Sunday, March 05, 2006

Digging into details to understand Sweden’s oil dependency

Digging into details to understand Sweden’s oil dependency

Most people who start to discover Peak Oil find themselves confronted by their lack of knowledge as to how things work in the society they live in. The good news for those living in Sweden is the transparency of its institutions. The bad news is the work required to cut through all the details to see the bigger picture.

Let’s explore the question of the role of energy in the economy. Two statements heard quite often are that the percentage of GDP of energy is growing less. And that Swedes are actually using less energy now than in the 70s. The other thing we often here is that oil independence is easy to attain as a large percentage of energy used is either renewable or nuclear, neither threatened by oil prices.

Firstly it is true that Swedes are using less energy now than in the 70s. But does it mean that Sweden is producing less energy? On the contrary, Sweden is producing over 600TWh of energy, but only using a little over 400TWh per year.

The explanation is that losses are far greater than they were in the 70s. Back then, oil was a major source of energy, and with oil there are few losses between production and consumption. Nuclear losses are huge, 149TWh in total. The rest of losses total 46TWh.Transmission losses in electricity supply alone totaled 11.2 TWh annually.

The grid itself, whilst a fantastic invention enabling transmission of e.g hydro electric power from remote regions, means huge losses - all the more expensive as energy prices increase. One might even question the viability of a huge grid given its inefficiencies.

The losses from Nuclear power are more than the energy used in transport, including shipping which totaled 121TWh.

So where is all the oil going? To petrol, diesel and aviation fuel, making up nearly all of that sum. Ethanol, the main use of which is as an additive to petrol, amounts to 1.6TWh.

This means that Sweden is dependant on oil products for its transport industry, requiring a tenth of the total energy produced and over a quarter of energy used.

One renewable challenge then is to work out how to produce, say 100TWh of fuel from biomass. And how much biomass would be needed? It takes biomass produced fuel to harvest, transport and process the biomass so it can be fed into, say, a synthetic diesel plant. This is the subject of a lengthy PhD thesis, which I recommend all enthusiasts to read, as the thinking could be applied to other countries. The report suggests Ethanol could be produced from biomass not being used today up to about 55 TWh per year.

Oil independence, from where I am sitting seems unattainable without large scale investment in local renewable solutions, energy efficiency and general power-down. Re-localisation in short.

First Chapter of Book now available

The first chapter of my Book "Inventing for the Sustainable Planet" is now available for download for free. Click below or visit the Book's HOME PAGE
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