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Sweden: Breaking Dependence on Oil is “A Matter of Political Will”

Speaking at the “Peak Oil and the Environment” conference, Sweden’s Minister for Sustainable Development, Mona Sahlin, outlined some of the approaches the country is taking in pursuit of its recently articulated policy target: the creation of the conditions necessary to break Sweden’s dependence on oil by 2020.

The government appointed a broad-based expert council, The Commission on Oil Independence, in December 2005. This spring, the Commission, led by Prime Minister Göran Persson, is reviewing actions necessary to achieve the new policy target.

...there is, indeed, an increased sense of urgency. If we prepare now, the transition to a sustainable energy system can be smooth and cost-efficient. If we wait until we are forced by circumstances, the transition may be costly and disruptive.

Sweden, which already has a high percentage of hydropower, has set up an ambitious target to increase the use of electricity from renewable energy sources. Wind power, the Minister noted, is probably the renewable energy source with the greatest potential in the short- and medium-term in the Sweden. To that end, a high-level wind-power council has been established and tasked with the responsibility for the overall coordination of the continued expansion of wind power.

Transportation, however, given its almost total dependence on oil, presents a much more difficult problem, and one Sweden is looking to tackle with biofuels.

Breaking dependence on oil in the transport sector will probably be the greatest challenge and the Government therefore has an ambitious policy to increase the percentage of renewable fuels.

Today, around 15 percent of new cars sold are environmentally friendly cars that run on ethanol or biogas. But this is not enough to break the dependence on oil. For the individual, it has to pay to choose an environmentally friendly car.

Carbon dioxide neutral fuels must be cheap—they are exempt from both carbon dioxide tax and energy tax for a five-year period. Environmental cars will be exempt from congestion charges and will have access to free parking in some municipalities. Cars that are classified as a taxable benefit and run on environmentally friendly fuel will continue to enjoy tax relief. The Swedish Government will give priority to purchasing environmentally friendly cars.

Sweden is also working actively in the EU for us to permit a higher blend of ethanol in petrol, a measure that would quickly have a great positive effect. The readjustment of the transport sector requires both international and national efforts with broad contributions by researchers, industry, users and the state.

Environmental technology has become Sweden’s 8th largest export trade, and the environmental sector in Sweden is the industrial sector with the largest economic growth. By leading in development, Sweden intends to be in a position to succeed in the export market as well.

Breaking the dependence on oil is, in my view, a matter of political will. A consistent policy will turn obstacles into opportunities. To hide behind excuses of ignorance or economic considerations is not leading us to a sustainable future.


Rafael Seidl

Sweden was the first European country to adopt three-way catalysts in the 80s, followed by Switzerlan and Austria. Eventually, Germany forced the then EEC to follow suit, prompting a continent-wide transition to lead-free gasoline in 1991/92. France, Italy and Spain were rather more reluctant at the time but eventually went along.

It therefore comes as no surprise that Sweden, Switzerland, Austria and Germany are once again in the vanguard of the switch to biofuels. The Nordic focus on alcohols and biogas is mostly due to available waste streams from paper mills and furniture producers. Further south, farmers can grow rapeseed, a biodiesel feedstock.

The EU has set itself a target of 20% biogenic fuels in the road transportation sector by 2020. Meeting it will likely require the early adoption of 2nd generation biofuel processes, despite the relatively high price.

In this context, it is surprising that Sweden is limiting its low-tax pledge on biogas as a transportation fuel to just five years, except for company cars. Germany has pledged low taxes on gas-powered vehicles so through 2020 (for NG, though that may contain scrubbed biogas), leading to the belated establishment of a distribution infrastructure and the production of CNG-powered passenger cars.

Opel has already raised the compression ratio of its monovalent-plus engines to 12.5 to take advantage of the high octane rating. Once fuel availability is no longer a problem, ratios of 14 will be common, extending operating range. Efforts are underway to raise the safe maximum pressure limit in the tanks from 200 to 300 bar.

Btw, Italy has the largest deployed CNG fleet in Europe.

NOTE: In Europe, gasoline (liquid) is called "petrol". The term "gas" is used for methane (+ other gaseous fractions).


Its almost enough to make me want to immigrate. Why is such a sensible attitude so rare amongst politicians in other countries?


I would like to see our government begin to buy products that promote energy independence. With high fuel prices, the consumer will begin to choose higher mileage cars. The military could be in the vanguard of this movement since the logistics train is the achillies heal of any military operation.

Sweden is smart to be out in front on this since any technology they develop for internal use has export potential. And they are less dependent on unstable and non democratic countries as sources of energy. The US would greatly benefit from that type of independence as evidenced by the way Iran is twisting our tail.

Adrian Akau

Note here displayed the forward vision to prepare for what appears to be the inevitable demise of oil instead of waiting until it comes. This proactive response to the energy situation is what should be kept in mind. Sweden is preparing now for the problem that is to come while here in the US, our politicians do not seem to be too concerned. Just look at the attempts to kill the Nantucket wind generator farm or to limit attempts in raising mpg standards.

