The origin of electricity is of great importance to the environment as 26% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions come from the production of electricity and heat. In Sweden, we have the world’s highest share of renewable energy, 98% of electricity is fossil-free and heat production takes place to 94% with renewable or recycled fuels. However, the picture looks a little different globally and depending on the energy source used, the environment is affected in different ways. Read below about sustainable electricity and various energy sources.
Renewable energy is fossil-free, it is produced without finite resources such as oil or coal. Such electricity has less negative environmental impact because it does not provide a net supply of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere other than when they are produced. Production often requires the consumption of fossil fuels in the form of gasoline and transportation. It is usually calculated that solar cells and wind power that generate renewable electricity pay off their energy debt in 6-24 months. Power plants that run on fossil fuels, on the other hand, increase their debt because they pollute the environment and emit carbon dioxide. Nuclear power is also fossil-free – but uranium is a finite resource that cannot be renewed. The methods of electricity production that are not renewable are less environmentally friendly – ecological alternatives. But all production requires the use of natural resources in one way or another and it can therefore be difficult to know which renewable energy source to choose.
- Wind power is becoming an increasingly important energy system in Sweden, there are many places with a lot of strong wind and it can therefore contribute to achieving the goal of a completely renewable electricity system.
- The supply from wind power has increased in Sweden during the 2010s. However, wind power still makes up a small part of the total energy supplied but is beginning to play a significant role in the electricity system.
- It takes up a lot of space, which changes the landscape and sometimes leads to biologically valuable forests being cut down.
- They hum loudly, which can be perceived as disturbing to the immediate area.
- The spinning rotor blades risk killing / damaging birds and bats.
- Read about how wind power works here (in Swedish).
- Stands for 45% of Sweden’s electricity production, which makes it the largest renewable electricity generation type.
- No new hydropower is being built in Sweden today, but the focus is on adapting the environment and streamlining the existing facilities.
- Rivers have been rebuilt into lakes instead of rushing waterways, which is negative for plant and animal life that has been adapted to life in the river.
- The areas that have ended up under water risk leaking methane gas from the ground.
- Some stretches of watercourses are drained, which means that fish cannot pass freely.
- The red-listed eel has long been debated in relation to hydropower as many – for lack of protection – swim into hydropower plants and die.
- Read about how hydropower works here (in Swedish).
- Despite its dark winters, Sweden is considered to have good conditions for solar energy.
- According to the Swedish Energy Agency (in Swedish), solar energy has increased by about 70% in the last two years and they predict that it will account for about 60% of the total increase in production of renewable energy in 2024.
- Electricity from solar cells is free from greenhouse gas emissions and does not disturb animals, nature or humans.
- The production of solar cells requires certain metals and minerals that can be both rare and difficult to extract without adversely affecting the environment.
- Read more about solar energy here (in Swedish).
- Bioenergy is the largest renewable energy source in Sweden.
- Used mainly in heat production – district heating – but the use has also increased in the transport sector in recent years.
- Biofuels are made from organic material, plants, sludge from sewage treatment plants or from slaughter waste.
- The fuels can be gaseous as biogas, liquid as ethanol or solid as wood and pellets.
- It is optimal for the environment and climate if they are made from waste or leftover products in agriculture.
- If they are made from forest products, there is a greater risk that production will not take place sustainably, for example when rainforest is cleared and replaced by monoculture. Such felling leads to carbon dioxide emissions when a newly established tree initially produces less carbon dioxide than what an older tree binds. The forest is a limited resource, and it is not possible to get both maximum choline storage and bioenergy at the same time.
- Today we consume more energy than the production of bioenergy can offer in a sustainable way, therefore it can not be the only energy source.
- Nuclear power accounts for about 30 percent of Sweden’s electricity production.
- There are a total of six nuclear reactions in operation, distributed over three nuclear power plants in Sweden.
- Water is used as cooling and is then released into bays, which increases the temperature in the water and affects plant and animal life.
- It does not emit carbon dioxide but uses uranium which is a limited resource and will run out.
- Uranium is imported from long distances, and mining is also harmful to the environment and human health.
- Despite safety systems, there is a risk of core melting, which means an explosion of the nuclear power plant and leakage of radioactivity. Examples of this are Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986 and Fukushima in Japan in 2011. It is especially risky in a world where extreme weather is becoming more common in line with climate change.
- Consumed uranium is radioactive for 100 000 years, in contact with cells in both animals and plants it is incredibly harmful. Therefore, it is stored in safe containers in places far away from people. It is an ethical dilemma whether it is defensible to conduct nuclear power or not, as there is no guarantee that future generations will understand that the containers are radioactive and directly harmful.
- Read about how nuclear power works here (in Swedish).
Power plants and fossil fuels
- Fossil fuels consist of fossils from plants and animals that lived millions of years ago, these include fuels of coal, oil and natural gas. Because it takes a long time for fossils to regenerate, it happens much slower than our rate of consumption. It is therefore an ending source.
- When we burn fossil fuels, emissions of carbon and sulfur compounds occur that affect both humans, animals and plants. Today, the WHO classifies these air pollutants, also called smog, as the single greatest threat to public health.
- Emissions from power plants contribute to acidification in the soil, which makes it difficult for plant and animal life, especially in watercourses.
- Power plants require large amounts of water for cooling, which contributes to the water shortage in the world.
- In the last 40 years, the supply of crude oil and oil products has more than halved.
- Read more about power plants here (in Swedish).
Page updated 2021.
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