A look at Sweden's bioenergy progress -- towards a post-oil society

Feb 25, 2008 01:00 AM

Of all the EU member states, Sweden was given the highest target for renewables by the European Commission. Whereas other countries have relatively low goals to meet by 2020 -- the UK 15 %, Germany 18 %, France 23 % -- Sweden must hit a whopping 49 % mark.
Making sure half of a country's primary energy consumption is met by hydropower, biomass, wind or solar, is no easy task, not even for a country that has vowed to become entirely oil free by 2020.

But Sweden is confident it can be done. Contrary to some smaller countries who complained about their assigned target, Sweden accepted its own and says it will turn the ambitious goal into an advantage: the world's greenest economy will spread its expertise around the world and profit from it. The Swedish government is not only establishing a strategic energy agreement between the EU, China and India.
Its international aid to developing countries -- and Sweden is by far the world's largest donor (aid as a percentage of GNI) -- will remain at this high level, but greater importance will be attached to energy considerations. Energy security is crucial for development, especially in energy-intensive, poor countries.

Today, Sweden is the country that already gets more of its energy from renewables than any other industrialised nation: around 40 % of a total supply of 624TWh. Of this share, biomass contributes 62.7 %, hydropower 33.5 %, geothermal 3.2 % and wind 0.5 %.
Nuclear makes up a large part of the country's energy mix, making the ambition to become entirely oil free not too far-fetched (in fact, a city like Vaxjo, Europe's greenest city, is almost there). Currently, only 4.5 % of Sweden's energy comes from coal and coke, and 1.7 % from natural gas. Crude oil and petroleum products contribute 32.2 %.

Over the years, large hydropower has stagnated with no major new capacity brought online. All other renewables have been growing consistently. Interestingly, the Swedish government is strongly in favour of international trade in bioenergyand biofuels, with the argument that it can help poor countries and their largely rural populations develop.
Trade is also a matter of efficiency: countries that can produce biofuels more efficiently and sustainably should be allowed to trade freely on an international market, to the benefit of consumers and the environment. Sweden has therefore been the most active and almost sole EU member state promoting free bioenergy trade.

Given the large and growing share of bioenergy -- and Sweden's key role in tech transfers to the biomass-rich South -- it might be worth to take a look at how the country is organising this sector. The International Energy Agency's Bioenergy Task 30 recently (December 2007) published a comprehensive country report, showing the progress being made in this renewables sector.
Together with a recently (January 2008) published in-depth overview of the country's energy landscape in 2007, produced by the Swedish Energy Agency, we get a good view on where the country's green energypolicies are taking it.

Policy framework
Bioenergy's role is framed by a number of policy measures and incentives that have been introduced in order to achieve the objectives set out in Sweden's over-arching energy and climate policy. The overall objectives are: to ensure the supply of electricity and other energy to create favourable conditions for efficient use of energy and a cost-efficient supply of energy having a low negative impact on health, the environment or climate, and to promote the transformation to an ecologically sustained society.
For several of these overall objectives, Sweden says it's important to increase the proportion of renewable energy, to improve energy efficiency, to reduce the use of energy in absolute terms and to reduce emissions.

One general means of achieving energy policy objectives, and which is intended to help to meet several of the objectives, is energy taxation, in the form of an energy tax as such, carbon dioxide tax and sulphur tax. Other important policy measures and incentives are the electricity certificate trading scheme, the energy efficiency improvement program, policy measures for infrastructure and transport, technology procurement, the climate investment program, and information activities.
Emissions trading (ETS), and Research, Development and Demonstration (RD&D) constitute important elements of a long term development strategy.

Taxes and incentives that work
Already in 1991, Sweden introduced a carbon tax, while the country also has a sulphur tax. Together with a set of incentives for renewables, this has sped up the transition towards clean energy production and energy efficiency.
The general energy tax, which has existed for several decades, and with varying purposes, is levied on most fuels, based on various factors such as their energy contents.

