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Q&A regarding Wind Energy in Sweden, June 2021

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The following content is established and provided by the industry organization Svensk Vindenergi and it is up to date as of June 2021. 

Wind energy’s effect on the job market

The construction phase is the single largest job-producing process during the lifetime of the wind farm. Manpower is for example needed to establish roads, electrical infrastructure, foundations and to erect the turbines. The project manager usually enlists local construction contractors due to economic and logistical reasons. 

During the operational phase, a smaller work force is required to service and maintain the wind farm, however, during a period of around two to three decades.

Secondary job opportunities arise as the on-site labor force require different types of services such as accommodation and catering. 

Wind energy does not require a large work force, which is one of the main reasons for the low costs associated with its production. On the other hand, the cheap electricity generated by the technology ensures economic growth, increased job opportunities and lowered emissions, especially for rural areas in the country.   

Public opinion on wind energy

Each year since 1986, the SOM institute has performed a survey “Svenska Trender” which sets to investigate Swedish trends. Starting from 1999, the public opinion on the Swedish environmental, energy and climate agenda has been included.

  • In 1999, 88% said that they would like to see either an increased investment in wind energy or the same continued support (as of 1999). 
  • In 2020, 82% said that they would like to see either an increased investment in wind energy or the same continued support.
  • In the years in between, 81-92% said that they would like to see either an increased investment in wind energy or the same continued support.

In a report related to the SOM survey of 2020, the opinions of people with different political views (affiliations, backgrounds) were presented. Except for the parties the Sweden Democrats and the Christian Democrats, the majority of voters for every other party represented in the Swedish parliament expressed a desire to increase the investment in wind energy.  

Biological diversity, birds, insects and bats

With the current climate crisis, many biological ecosystems are facing an existential threat. One of the key actions in order to reverse the current negative trend is to minimize the presence of fossil fuels in our energy mix. This is most easily done by replacing fossil fuels with climate neutral energy sources.

According to a report issued by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (Naturskyddsföreningen), it would be possible to increase installed wind energy capacity close to fivefold without being at the expense of biological diversity.

Birds might be killed in collisions with wind turbines, but research shows that new and larger wind turbines kill significantly less birds per produced kWh compare with older and smaller turbines. 

In the research program Vindval commissioned by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, the following statistics are presented for Sweden.

  • 10 million birds are killed by cats annually.
  • 6 million birds are killed by traffic annually.
  • 500,000 birds die annually through collisions with windows.
  • 200,000 birds die annually due to contact with the power grid.
  • 100,000 birds die annually due to oil leaks.

According to the study, on average 2.3 to 7.3 birds are killed by wind turbines annually. At the end of 2020 there were 4,500 wind turbines in Sweden. Using the upper limit of the previously mentioned span results in just below 33,000 deaths per year. This corresponds to 0.2% of anthropogenic bird deaths in Sweden per year.

Wind energy can have a negative impact on insects, but the damage sustained from agriculture, traffic, pollution and climate change is far more extensive. Within the project Vindval, researchers are currently trying to document how insects flock as a function of local weather patterns and to assess if it leads to a subsequent attraction of bats and birds to the wind farm vicinity.

Noise pollution

According to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency’s report on noise pollution from wind energy, there is a lack of evidence connecting infrasound with negative health consequences in regards to wind energy. Noise pollution from traffic is today a larger issue in terms of public health and the upper limit in terms of noise pollution from wind power is stricter than the corresponding limit set for traffic.

CO2 emissions and resource use

No electricity source is without an environmental footprint but in comparison to most other ways of generating electricity, wind energy has a very small negative impact. 

The harvested energy comes from, as the name implies, the wind. More specifically, the kinetic energy stored in the moving air mass. As such, there are no direct emissions associated with the actual electricity generation. Furthermore, there is no need to produce, transport, maintain nor dispose of any type of fuel.  

According to the interest group Nätverket Vindkraftens Klimatnytta, wind energy in Sweden has the potential to indirectly reduce CO2 emissions by a factor of 600,000 tonnes per TWh.

An increase in electricity demand in Sweden will lead to an increase in power generation from fossil fuels, at least in the short term unless renewable electricity technologies see an equivalent and simultaneous expansion.

