Nordic countries have had more success in decarbonising their electric energy systems than any other region in the world. Remarkably, the countries have made the changeover without sacrificing economic growth. While 2014 marks the first time that global emissions from the electric energy sector may decouple from GDP, the Nordic region has exhibited a steady decoupling since 1997. At COP21, the Nordic Council of Ministers heads a Nordic Pavilion, showcasing a wide range of green solutions from the Nordic countries.
By Páll Tómas Finnsson
Ambitious energy policies have paved the way for decoupling
According to the IEA’s Energy Technology Perspectives, emissions from the world’s electricity production need to be reduced to 100g CO2 per kWh before 2040 so that average global warming can be limited to two degrees relative to pre-industrial levels. The Nordic region is already at that low level by way of ambitious energy and climate policies as well as close political, commercial and technical collaboration in the Nordic electricity markets.
“Nordic energy co-operation is unique and longstanding and the results of this prosperous co-operation are impressive,” says Hans-Jørgen Koch, Director of Nordic Energy Research (NER), the platform for co-operative energy research and policy development under the Nordic Council of Ministers. “As demonstrated in the Nordic Energy Technology Perspectives 2013, Nordic countries are 25 years ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to low CO2 emissions from electricity production.”
According to Koch, all five countries have actively used policy frameworks in decoupling CO2 emissions from GDP, notably carbon taxes and renewable energy incentives. The countries benefit from access to complementing natural resources for power production, and have also been known to be early adaptors of renewable energy technologies. To enhance these benefits, the Nordic region has established a well-functioning joint electricity market and a highly integrated grid infrastructure.
“Nordic grid integration optimises efficiency of production and provides security of supply against uncertainties such as dry hydropower years, offline nuclear capacity, or access to electricity markets outside the region,” Koch says. “The joint market and grid development are also instrumental for the integration of fluctuating renewable energy sources in our systems.”
On track towards carbon-neutral energy systems
During the international climate negotiations, Nordic countries have demonstrated their continuing commitment to decarbonisation of their energy systems. All five countries are – despite their strong position today – determined to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades.
Denmark aims to produce its entire power supply from renewables by 2050, which is expected to result in a 75% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Norway strives to become carbon-neutral, and Sweden has presented a 2050 vision of sustainable and resource efficient energy supply and no net emissions of greenhouse gasses. Finland’s ambition is to reduce emissions by 80% as part of the international climate change effort, while Iceland, which in 2014 produced almost 100% of its electricity from renewables, aspires to cut emissions by 50-75% by 2050.
For more detailed information about the Nordic countries’ emissions reductions targets, visit www.nordicenergy.org
A mere 30% of the energy-related CO2 emissions in the Nordic countries are from electricity and heating, while the remaining 70% are predominantly from transport, including global shipping – a sector in which Nordic countries are market leading.
“Shipping and industry are vitally important for the Nordic economies and it’s difficult to imagine the level of economic prosperity and welfare we have in the region without them,” says Koch. “In order to achieve the ambitious climate and energy goals set by the Nordic countries, it’s of utmost importance that we reduce emissions in these sectors.”
According to IEA, a near complete decarbonisation of the Nordic energy systems could be achieved by 2050. As part of the work on the upcoming Nordic Energy Technology Perspectives 2016, which will be published by IEA and NER next year, four key opportunities to achieving this goal have been identified.
These are: firstly, to further enhance the power and heat supply infrastructure and increase electricity generation from renewables; secondly, to transform energy use in the transport sector, e.g. through modal shifts from combustion-motor cars to electric vehicles and from diesel to biofuels in long-haul land-transport and shipping; and thirdly, to develop energy and climate technologies for energy intensive Nordic industries. The fourth key opportunity is to enhance energy efficiency in buildings, not least through retrofits of the existing building stock.
Need for continued R&D co-operation in energy
Koch highlights the need for continued co-operation in energy research and research-related analysis and scenario building. NER recently concluded a large research programme called Sustainable Nordic Energy Systems 2050 (SES2050) and has just launched three flagship projects that will form the core of the Nordic energy research co-operation in 2016-2020.
“SES 2050 has demonstrated how the electricity sector in the Nordic countries can reduce its emissions to zero,” says Koch. The programme has addressed a wide range of issues, including production of solar energy in northern areas, profitability of new wind-turbines, production of biomass from Nordic forestry, and the use of solar, water and CO2 to produce biofuels or hydrogen.
NER’s three flagship projects will address integration of variable renewable energy through enhanced interaction between markets, energy-efficient and low-carbon transport systems, as well as ways to enable negative CO2 emissions through chemical-looping combustion of biomass. Furthermore, in 2016, NER is launching a research programme on Green Growth together with its sister organisations, NordForsk and Nordic Innovation.
Read more about NER’s flagship projects here.
“The potential of Nordic energy co-operation is not decreasing with increased European, OECD and world-wide energy co-operation,” says Koch. “On the contrary. Further developing our common research activities and electricity markets holds vast opportunities for the region.”
Read more about Nordic events and Nordic Climate Solutions at COP21 at www.norden.org/COP21
“Nordic energy co-operation is unique and longstanding and the results of this prosperous co-operation are impressive”
Hans-Jørgen Koch, Director of Nordic Energy Research (NER)
Share of renewable energy in gross energy supply
Developments in greenhouse gas emissions by sector
Decoupling of environmental pressures, gross energy consumption, ressource use and generation of non-mineral waste from economic growth
Pubications from the International Energy Agency:
Tracking Clean Energy Progress 2015