Electricity certificate system
Since the beginning of the 1990s, several different systems intended to support the production of electricity from renewable energy sources have come and sometimes gone. They have included investment grants for the production of electricity from biomass, wind power and small-scale hydro power, as well as an operational subsidy for electricity generated from wind power, known as the environmental bonus (note: of all renewables, biomass is least subsidised overall).
In 2003 a new support system started for renewable electricity production, based on trading in electricity certificates for renewable electricity. The certificate trading system is complemented for wind power production by environmental bonus which, in 2005, amounted to 9 oere/kWh (about EUR 0.01 /kWh) for onshore production and 16 oere/kWh (about EUR 0.018 /kWh) for offshore production. It is intended that a progressive reduction of this subsidy would take place.

The electricity certificate system is intended to reduce the production costs and support the development of new production in the long-term by creating competition between different types of renewable electricity production. Producers receive one certificate unit for each MWh of renewable electricity that they produce.
Qualifying renewables are electricity from wind power, solar energy, geothermal energy, certain biofuels, wave energy and certain hydro power.

With effect from 1st April 2004, electricity produced from peat in cogeneration plants has also qualified for certificates -- controversially so, because some would say peat is a 'slow' renewable, taking centuries to renew itself. All electricity users, with the exception of energy intensive industries, are required to buy certificates corresponding to a certain percentage of their electricity use.
In 2005, users had to buy certificates corresponding to 10.4 % of their electricity use. The proportion of certificates that users are required to buy (their quota obligation) varies from year to year: During 2005, the average price of one unit of electricity certificate was SEK 216 (EUR 23).

The aim of the certificate trading system is to produce a greater proportion of the country’s electricity from renewable sources, an increase by 10 TWh between 2002 and 2010 is the indicative target. In June 2006, Parliament decided on changes in the electricity certificate system.
The target for renewable electricity production was raised by 17 TWh for the target year 2016 (as compared with production in 2002), and extending the life of the scheme itself to 2030. Quota obligations have been set for this entire period, and the number of allocated certificates was adjusted for the period 2007-2010.

Energy in buildings
A wide range of policy measures are used in order to reduce energy consumption in buildings. The target for the measures is that buildings must be designed and constructed to reduce overall heat losses and for efficient use of electricity. Owners of buildings are required to provide information on the use of energy together with certain parameters of the indoor environment, in form of an energy declaration.
Investment grants for solar heating were introduced with the purpose to encourage solar heating technology for detached houses, apartment buildings and certain types of commercial premises. The grant is in the form of a subsidy for installation of solar heating systems for space heating and/or domestic hot water production.

Owners of detached houses, apartment buildings or other premises associated with residential premises having direct electric heating can receive a grant for the cost of partial or complete replacement of such heating systems by district heating, heat pumps, or by bio-energy boilers. The grant is also available for replacing oil fired heating systems. The grants are available for the period 1st January 2006 to 31st December 2010.
For new detached houses the owner can apply for tax relief for the installation of a biofuel fired facility, such as a pellets-fired boiler, as the primary heating source. The boiler must be able to provide both space heating and domestic hot water, and must also be the main source of heating in the house.

Transport
There are several different types of policy measures affecting the transport sector. Energy tax and carbon dioxide taxes on motor fuels are indexed annually following cost developments. The energy tax is mostly fiscal in its purpose, while the carbon dioxide tax is intended to reduce net carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels.
Biomass-based motor fuels are exempted from energy taxation. The intention is to encourage the introduction of new motor fuels, as well as to improve their security of supply in the longer term. Support to domestic production and increase of the security of supply are the purposes of the customs import duties on ethanol, which were introduced on 1st January 2006 the present government is not in favour of such import duties, but wants to harmonize duties within the EU). The law also states that larger petrol stations must provide renewable motor fuel.

Energy RD&D
Sweden's Bill on Research and New Technology for a Future Energy System presents a long-term program for RD&D with the aim of developing technologies and processes for the transition to a sustainable energy system. The budget for RD&D in the energy sector for 2006 was considerably increased over that for 2005, when it had been severely cut.
Current guidelines call for an overall objective to develop cost effective energy systems based on renewable energy sources, and to develop systems for more efficient use of energy. A holistic approach is important, and special efforts are made to cover the relationships between man, society, technology, economics and the environment.

Six over-arching themes give structure to the R&D efforts. Bioenergy and biomass is a recurring area of development.
The research field focusing on energy use in urban environment includes the supply and distribution of heating, electricity for domestic and services systems. The work includes several different technology areas, such as small scale combustion of biomass fuels, bio-based district heating and district cooling, heat pumps, solar heating and energy systems.