Through a life cycle assessment perspective, modern wind turbines have an approximate 6-7 g CO2e/kWh according to the Swedish energy company Vattenfall. This includes of course every emission throughout the entire life cycle of the wind power plant such as extraction of materials, manufacturing of components, transportation, assembly, operation and disassembly. As the technology matures, the previously mentioned figure will continuously drop. This is in large part due to the increase in size and techno economic lifetime of the turbines.

Property value around wind farms

According to the report “Vindkraftens påverkan på människors intressen“ from 2012 by Vindval, generally there is no significant statistical ground which supports the claim that wind farms have a negative impact on adjacent property values.

Incentive for municipalities to contribute to electrification

The interest group Swedish Wind Energy (Svensk Vindenergi) proposes a redirection of property tax (related to wind farms) from the state to the municipalities where the farms are situated. The tax should not discriminate technically nor competition-wise and it should be expressed in öre/kWh (1 öre = 0.01 sek). 

Climate transition and electrification

To succeed with the transition to a sustainable and climate neutral society, an expansion and reinforcement of the existing electrical grid will be necessary. Currently, the Swedish grid barely manages the required power transmission and in many areas the maximum grid capacity is reached. If this is not realized, a dependency on fossil fuels, to a certain degree, will be inevitable. On the other hand, if realized, there will be ample opportunity to succeed with the electrification of the country and a possibility to precipitate the same transition in neighboring countries through electricity export. 

Two major and concrete examples of the need for electrification in Sweden are the following:

  • Cars and other light vehicles emit 12 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. A complete electrification of this area would require approximately 12 TWh of electricity per year.
  • Steel manufacturing emits 5.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. The project HYBRIT has the possibility to make parts of the industry fossil free which would require 15-20 TWh of electricity per year.

To support this transition, an increase in renewable electricity generation will be needed. As of now, wind energy is the cheapest technology within that category that can be quickly established in grand scale.

Another important cornerstone on the road to electrification is energy storage. Hydrogen and batteries are emerging as viable system components in which they would be able to tackle power spikes and act as storage units. This would potentially also solve the issue of negative electricity prices as the energy generated by volatile energy producing units could be stored for later use.

Microplastics and Bisphenol

There are false claims in circulation which by extension would suggest that Swedish wind energy emits a collective 10,000 tonnes of microplastics per year. The source of misinformation originates from Norway and has been reviewed by NORWEA  who categorically debunk the claims made. Instead, their examination reveals that the loss per year is approximately 0.15 kg  per wind turbine and is mainly made up of paint. Applied to the Swedish market and its fleet of 4,300 turbines, this would result in a collective loss of 645 kg per year. 

According to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, the following sources collectively emit 13,000 tonnes of microplastics annually: traffic and tire wear, artificial sport fields/courts, washing of synthetic fibers, anti-fouling paint, production and handling of microplastics, painting of buildings, hygiene products.

Wind turbine blades contain small amounts of Bisfenol A but it is located in an inner layer of the blade and thus not in contact with the blades immediate surroundings. A blade that weighs 20 tonnes contains roughly 20 grams of Bisfenol A. Generously speaking, this equals a combined 260 kg of Bisfenol A in all 4,300 wind turbines in Sweden.

Thorough environmental review of wind energy

Applications for wind power facilities are assessed under the Swedish Environmental Code and it is difficult to receive a permit. The project manager has to establish an environmental impact statement (MKB), describing how the facility would affect local ecosystems and people. The county administrative board is responsible for conducting the environmental impact assessment, for which a high standard is required to pass. 

The county administrative boards and the environmental courts usually prioritize natural and cultural landmarks, the interests of the Sámi people and the military over wind energy. About 60% of the submitted applications are rejected.  

A normal application process usually takes 6-7 years before completion, appeals included. 

Costs related to wind energy production

Wind energy has the lowest production cost out of all the large-scale power producing technologies. 

  • Land-based wind energy: 30 öre/kWh
  • Off-shore wind energy: 40-50 öre/kWh
  • Bio-power: 50 öre/kWh
  • Nuclear Power*: 100 öre/kWh

* Refers to nuclear power in Finland, France and Great Britain.

Shadows from wind turbines

In Sweden, shadows or intense reflections cast by wind turbines are not allowed to surpass an accumulated 8 hours per year and immission measurement point, given that the immission point is located at/within a residential property. Wind power plants are normally equipped with a shadow management system which stops the turbine in case the limit has been exceeded.

