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Sweden Aims to be World's First Oil-free Nation

Using Renewable Energy, Sweden Plans to End Oil Dependency by 2020

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Map pin placed on Stockholm, Sweden on map, close-up
Jeffrey Coolidge/Photodisc/Getty Images
Sweden has moved to the forefront of the world’s “green” nations by setting an ambitious goal to achieve a completely oil-free economy by 2020—and without building more nuclear power plants.

Motivated by global warming and rising oil prices, the Swedish government says it intends to replace all fossil fuels with renewable alternatives before climate change undermines national economies worldwide and diminishing oil supplies force astronomical price increases.

"Our dependency on oil should be broken by 2020," said Mona Sahlin, minister of sustainable development, in an interview with The Guardian newspaper. "There shall always be better alternatives to oil, which means no house should need oil for heating, and no driver should need to turn solely to gasoline."

Even Skeptics Cheer Sweden’s Goal to End Oil Dependency
Not everyone believes Sweden’s goal to free itself from oil by 2020 is achievable, but even critics applaud the country for setting such a compelling and motivating goal, which could also inspire other nations to make dramatic efforts to reduce their dependency on fossil fuels.

Kenneth Werling, chief executive of Agroetanol, which runs Sweden's largest ethanol factory, told the Associated Press, "I don't think this is realistic, but it is a good ambition. Maybe we can build a society that is less dependent on oil, and that is good in itself."

The Growing Dangers of Oil Dependency
But the Swedish government is serious about the goal. According to the energy committee of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, there is growing concern among nations worldwide that global oil supplies are peaking and will soon begin to become scarce, causing the price of oil to skyrocket. Committee members predict that a global economic recession could result, and Sweden is taking action to make its economy less vulnerable.

According to Sahlin, international oil dependency is one of the world’s biggest problems, and she believes Sweden must act now to prepare for the worst. "A Sweden free of fossil fuels would give us enormous advantages, not least by reducing the impact from fluctuations in oil prices," she said. "The price of oil has tripled since 1996."

A History of Success and a Plan for the Future
There is no question the goal is extremely ambitious, but this nation of 9 million people has a track record on energy issues that should inspire confidence.

In 1970, 77 percent of Sweden’s energy came from oil, but by 2003 that figure had fallen to 32 percent. Renewable sources account for an average 6 percent of energy consumed by nations in the European Union while renewable sources supply 26 percent of Sweden’s energy needs. Roughly a third of Sweden's energy comes from nuclear power, although a 1980 referendum declared that nuclear power should be phased out.

Renewable Energy Alternatives and Incentives
Sweden has built wind power and water power plants along its coastlines, including a large new wind farm that is scheduled to start producing energy in 2009. And the country has more forest per capita than any other country in the EU, which provides a steady supply of biomass.

Sweden also sponsors innovative programs to promote the use of alternate fuels for everything from home heating to transportation. Many neighborhoods in Sweden use a central furnace that consumes biological fuels to provide hot water for all of the nearby homes.

Thousands of individual homeowners have replaced their oil furnaces with boilers that use wood-based pellets, which has dramatically reduced Sweden’s dependence on oil for home heating. According to the Swedish Petroleum Institute, heating oil sales have fallen by 85 percent in recent years, and today only 8 percent of Swedish homes are heated by oil.

Sweden uses tax breaks and other financial incentives, such as exemption from tolls and parking fees, to encourage citizens to drive cars that use renewable fuels. Tax incentives also make it possible for Swedish drivers to fill their tanks with ethanol-based fuel for about a third less money than it would cost for ordinary gasoline, even though ethanol costs about 40 percent more to produce.

A Commitment to Environmental Leadership
When Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson heard that U.S. President George W. Bush had declared in his 2006 State of the Union address that America is addicted to oil, he said he was relieved to learn that "at last there's one more who understands the problem." Unfortunately, President Bush’s proposed budget, which came out a week after his speech, either underfunded or reduced funding for many conservation and renewable energy programs that could help lessen America’s addiction.

The people of Sweden not only understand the problem, they are pioneering solutions and setting an example for the rest of the world to follow.

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