"The transition to steel production without coal poses significant challenges to the Swedish energy system," warns a recent report.
Luleå-based mining company LKAB is one of the key players facing these challenges, requiring 70 terawatt-hours (TWh) of energy for their entire operation to convert to carbon-free production in around 20 years. Other heavyweights such as H2 Green Steel, Northvolt, SSAB, and Fertiberia (fertilizer) are also affected, while the shift towards electrifying society is expected to make an impact in various sectors such as transportation and the automotive industry.
The Swedish Energy Agency estimates that Sweden's electricity demand (currently at approximately 140 TWh) could potentially double by the year 2035.
We posed three questions to a panel comprising of:
Angelina Björklund, an analyst at the Swedish Energy Agency, suggested that the future mix of electricity production will be heavily influenced by societal acceptance of various production methods.
Anna Krook Riekkola, an associate professor in energy engineering at Luleå University of Technology, seeks to change the way we think about wind power in order to increase opportunities for expansion.
Claes af Burén, an energy expert at consulting firm WSP, believes that significant investments and a clear political direction are necessary to succeed in the future of electricity production and transmission.
Can the energy supply for new industries planned in northern Sweden be solved? If so, how?
Angelina Björklund: "The restructuring of Sweden's industrial sector will lead to a redistribution of electricity use between electricity areas, where use increases sharply in the north. However, the increase does not happen overnight. It involves gradual expansions in connection with various investments and projects. There are challenges that need to be addressed, and the use, production, and distribution of electricity need to keep pace. Sweden has a good starting position and all the opportunities to create the necessary conditions."
Anna Krook-Riekkola: "The short answer is yes, but the feasibility depends on the number of new companies establishing themselves in Sweden. Renewable energy sources in the country are not unlimited, and it is this very resource that makes Sweden more attractive than other parts of Europe. The outcome of investments remains to be seen, and time will tell how many come to fruition. Achieving a balance in energy supply can be accomplished through greater cooperation between the northern regions of Norway, Sweden, and Finland."
Claes af Burén: "Yes, despite significant challenges, it is technically feasible to solve the energy supply for the new industries. There are many interesting ideas and proposals, but it will require a combination of several solutions, including increased local/regional electricity production and increased transmission capacity for both electricity and hydrogen. It will not be easy and will require significant investments as well as a clear political direction."
The fastest energy source to deploy is said to be land-based wind power. Is it realistic to expand it to the extent required in the north, given competing interests such as reindeer husbandry, defense, and tourism?
Angelina Björklund: "While it is true that land-based wind power has the technical and financial opportunity to make the most significant contribution to electricity production in the short term, there are challenges to consider. These include goal conflicts and resistance to wind power, which can be prevalent in some cases, not only in the north. The possibility of expansion depends largely on the removal of obstacles and resolution of goal conflicts. However, an increase in electricity demand in the north does not necessarily mean that all production must be located there."
Anna Krook-Riekkola: "The approach should start from the opposite end. Instead of focusing on the energy needs and identifying the optimal locations for wind power based on wind conditions, we should assume that all parties operating in areas with wind power potential need to identify where they can accommodate wind power. This approach involves identifying potential locations based on different interests. While meeting global climate goals requires everyone to compromise, no one should have to entirely submit to the transition."
Claes af Burén: "Onshore wind power will undoubtedly play a critical role in the energy system, both regionally and internationally. It's crucial to consider conflicting goals and interests, and I believe Sweden can take a more comprehensive approach to address these challenges. Several municipalities in Norrland have taken significant responsibility for wind power establishment. Therefore, it's crucial that they also benefit from the new jobs, increased support for local communities, and more, while considering other interests. It's important to remember that energy is a means to an end, and not an end in itself - it's a tool to construct the green society of the future."
How do you think the distribution between different power sources will look in Sweden's energy system in ten years?
Angelina Björklund: "Given our current knowledge, we don't believe that strong electrification is feasible without favorable conditions for all types of fossil-free power. In the coming decade, land-based wind power has the greatest potential for expansion, while solar power has potential for rapid expansion but from a low starting point, and may play a smaller role in the overall electricity system. Ultimately, the future mix of electricity production will depend heavily on society's acceptance of different types of power."
Anna Krook-Riekkola: "In our analyzes, we see that hydropower, nuclear power, and cogeneration will continue to produce the same amount as today, while the increasing demand for electricity will be met by wind and solar power. The future of electricity production, when current nuclear power sources need to be replaced, depends on the development of technologies and solutions. It's important to consider all fossil-free power options and flexibility solutions, but that doesn't necessarily mean we need to have all of them."
Claes af Burén: "The current power sources will continue to be a part of Sweden's energy system in ten years, but with a greater proportion of renewable power, especially wind and solar. However, it will be crucial to maintain a balance between the various types of power, as each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and they complement each other during different times of the day, week, and year. The higher proportion of renewable energy will necessitate increased storage and transmission capacity, which will require significant investment."