The transport theme area includes RD&D of biofuels, combustion engines and electrical drive systems. In the longer term, improvements in combustion engines and electrical drive systems should result in substantial reductions in the fuel consumption of cars and of heavy vehicles. Research into electrical drive systems is concentrated on electrical and hybrid vehicles, and on fuel cells.
The energy-intensive industry research area gives priority to improvements in the efficiency of energy use, particularly for energy intensive processes in the pulp and paper industry and in the steel industry. Gasification of black liquor -- a residual biofuel -- can provide the forest products industry with a fuel for additional electricity production capacity, and may also provide a means of motor fuels production.

The power system research area includes hydro power, wind power, solar cells, wave power, power transmission and energy storage in the power system. Research in wind power aims at improving conditions for an increase in the country’s power supply from wind, and for reducing costs.
The RD&D in the field of solar cells are concentrated on thin-film solar cells and nanostructure cells, as well as on their integration, installation and use in buildings. Research in power transmission systems and energy storage in power systems is deals with the support to new technologies and means of production.

The fuel based energy systems research area includes RD&D on sustainable biomass fuel production and energy conversion. Research in the area is intended to reduce costs and to utilize a greater proportion of the overall production potential.
Sweden is leading country in terms of production and use of solid forest based fuels, such as pellets. Heating and combined heat and power (CHP) production technologies are studied in order to acquire knowledge that can be used to improve efficiency.

Particular importance is attached to the development of three larger bioenergy-related pilot plants, covering the entire chain from research to demonstration. A pilot plant for ethanol production is in operation in Ornskoldsvik, and a demonstration plant for the second generation biofuels in Varnamo for gasification of biomass is re-commissioned after a major conversion.
Public funding is also supporting a pilot plant for black liquor gasification in Pitea. Black liquor gasification in the pulp industry would improve the efficiency of chemicals recovery and the efficiency of energy processes. A potential of about 10 TWh/year of electricity production is estimated for Sweden through this process. Alternatively, this process could be used to produce motor fuels for about 30 % of the present demand for propellant fuels in the transport sector.

Domestic bioenergy production
The total annual biomass production in the Swedish forests is estimated to be about 76 Modt (Megaton oven dry substance).This corresponds to about 1.36 EJ. More than half of that quantity is left in the forest site, due to market restrictions and for technical, environmental, and economic reasons.
Projections about the realistic future potential for domestic biomass production show that around 179 TWh (644 PJ) is available from the forestry sector, and between 19 and 39 TWh (66 to 140 PJ) from the agricultural sector.

The bulk of the biomass currently used in Sweden is taken up by the industrial sector, which consumed around 60.4 MWh in 2006. The pulp and paper industry as well as the sawmill sector took most of this share.
Sweden is known for its district heating systems, which provide hot water either used directly or to heat buildings, to homes, businesses and public buildings. They are often based on efficient co-generation plants, the development of which is a top priority for Sweden. These systems consumed around 40.5 MWh of biomass based energy in 2006.

The country also has a thriving and rapidly growing pellet sector, with households preferring the convenient fuel over other heating methods that have now become far more expensive (heating oil, natural gas, electric heating). Combined, large and small pellet heating systems consumed 8.0 MWh worth of biomass in 2006.
Finally, biogas is a leading green energy sector, yielding a whopping 250 GWh of heat and electricity in 2006. The use of liquid biofuels for transport has been growing steadily, with 376,000 cm of ethanol used in low mixtures (250,000 cm), high mixtures (E85: 110,000 cm) and the remainder in Sweden's famous ethanol buses. Biodiesel consumption was 61,000 cm in 2006.

Large scale biomass users
Sweden is a technology leader in biomass based CHP (Combined Heat and Power) systems, operating 44 units in district heating utilities, and 30 units as back-pressure systems in industrial operations. When you visit Sweden, you will find many towns and cities being heated by district heating distribution networks. A total of 264 units are already operational in the country, all fired by biomass.
Planned investments for CHP and back-pressure power generation in the period 2008- 2012 in utilities and industry is expected to amount to an impressive SEK 44 bn (EUR 5/$ 6.4 bn), with 19 new projects in the pipeline for the industrial sector, and 47 projects for utilities.

