Sweden “to break oil dependency by 2020”

Sweden will be the first country in the world to break its dependency on oil, according to Minister for Sustainable Development Mona Sahlin. By the year 2020, a series of "carrots and sticks" will have created a Sweden which is able to switch to other energy sources.

“It’s not just probable, it’s completely necessary,” said Sahlin to news agency TT.

For the country to move away from its dependency on fossil fuels would not just be good for the environment and the climate, argued Mona Sahlin on the debate page of Dagens Nyheter. If the oil price continues to rise it would also be a major economic advantage.

“We know that the price of oil is going to keep rising, since it is a finite resource,” she said to TT.

The government’s recipe for reaching the 2020 goal includes providing financial support to home owners who want to replace oil boilers. The state will contribute 30% of the cost up to a certain amount.

Where that ceiling will lie is not yet clear, but the government says it is prepared to put aside half a billion kronor a year as its share.

As far as electricity production is concerned, the ambition is to increase the amount produced by renewable resources threefold by 2016. The system of electricity certificates, criticised for leading to higher prices, are important and will be continued, said Sahlin. But she said that she believes that a breakthrough in windpower will be central to any improvements.

But electricity is not the most critical part of the government’s conversion.

“Breaking our reliance on oil is going to depend to a great extent on the transport industry,” said Sahlin.

Tax breaks will make it cost-effective to choose cars which run on renewable fuels. The EU’s goal is 5.75% renewable fuels by 2010 – an amount which is hardly going to remove Sweden’s dependency upon oil by 2020, claimed Sahlin.

“The steps which have been taken so far are far too small,” she said.

At the same time, Sahlin is “convinced” that she will be able to get the EU to participate in the process.

Raising the tax on petrol further, which has been backed by environment minister Lena Sommestad, is not part of the plan, according to Sahlin.

Other proposals are the continued investment in communal heating, new directives for the state-run Vattenfall which has been much criticised for its use of foreign coal power, and more resources committed to energy research.

But Sahlin also said that the incentives would have to go a lot further if the targets were to be met.

“There are 15 years left until 2020 and many budgets which must go further. But this shows what we want. The lack of renewable fuels, such as ethanol which today is imported, will be solved through investment in new systems in Sweden.”

Sahlin did not go so far as to suggest that petrol-powered cars would be a thing of the past by 2020.

“No, I don’t think so – I’m a little bit realistic.”

Is this realistic? Discuss!