Sweden, which at 39.8% already has the biggest share of renewables in its energy supply of all the EU nations, is in large part depending on wind power to reach its EU directive requirement of 49% green energy, including transport and heat, by 2020. Looking at electricity production alone, wind will need to supply 13% of Sweden's power demand by 2020 for the energy goal to be met, requiring a 1000% increase on wind generation today.
It is not an impossible task. Swedish wind production passed 2 TWh in December, a 40% increase on a year earlier, although still a long way from the 25 TWh of wind that will be needed come 2020.
Not that the government is being explicit about what is necessary. "We do have to put together a national action plan for that 2020 goal-and soon," says Fredrik Dahlstrom of the Swedish Energy Agency (SEA). "But we won't say in the plan exactly what percentage will come from wind, as we're aiming for a neutral energy production market." From lobby group Swedish Wind Energy (SWE), Matthias Rapp has no doubt about wind's role. "Why wind? Well, there won't be much new hydro power due to environmental restrictions," he says, and biomass fuelled combined heat and power is moving to capacity. "What remains is wind power and geothermal energy through heat pumps."
SWE and SEA agree that 20 TWh of onshore wind production is feasible and necessary for Sweden to meet the 2020 target. It entails installing 700-800 MW of wind capacity each year from now until then. To drive the required investment in that much new build will require hiking the number of green energy certificates that electricity retailers must acquire to demonstrate they are mixing legally required proportions of renewables electricity in their sales to customers. The certificates system is currently geared for older, smaller goals of 7 TWh of wind production and 10 TWh of biomass by 2016.
Wind versus nuclear
Before SEA can boost the green power requirement, however, the government must get its national action plan in order. With last month's decision to allow nuclear power back on the agenda - reversing a policy set in 1980 - the way may be clear for a speedy agreement on the plan. Sweden will assume the EU presidency for a six month stint in July with this decisive policy on nuclear in place.
That matters to wind power, SEA says, as the media and public opinion have pitted wind and nuclear against each other. "The nuclear question affects all energy decisions and in Sweden it's always been wind against nuclear - biomass completely slips below the discussion radar," says Dahlstrom. "We know wind can't totally replace nuclear and at the same time we know we need it to reduce CO2 emissions. It's such a relief to make a decision to take the middle road and get on with it." At least some politicians are not so sure that a revival of nuclear is such a good thing for wind, among them Hans Linqvist, from the opposition Center party.
Other barriers to wind development are coming down, though Dahlstrom admits it is not fast enough. On the way to a national energy plan, three bills will go to parliament this month: a climate and energy proposal that should spell out wind's role in general terms; a bill to eliminate the dual-track permitting process for wind plant so that applications only have to be approved by the environment department; and a proposal for a new department of offshore affairs, which as part of its mandate would take charge of offshore wind.
SEA and SWE agree that 10 TWh of offshore wind generation is a realistic ambition and will put the EU directive goal safely within reach. A robust market framework to attract investment in the sector is required, however. A combination of green certificates backed by capital subsidies is one option, says Rapp. "The cost difference between onshore and offshore has to be bridged," he says. "It's not at all certain the government will agree with us, but we're saying offshore has got to happen."
April Streeter, Windpower Monthly