A total of 6.5 TWh of new bio-electricity capacity will come online by 2012 (industry 1.5 TWh per year; utilities 5 TWh per year). In short, bioenergy is pervasive throughout Sweden's society. Both the industrial sector, the utilities as well as residents all use the fuel, in their factories, homes and cars.
What is more, contrary to fossil fuel prices, wood fuel prices in Sweden have remained largely stable over the past five years. These price data are officially published in Sweden, and are based on information from about 200 district heating utilities and about 20 industries. The statistics reflect the costs at the mill site for the various wood fuels per three monthperiods.

International bioenergy trade
Sweden has vowed to fight protectionism over biomass and biofuels in the EU. The Union now puts tariffs on biofuels, whereas they can be produced in a more environmentally friendly and efficient way in countries of the South. The Swedish Trade Ministry has therefore launched several initiatives to pressurise governments to drop these protectionist measures, in part because it thinks the biofuel sector provides major opportunities for rural, social and economic development in poor countries.
According to Sweden, sourcing biofuels should follow a clear logic: fuels that are more efficient, less costly and bring most emission reductions should be freely tradable on a global market. This benefits consumers everywhere and the planet as a whole.

International trade within the bioenergy sector started early in Sweden. The country sets an example for others, because, even though it has large biomass resources itself, it will not hesitate to find the most optimal mix between environmental sustainability, efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
Several factors coincided to develop strong drivers for this development of international trade, such as public policies, the structural pattern of the end users, and the traditions and contact patterns of the Swedish industry with regard to international trade. Most cities in Sweden had district heating systems originally based primarily on combustion of imported oil. When the policy measures led to change to solid renewable fuels that structure was also suitable for import of these fuels.

Major companies in Sweden related to the bio-energy sector were and are working in international markets. That is true for enterprises e.g. in the forest industry and in the combustion technology. Therefore, sourcing of raw material, shipping and international trade were already parts of their established businesses, and consequently it was relatively easy in the emerging bio-energy trade to mobilize competence to carry out economicanalyses and to go on with practical handling.
In a comparably small scale the import of bioenergy took place in the period 1975-1990. It was mainly cheap fuels in form of waste from the food industries, e.g. olive kernels and other similar fuels which could compete with coal in a direct price comparison.

After 1990 the import grew due to introduction of stronger incentive measures and to the development of new sources:
(1) the opening of direct access to cheap biomass in the Baltic states, and (2) the stricter rules for wood waste handling and combustion in Germany and the Netherlands which led to a flow of very cheap fuel from recovered wood (“RT-chips”) to those existing plants in Sweden which already had feasible combustion technology for those fuels. However, after some years, the construction of similar plants in e.g. Germany has led to a decrease and almost to a stop in that flow.

Current biomass flows differ for the various biomass products. Imported fuel such as chips, bark, saw dust, and fuel chips from imported round-wood are utilized primarily in large and medium sized district heating utilities The typical importing utility plants are located at or near suitable ports.
The same pattern is true for industrial users. The locations of utility plants and industry plants in Sweden shows most can be found at sites with suitable logistics for import of biomass fuels.

With the introduction of electricity certificates and tradable emission rights, the process industries, in particular the forest industries increased their use of biomass fuels and consequently also increased their use of imported wood fuels. In free and open competition with domestic biomass fuels, imported wood, pellets and briquettes are also used in district heating utilities. In an increasing rate these types of imported fuels, in particular wood pellets, are also used in small and medium scale burners in individual households, small energy heating units, schools etc.. In these cases fuels are imported by middle men or distributors.
Transport fuels such as ethanol are used by the main oil companies either as low mix (5 %) in petrol or as 85 % ethanol fuel (E 85).

Imported wood fuels
Biomass is imported under different definitions and it is often mixed with other categories of products. This is especially true for wood in unrefined forms. Round wood in form of pulp wood and saw logs is normally imported in undebarked form, and as the bark is used for energy purposes it could be classified as “imported biomass”. The same could be the case for saw dust and other residues from imported logs. Moreover, a portion of the round wood import consists of energy wood for direct use (after splintering) for energy generation.
However, the import statistics do not separate round wood directly used for fuel. Nonetheless, a rough estimate of the bioenergy portion of that import can be made based on the total import of wood.

