural Swedish community-operated completely petroleum-free after setting up a microgrid running 100% on renewable energy. The 150 test customers in Simris gave their thumbs-up to the system which combines privately-owned wind and solar generation capacity with a storage battery installed by German electric utility E.ON (which acquired Sweden’s Sydkraft thermal, nuclear, and hydropower company) and a back-up renewable fuel generator.

Mike Hirst, an electrical engineer at E.ON, said that the experimental alternative-energy test, which ends at the end of 2019, came with a failsafe plan:

“If there are problems, we will have power restored within 30 seconds because we can just reconnect to the main grid.”

Otherwise, things could get ugly:

“It would only take one outage on our part before everyone turned against us. We’re very conscious that we don’t want to do anything to disrupt power.”

Remember the folks in the other corner? We haven’t forgotten about the critics of Sweden’s microgrid revolution.

Foremost on many observers’ minds is the fact that Sweden is being considered by the International Olympic Committee to host the 2026 Winter Olympics. Can they beat out the Italian bid from Milan-Cortina if there is no guarantee that the lights will stay on when thousands of spectators and participants flood Stockholm and environs?

The Swedish government is shuttering its oldest nuclear reactors and replacing it with wind energy despite the technological shortcomings that accompany this alternative energy source. The country’s main metropolitan areas are hard-pressed to keep up with demand, especially in periods of heavy usage, such as during a heavy snowstorm.

In May 2019, Jonas Kamleh, a strategist for Malmo, Sweden’s third-largest city, commented on how citizens are reacting as their cheap and plentiful nuclear power is being replaced by energy solutions deemed more eco-friendly:

“Citizens and companies are worried, irritated and even angry. How could this situation arise in the engineering nation of Sweden?”

Sweden is halfway to its goal of substituting the energy output from thousands of wind turbines in the north for four nuclear reactors in the industrialized south.

Due to aging grid cables, some installed in the 1950s, power isn’t delivered to places that need it. The problem is compounded by an unexpectedly sharp rise in consumer demand as the Swedes electrify transportation and heating grids.

The Swedish National Institute of Economic Research reported in April that the national economy was slowing. The forecasted GDP (gross domestic product) growth of 1.5% this year paled in comparison to 2018’s increase of 2.3%.

Cities are losing out on economic opportunities. Vasteras, west of Stockholm, lost its bid on a $4.5-billion project to construct a battery factory for manufacturer Northvolt AB. The enterprise may be located in the northern city of Skelleftea which lies close to the Arctic circle and has access to plenty of hydro and nuclear power.

Vasteras Mayor Anders Teljeback explained the conundrum facing his region:

“We want to continue to develop the industry in our region and we need the power capacity to do so. We expect to have to wait for ten years for more capacity.”

Two of the main opposition parties in Sweden are working to halt the closure of two of Vattenfall’s nuclear reactors at Ringhals. A 1980 referendum approved phasing out nuclear power and Svenska Kraftnat, the Swedish utility that operates the high-voltage grid, says the decision to close them now is now irreversible.

People in Malmo are angry. They were facing blackouts a year ago and fear the consequences of powering down a local gas plant due to increased environmental taxes.

The power struggle in Sweden is heating up as new sustainable ways to generate electricity are being tested on the general public.

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