Nordic countries are bringing about an energy transition worth copying

Nordic countries are bringing about an energy transition worth copying
Samsø, a Danish island, generates all its electricity from wind power and biomass. Credit: University of Sussex

What can we learn from the Nordic low-carbon energy transition given the new US leadership vacuum on climate change? A new study by Professor Benjamin Sovacool at the University of Sussex offers some important lessons.

The Trump administration's "First plan" criticises the "burdensome" regulations on the energy industry and aims to eliminate "harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan" which was introduced by President Barack Obama. It has also deleted all mentions of and global warming from the White House website.

Given the American leadership vacuum on energy and climate change, national and local planners looking to bring about energy transitions will need to look elsewhere. Five Nordic countries—Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden - could hold answers for how to make the transition to a more energy efficient society generating energy through renewables. About 83% of electricity generation in Nordic countries is low-carbon, of which 63% comes entirely from renewable sources. The Nordic countries are also facilitating other low-carbon transitions across other sectors including heat, buildings, industry, and transport.

A new study outlines broad lessons for how this transition could be replicated elsewhere.

The energy transition pays for itself (if you factor in the costs of air pollution)

The total estimated cost of the Nordic energy transition is roughly $357 billion more than business as usual, which comes to a total of less than 1 percent of cumulative GDP between now and 2050. Almost all of these costs will be offset by fuel savings. Even the external costs associated with the health impacts of air pollution alone in the Nordic countries (about $9 to $14 billion annually) are roughly equal to the additional investment needed to achieve a carbon neutral scenario.

Trade and interconnection with other countries are key for reaching energy targets

Trade and interconnection with Europe are instrumental to the Nordic countries reaching their carbon and energy targets. Nordic electricity trade must expand considerably— underscoring the need for paralleled, coordinated grid development and interconnections with Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. "It's as much a regional governance or European challenge as it is a national priority for individual Nordic states," says Sovacool, a Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Sussex's Science Policy Research Unit and Director of the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand.

Cities and municipalities take the lead

Cities and municipalities, or 'subnational actors' have taken the lead as key actors driving electricity and heat, energy efficiency, transport and the industry sectors to decarbonise, especially given that urbanization rates across the Nordic region are expected to occur at double the rate of previous decades. It is cities that will need to invest in new buildings, sponsor retrofits, erect electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and optimize heat networks.

Energy transitions take generations

Even for the Nordic countries, which are relatively wealthy, small, and committed, the transition will take at least three to four more decades. Its success rests upon a number of compelling technological contingencies or breakthroughs, each of which will take time. A few such breakthroughs include a continued phase out of nuclear power; a rapid ramping up of onshore and offshore wind energy; a spectacular diffusion of electric vehicles; a massive increase in bioenergy production; and the commercialization of industrial scale carbon capture and storage. On top of this, households and consumers must learn to adopt better energy management systems and industrial planners must come to install newer cement kilns, electric arc furnaces, and feedstock switching for chemicals, petrochemicals, and paper and pulping.

Transitions are contingent on other factors, contested and potentially unjust

For all of its promise, the Nordic transition is contingent upon and unique to its own sociotechnical environment. All the Nordic countries are endowed with plentiful fossil fuels that they can export to generate revenue that they funnel back into domestic decarbonisation process, coupled with a history of strong energy and climate planning and high fuel and electricity prices.

While the Nordic low-carbon transition has generally been successful and has benefited most within its society, the paper also identifies losers in the transition, including those set to lose their jobs as fossil fuels are displaced. Other potential obstacles to be overcome are a lack of understanding among some citizens about energy and climate topics, and the outsourcing of embodied carbon emissions overseas.

Read Contestation, contingency, and justice in the Nordic low-carbon energy transition.

Explore further

Finland plans to phase out coal by 2030 (Update)

More information: Benjamin K. Sovacool, Contestation, contingency, and justice in the Nordic low-carbon energy transition, Energy Policy (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.enpol.2016.12.045
Journal information: Energy Policy

Citation: Nordic countries are bringing about an energy transition worth copying (2017, January 27) retrieved 18 July 2019 from
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User comments

Jan 27, 2017
Intelligence beats political prejudice every time in reality, but cannot compete with political prejudice in the minds of the "poorly-educated" in the camp of Trump.

Jan 27, 2017
"Samsø, a Danish island, generates all its electricity from wind power and biomass."
it is ever clearer that intermittent renewables are useless to curb CO2 emissions.
"Biomass fuels and lung cancer."
"Is biomass energy carbon neutral? Not when you look at the facts"
"Biomass Energy: Renewable, But Not Green"
"Is wood a green source of energy? Scientists are divided"
"How to decarbonize? Look to Sweden" Nuclear power is the right path to deeply decarbonize the grids."

Jan 28, 2017
The Nordic nations are well aware of the cost of nuclear meltdowns. The $190,000,000,000 estimate to "clean up" Fukushima is thought to be a low-ball number, since we have yet to invent the technology to do it. And they will tie up their best engineers for 40 years.

We could build a no-fuel, no-waste energy grid for that much money and talent.

Jan 28, 2017
The Nordic nations are not well aware of the toxic waste arsenic in solar cells(gallium-arsenide) worse than asbestos.

Jan 28, 2017
All that stuff is bound up safely, Willie - unlike the materials stored in WIPP which caught fire all by themselves and spread radioactivity all over.

$190,000,000,000 is a lot of money to throw away, isn't it? Why don't we use Fukushima as a lesson in hubris, and get really clean with alternative and renewable resources?