The bioenergy portion of the wood import (logs, chips, residues) can roughly be assumed as follows: "direct" wood refers to the portion that is used for fuel directly, "indirect" wood to secondary fuels like bark, saw dust, and black liquor from the portion that is used in industrial processes. With this distinction in mind, Sweden imported around 26 PJ worth of wood for direct consumption, and 59 PJ for indirect consumption.
The main part of the imported round wood and the chips in 2006 had its origin in the Baltic states and in Russia. To a large extent it was integrated in the harvesting and in the flow of wood to the Swedish forest industries. A few years ago, wood residues, especially recovered wood fuels (RT) came from Germany and the Netherlands. In later years, the major part of the flow of residues to Sweden emanates from the Baltic states. However, Canada supplied almost a third of the total amount, demonstrating that biomass rich countries can export and transport biofuels over long distances and still remain competitive.

Imported pellets
Sweden's rapidly growing pellet industry is partly based on imported pellets. The production and trade of pellets are recorded by the Swedish Pellet Association (PIR) and the published values for 2005 and 2006 can be found in the following tables; the trend shows that roughly a third of all pellets consumed will be imported.
Pellets are imported mainly from neighbouring countries in the east, Finland, Estonia and Latvia. However, the main single supplying country for pellets again was Canada.

Transport biofuels
Imported liquid biofuels for transport are mainly ethanol. In 2006 the total quantity was about 376,000 cm. Other biofuels, such as tall-oil and residues from the food industry were imported in 2006 to an amount of about 7 PJ. These biofuels have their origins in southern Europe and in Brazil. Ethanol from southern Europe is based on the wine industry while the Brazilian supply emanates from the efficient sugar industry.
Sweden's bioenergy trade is organized and carried out in a variety of forms and patterns. There are several examples of long term contracts. Seasonal contracts are also common and so are spot contracts.

Some of the trade in round wood, chips and wood residues is captive, meaning that the entire chain is controlled by the end user or the national distributor. But other portions are performed in form of FOB or CIF contracts, either directly between producer and end user or involving one or several agents or other middle men.
Two different trends of emerging patterns could be noticed, namely:
(1) that the major users of imported biomass fuels tend to prefer buying biomass fuels in the same manner as they buy other types of fuel i.e. from established trade channels and based on well defined quality norms and classifications and
(2) major producers and large end users sign contracts for biomass fuels that are suitable for the specific requirements of that particular end user. When the resource base for raw material widens due to increased general demand of biomass fuels, this trend wouldbe further explored.

Trade barriers
Even though Sweden is one of the most rational countries when it comes to biofuel trade -- and in as far as policies are concerned -- the young sector still faces several technical, logistical and quantitative barriers. Technical barriers have their roots in difficulties to describe and measure quality and energy content in adequate and efficient ways. As uses and applications for biomass fuels has widened and become more diversified more technical issues have been included, e.g. regarding contamination, durability, storability, and health risks.
There are a number of cost driving aspects of shipping biomass for energy. The harbour facilities are often not equipped in fashion that enables cost efficient handling of the products. In addition to that, there are only few units of the shipping fleet, which are specially designed for efficient shipping of biomass for energy.

Bioenergy trade is generally carried out within unrestricted and free trade principles. One exception from that policy is the import of fuel ethanol to Sweden which is regulated in form of quotas which of course limit the possible import volumes. Recently, the rules regarding import duties on fuel ethanol import have been changed to be more protective. The difference in approach could be explained by the assumption that ethanol is regarded primarily to be an agricultural product.
However, the Swedish long term policy is to establish free trade within the entire energy sector, including propellant fuels. At several occasions representatives of the new government have taken initiatives -- within the EU and internationally -- to get support for that policy.

In addition to a case being made for a liberal trade policy Sweden's general energy policy is very much pro-bioenergy. This has enhanced the competitiveness of biomass for energy compared to competing energy sources and other energy generation technologies. However, other renewables receive more subsidies than the bioenergy sector.
The key to bioenergy's success in Sweden has been the CO2 taxation scheme. Its decisive impact is based on the fact that of all renewables, biomass offers the least costly option to reduce emissions. This has prompted industry and utilities to prefer investments in bioenergy.
Source: www.checkbiotech.org / Biopact

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