On October 21, 2010, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and the Nordic Council held a briefing examining how and why Nordic countries have achieved global leadership in low-carbon technologies and strengthened their economic competitiveness. The oil crises of the 1970s spurred the Nordic countries to invest heavily in energy efficiency – including combined heat and power/district heating and energy efficient buildings – and renewable energy such as wind power, hydropower, geothermal, waste-to-energy, and biofuels. In the decades since, these countries have broken the direct relationship between economic growth and energy consumption, and emerged as global leaders in clean energy exports. Speakers representing industry and government from Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, and Norway discussed their nations’ experiences developing low-carbon economies.
Denmark has a goal of becoming 100 percent free of fossil fuels by 2050. Renewable resources produce 43 percent of Sweden’s energy supply, and the nation has a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. Iceland gets 82 percent of its primary energy from renewable resources and is actively working to decrease its use of carbon fuels even further. Sixty percent of Norway’s energy consumption comes from renewable resources. Norway’s strong carbon policies have reduced average carbon emissions per barrel of oil produced to less than half the global average, and the country aims to be carbon neutral in 2030. Finland has a goal of 60 percent renewable energy by 2050, and 80 percent reduction in emissions (compared to 1990 levels) by 2050.
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- The basic energy management approach used by the Nordic countries is to reduce our current use of energy, reuse the energy we’ve already generated (through combined heat and power/district energy systems), and replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.
- A revolution in the research and development of clean energy and energy efficient technologies is needed for a transition to a low carbon economy.
- Norway has conducted extensive research and development on offshore wind, solar photovoltaic technologies, and carbon capture and storage (CCS).
- The Norwegian hydropower system can serve as a “battery” for Europe, by releasing water from reservoirs when electric demand is high or when power production from other sources wanes.
- In most of the Nordic countries, district energy systems play an essential role in increasing energy efficiency and use of renewable energy sources.
- Forty-six percent of Danish homes are heated with waste heat or renewable energy, displacing the need for foreign oil.
- Ninety-three percent of buildings in Helsinki, Finland are heated by district heating, and the city’s district cooling system is the third largest in Europe. The district heat produced by the new data center in Helsinki is enough to heat up to 500 single family houses. If all data centers in Finland operated on the same principle, enough energy would be saved to heat a medium-sized town in Finland.
- Ninety percent of Icelandic households are heated with geothermal heat distributed by district energy systems.
- Sweden’s large scale investments in district heating have resulted in lower energy costs for industry and created new income sources for industrial facilities that sell residual heat to local district energy systems.
- Since 1990, Sweden has reduced emissions by 12 percent, while its GDP has risen 48 percent.
- Danish consumption of energy has remained flat over the last 28 years, while the economy has grown by 78 percent. In 2009, Denmark exported energy technologies and equipment at a value of 11 billion U.S. dollars, corresponding to 11.6 percent of total Danish goods exports.
- An international treaty would be beneficial for a global fight against climate change, but the Nordic countries already have the political will to reduce energy use and transition to low carbon energy sources.