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Why is everyone talking about electricity in Sweden?

Electricity has been a hot topic in Sweden recently, particularly after the public broadcaster suggested people might want to avoid vacuuming.

Why is everyone talking about electricity in Sweden?
Cold weather means high demand for electricity, leading Sweden to import electricity from other countries. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/Scanpix/TT

What's happening?

Svenska kraftnät, the Swedish authority responsible for electricity, last week warned that the electricity grid would be strained due to cold weather.

This prompted public broadcaster SVT to encourage readers to avoid vacuuming, both to keep their own electricity costs down and for the climate's sake. 

Demand for electricity increases during cold weather spells as more people turn the heating up, boil their kettles and so on. This not only means that electricity prices climb, but it also means Sweden often can't provide all the electricity needed from domestic sources and so imports it from other countries.

It's not only consumers who can be savvy about their electricity use; paper manufacturers Holmen turned off machinery last week because the high costs of electricity meant it wasn't worthwhile.

The humble vacuum cleaner quickly became a symbol for a long-running political debate over nuclear power.

Christian Democrat leader Ebba Busch posted a picture of her standing with her vacuum cleaner in the snow on Facebook, arguing that calls for “vacuum rationing” showed Sweden has “big problems with electricity provision”, while the Moderate party shared graphics calling for “a society where you can vacuum whenever you want”.

Does Sweden have an electricity shortage?

Each year, Sweden exports more electricity than it imports, but the demand and supply varies with the seasons. That's partly because Sweden increasingly relies on energy sources such as wind, solar and hydro power which fluctuate, and partly because demand for electricity increases in colder months.

Sweden's goal is that all electricity should be 100 percent renewable by 2040. There have been long-standing ambitions to reduce dependence on both nuclear power and oil and instead use wind, water and solar energy.

On days when Sweden can't provide the electricity needed, it turns on an oil power plant in Karlshamn, or may import electricity. The company that runs the Karlshamn power plant has an agreement that it stands ready to operate during winter, and it was turned on last Monday for example.

When Sweden needs to import electricity, it most often turns to Norway for hydro-powered electricity, but also imports from countries like Germany, Poland and Lithuania which use coal to produce electricity.


The power plant in Karlshamn. Photo: Patrik Lundin/SvD/TT

What is the impact on electricity prices?

Increased demand also pushes up prices. In southern Sweden, electricity reached the price of 2.4 kronor per kilowatt-hour on Thursday morning, while at the same time a kilowatt-hour cost only 50 öre in the north of the country. Over the whole day, the average price in southern Sweden was around 125 öre, around double the price in the north.

Fluctuation between regions is normal, because electricity prices are driven by supply and demand. Northern Sweden has fewer people so less demand, and a lot of electricity is generated there so there is sometimes a surplus – sometimes, even at the same time as there is a shortage in the southern regions.

February's cold weather has also pushed up prices, especially combined with low wind levels meaning little electricity produced from Swedish wind turbines. This meant that the current average monthly kilowatt-hour cost is the highest since 2011 – but this is expected to return to normal levels for the season this week with a slight rise in temperatures.

What does that mean for my bill?

For the average consumer, this won't have a significant impact on your monthly bill. The cost of the electricity itself is actually a relatively small part of what consumers pay, with taxes, fixed prices and electricity grid fees all also factored in.

The extent to which you are impacted by price fluctuations also depends on what kind of contract you have – variable or fixed rate. But the more you use, the more you'll be affected by the kilowatt-hour price, particularly people who own houses rather than apartments, which generally have much higher electricity costs. 

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What happens if you don’t pay a bill in Sweden?

Sweden's Enforcement Authority is responsible for collecting unpaid debts, fines, and declarations of bankruptcy. So, what happens if an unpaid bill reaches the Enforcement Authority, and can you do anything if you have a black mark on your record?

What happens if you don't pay a bill in Sweden?

What happens when you have a bill?

Usually, if you have a bill in Sweden, you will receive an invoice (faktura) either digitally or via post, which will include details such as the amount owed, who to pay and the date payment is due (förfallodatum).

If you don’t pay the invoice in time, the person you owe money to may turn the case over to inkasso, or a debt collection agency, who will again send you an invoice for payment, plus the agency’s fee.

If this invoice goes unpaid, the Enforcement Authority will get involved.

The Swedish Enforcement Authority, Kronofogden in Swedish, is responsible for collecting unpaid debts. It does this by providing advice and support to those who are unable to pay their debts, as well as helping creditors – such as, for example, landlords whose tenants have not paid their rent.

The debt collection agency will pass unpaid bills on to them, and you may receive a betalningsanmärkning or black mark on your credit record.

Before you receive a black mark, however, you will first receive an ansökan om betalningsföreläggande from the Enforcement Authority. If you pay this in time, your debt will not be registered as a betalningsanmärkning.

There are some types of payment where you can receive a betalningsanmärkning without the bill going through a debt collection agency first. These are usually payments owed to the state, such as unpaid tax, unpaid student loan repayments or unpaid municipal parking fees.

You are unlikely to come into contact with the Enforcement Authority unless you miss or forget to pay a bill.

What happens if you get a black mark?

A black mark can have pretty major consequences – it can stop you from hiring a car, getting a credit card, borrowing money (including getting a mortgage), taking out a phone contract or even renting an apartment, as well as barring you from ordering anything on credit or paying via invoice.

This is due to the fact that whenever you apply for a loan or credit in Sweden, the lender will check your credit score (kreditupplysning) to see if there is any risk of you not paying up. Many lenders have a strict policy on not lending to individuals with black marks on their credit score to minimise risk, no matter whether the mark is due to an unpaid phone bill or a missed mortgage repayment.

How can I check if I have one?

You can check if you have a black mark by contacting a credit check company – here is a list of all credit check companies in Sweden. Some may charge a small fee for the service, whereas others offer it for free.

One advantage of checking your own credit score before contacting a lender is that your credit score is not affected when you carry out a check on yourself. 

If, however, a bank carries out a credit check on you, this can affect your credit score – it’s usually not an issue if you carry out one or two checks, but a lot of checks in a short period of time could cause issues.

Can you do anything to remove it?

Unfortunately, no. 

All you can do is wait – a black mark will disappear from your record after three years for private individuals or five years for businesses. 

The best strategy is to avoid getting a black mark on your record in the first place – such as by paying your bills via autogiro (direct debit), keeping an eye on your post (as well as your digital post), and paying for items up-front if possible to avoid invoices, rather than using “buy now, pay later” credit services such as Klarna or Clearpay.

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