Jan 28, 2017
All that stuff is bound up safely
Unlike renewables that leave chemical carcinogenics into environment for generations, nuclear waste is tiny and safely stored.
"no one is suffering from spent nuclear fuel. No one has ever been injured from used fuel from a commercial nuclear power plant, let alone killed."
"Ironically enough, however, solar power is far more dangerous than nuclear, even in a year when an accident like the disaster at Fukushima occurs."
"Inconvenient Truth: Wind Energy Has Killed More Americans Than Nuclear"

Jan 28, 2017
"No one has ever been injured from used fuel from a commercial nuclear power plant, let alone killed."

Look up Chernobyl.

And Chernobyl Children.

Jan 28, 2017
Look up wind solar rare-earth metal children
"Children were born with soft bones and cancer rates rocketed."
"This toxic lake poisons Chinese farmers, their children and their land. It is what's left behind after making the magnets for Britain's latest wind turbines..."
"Rare-earth mining in China comes at a heavy cost for local villages "
"In Chernobyl, did the children with thyroid cancer recover?..the mortality was less than one percent."

Jan 31, 2017
Good news for Willie?


They may have found some of the nuclear fuel at one of the Fukushima reactors, but it keeps on killing the robots.

"The utility has been developing robots that can swim under water and negotiate obstacles in damaged tunnels and piping to search for the melted fuel rods.

But as soon as the robots get close to the reactors, the radiation destroys their wiring and renders them useless."


Jan 31, 2017
"Nuclear power has proven itself safer than any energy technology. Misinformation about the Fukushima event where no one was killed and the UN says no one will suffer radiation injury is spread by fossil fuel-funded sources like the Sierra Club campaign against nuclear power to destroy competition of their secret funders."

Jan 31, 2017
Willie, you pass on opinion, while I report reality.

Jan 31, 2017 reality...
"Solar Company Goes Belly-Up After Millions In Taxpayer Cash"
"Solar Inconvenient Truth: Ivanpah Plant a Big Fossil Fuel User"
"Critics now refer to the hybrid plant as another fossil fuel scam.
wind/solar: "This looks more like a scam than a business."

Jan 31, 2017
Great scientific references, Willie.

The Daily Caller?? Is the story behind the boobie pics?

Beritbart? Really?

Were The Inquirer and Tattler not out yet?

Jan 31, 2017
scientific references
"Expansion of renewable energy cannot by itself stave off catastrophic climate change, scientists warned"
"Renewables can't deliver Paris climate goals: study" - January 31, 2017
Still waiting for your stupid commentaries on this article.

Jan 31, 2017
So glad you're staying up for my answer.

Yup, if we do not replace almost all of the carbon containing fuels faster then we are doing now, we will not save the Earth.

I guess we agree.

The problem is that $190,000,000,000 it will take and the two entire generations of engineers technicians and engineers to "clean it up" at Fukushima, . . and the next one to go.

Not much left for alternative energy, is there?

Feb 01, 2017
If choice is between "intermittent renewables" and "nothing", "nothing" is better to save taxpayers' money and to avoid ruination of natural landscapes and annihilation of millions of birds and bats by wind blades and solar mirrors and hydro dams.
Intermittent renewables are replacing fossil fuels neither fast nor slow, e.g. Germany, on the contrary, they are becoming ever symbiotic with fossil fuels to keep lights on when wind is not blowing or sun is not shinning because cost-effective batteries are ever far from reality.
In the transportation sector, heavily dominated by fossil fuels, intermittent renewables substituting fossil fuels is a joke.
Carbon-free nuclear power is proven the fastest way for deep decarbonization, e.g. France and Sweden, and it is the safest per unit of energy produced even including Chernobyl and Fukushima, and will become ever safer with new generation of reactors.

Feb 01, 2017
Great scientific references, Willie.

The Daily Caller?? Is the story behind the boobie pics?

Beritbart? Really?

Were The Inquirer and Tattler not out yet?
George kamburoff the lying cheating psychopath asserts that the validity of information depends on its source.

In his case at least, this is true.

Feb 01, 2017
... references ...
"Ivanpah solar plant, built to limit greenhouse gases, is burning more natural gas"
"The behemoth Ivanpah solar power plant built with federal subsidies to combat climate change is using increasing amounts of natural gas, a greenhouse-gas-emitting fuel, state and federal data show."
"The most recent numbers from the California Air Resources Board show that in 2015, the plant's second year of operation, carbon emissions from Ivanpah's gas use jumped by 48.4 percent to 68,676 metric tons."

Feb 01, 2017
Once again, Willie: What way is the trend going? Towards cheap and clean alternative energy or more fossil fuels?

Meanwhile, nukes have been good for employment - two entire generations of scientists, engineers, managers, technicians and laborers will be needed to "clean up" your last nuclear disasters.

Feb 01, 2017
gskam trump bagdad bob lives in his "alternative reality", a world 100% powered by his fibs.
For him, reality is a bunch of "alternative facts".
"In Germany and Japan less nuclear means more coal but not more renewables"

Feb 01, 2017
Did you "forget" this news this morning?


Read all of it.

Feb 01, 2017
gskam loves scaremongering "magnified facts".
Melted debris are killing robots, oh no! Shut down it now and replace it by intermittent renewables backed up by coal and other fossil fuels; solar chemical carcinogens, wind radioactive rare-earth metals and coal ashes are good for you, and also stop climate change.

Feb 01, 2017
That projected cost of $190,000,000,000 to "clean up" Fukushima was not from me, Willie, but one of your nuke apologists.

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