I do not think there is much political will on the part of some of our senators such as Senator Kennedy of Massachusetts or Senator Inoye of Hawaii to solve the energy problem. I really think we need some new people in congress that are concerned with our energy future and that do have sufficient political will to place national interests above their own.

[email protected]


Just an idea: Why not form a new political party "Enviro" and slap both Rep & Dem in the "face" with serious arguments about global warming and oil dependence... [I though the Green party was going to be a little "stronger" by now, but it seems not.]

The problem in this country is that we only have two [major] parties unlike European countries where there are coalitions among parties to form governments and to push issues together!

When Bush is gone...maybe things will be better???



Over 1/2 country does NOT believe in evolution, how are you going to get them to beleive in the Science of global warming?
In the USA, only 5% of college degrees are in Science and Engineering? Scientists and engineers are less than 3% in the general population?
This what a new Political party needs to do:
1)Stress the positive themes common to all religions.
2) Have stances that BOTH defuse hot button isssues AND
re-direct the voters BACK to the important issues.
3) Stress that people must work- no free loaders, to gain the benefits of society.
4) Get people to think "long term". NO MORE "end of times" thinking. How will you leave the earth to your children?
5) programs to reduce time at work, and more time with family and friends.


The Socialist regime in Sweden has a very poor track record of subsidized industrial projects. This is just another pipe-dream to win votes from people who like to feel "responsible". The technology isn't ready yet and there is not enough raw material here. It would be far better to abolish all tariff on biofuels. But then Sweden would be drenched in cheap biofuel from Brazil and perhaps Africa too. It should also be said that Mona Sahlin is considered a joke by many people in Sweden, including me. I prefer Bush any day.


One thing I learned from discussion on this web site is that no matter the reason, fictional or real, no matter political orientation, no matter why and how, but everyone agree that we have to break from our dependency from OPEK oil. This is truly encouraging.

Starvid, Sweden

Mona Sahlin is a joke, a total nobody.

But still, our government is very aware of peak oil. I think our best shot at the moment is importing Russian and Norwegian natural gas to manufacture some domestic diesel via gas to liquid. A good security of supply insurance.

Rafael Seidl

Starvid -

or, you could start driving around in CNG vehicles, at least in the more populated areas of your country. Fischer-Tropsch is a process that is only economical at a huge scale (cp. Shell in Malaysia and Qatar). It might make sense for the Russians to set up such a plant, because much of their gas is quite remote from their markets and liquid fuel can be transported anywhere. FT is also competitive with LNG once you factor in that transportation fuels have a higher marker value.

Starvid, Sweden

Problem with CNG is that you need an entirely new infrastructure, new kinds of cars and engines.

We have some biogas buses where I live but still, CNG works best in fleet applications. Or not at all.

On the contrary to what you state, I have heard g-t-l scales well, and can be useful at small production volumes. What is "small", I do not know exactly though.

The entire oil consumption of Sweden is about 250.000 barrels a day. Maybe 50.000 barrels are diesel. So even a small 10-20.000 barrels a day plant would increase our security of supply really much.


Nicely elaborated point TonyChilling!
I'm with you...

FS, Ph.D.

fyi CO2

"It should also be said that Mona Sahlin is considered a joke by many people in Sweden, including me. I prefer Bush any day."

At least on the topic of oil independence it seems Mona Sahlin has great political will and some faculties about her. Curious, is your preference for Bush based on his will to find WMD or attack Al Qaeda in Iraq? his will to come to the aid of the poor in the Gulf post-Katrina? or his will to destroy the ANWR to get 2% of our current oil consumption in 10 years?

Joacim Persson

"to break Sweden’s dependence on oil by 2020."

Very clever as a political promise. They don't have to do a thing to achieve it... (What will the oil price be by then, eh?)

Speaking of Sweden and oil dependency. During WW2, the import of oil was zero. Over 90% of the vehicles in the country during that period ran on wood gas. By 1945 the thermal efficiency on wood gasification devices exceeded 90%. (Producing ethanol or other liquid fuels from the same source will never be even close to that efficiency number.)

But it's not even mentioned in the offical political energy debate, in a country covered mostly with forests.

We are already sitting on the technology -- and the energy source. And they spend hundreds of millions SEK on...distilleries!?

The only reason I can see for this acted ignorance is that they have realised it would be completely impossible to put taxes on firewood, which could easily be sold on the black market by petty farmers... They (the social-democrats and it's two satellite parties: the communists and the greens) view any non-taxable solution as a non-solution. They would lose control, an unthinkable, horrifying prospect for a socialist politician.

A taxable energy system cannot be decentralised and private; a zillion little ants scurrying about forming a hayekian spontaneous order. It has to be few huge plants and/or controllable fuel distribution (i.e. gas pipelines, power wires etc). The key words for the social-democratic party and it's allies are: control, order, hegemony.

The problem is not technological.

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