Subsidies for electricity production

Since 2003, subsidies for wind, hydro, bio and solar power have been expressed through an electrical certificate system

The price per certificate has for some time been close to zero, a trend that is set to continue for foreseeable future. In other words, land-based wind energy does no longer receive any public financial support, an indication that the technology has reached a certain level of maturity and independence. 

During the period 2003-2020, 46% of the financial support (25,7 billion sek) was allocated to bio-power and 39% (21,3 billion sek) was allocated to wind energy.

Wind farm safety

Wind farms usually provide a safe working environment. However, during the winter season there is an increased risk of snow and ice falling or being launched of the blades. The risk is the most elevated during periods of combined cold and precipitation. In northern countries it is common with de-icing systems and the ones used in Sweden are based on heating. 

Rare metals and wind energy

Rare Earth Elements (REE) is a group of 17 natural elements. They are usually used in electronic gadgets, household utilities, vehicles but also wind turbines. The demand for these metals has risen significantly the last twenty years. As a consequence, REE are classed by the EU as among the most critical raw materials for the European industry today.

They are in large used in permanent magnets which are crucial components in electrical motors and generators. Their physical characteristics allow for stronger magnets which in turn can be made smaller and lighter. 

In wind turbines, the most common permanent magnet is labeled Neodym but other variants can also be found on the market. In 2018, approximately 12% of the world’s supply of Neodym was used in wind energy. According to projections, the use is set do double as of 2030 and then remain constant until 2050.

More information on the subject can be found in a report  put together by the Swedish Energy Agency, which details the resource use by the wind energy industry.      

How much wind energy do we need?

The interest group Swedish Wind Energy (Svensk Vindenergi) estimates that a four-time capacity increase of the national fleet is necessary to meet the country’s environmental goals. This does not however imply a fourfold increase in the number of turbines since the development of larger and more efficient units is constantly ongoing. 

In similar fashion, the Swedish environmental protection agency and the Swedish energy agency have produced a strategy for the sustainable development of wind energy expansion. It states that an additional 100 TWh of wind energy will be needed until the year 2040, of which 80 TWh on land.

To put things into perspective, Denmark, which has an area equal to 10% of that of Sweden’s, currently has 6000 wind turbines installed. The 4000 wind turbines (à la 6 MW), needed to achieve the set goals for Sweden, would require less than 1% of the country’s total area.

Foreign Owners – Common for a long time in Swedish energy production

Foreign investors in the Swedish energy sector is nothing outside the ordinary. The five largest electricity producers in Sweden are: Vattenfall (Swedish), Fortum (Finnish), Uniper (Finnish/German), Statkraft (Norwegian) and Skellefteå Kraft (Swedish). Even with the dismantling of the nuclear arsenal and the expansion of wind energy, these companies are responsible for 65% of the domestic electricity production. 

After the commissioning of every known wind farm currently under development in Sweden (set to be completed in 2024), 66% of the total installed capacity will be owned by foreign investors. The Chinese company CGN Europe will hold 7% of the installed wind power capacity in Sweden.

China is Sweden’s largest trading partner in Asia and Sweden’s 8th largest export market. 10,000 Swedish companies are involved in trading with China and 600 Swedish companies have an active presence in the country.      

Wind energy's contribution to Swedish electricity supply  

Generally, a wind turbine produces electricity during 90% of the hours of the year and the production pattern is clear. During autumn and winter when the electricity demand peaks, wind energy also peaks. During spring and summer, the electricity demand and wind power production falls while simultaneously a rise in solar power generation occurs. Following standard market behavior, a lower production is balanced by an increased price and subsequently a lowered demand. The few couple of hours when Sweden imports electricity, the two main sources are Norwegian hydro or Danish wind power. 

The national power shortage is calculated by SVK using a model in which it is assumed that the wind power fleet has lower availability during peak consumption hours than what has been the actual case the last ten years. The figure used in the model is 9% while in reality it has been somewhere between 16-45% for the period 2010-2020. The figure is set to improve given the continuous technical progress being made in the industry. In 2014 the average capacity factor of the installed facilities in Sweden was 24%. The plants commissioned in 2020 have a capacity factor of 37%.

Wind energy: well established, yet continuously evolving

Wind energy has been around for a long time and definitely belongs to the category of well tested and established energy generating technologies. That being said, technical progress is constantly being made to make the turbines larger, more efficient and more environmentally friendly. 

The wind turbines being erected today usually have a total height between 200-240 meters. In 5-10 years, that figure may approach 260-280 meters. 

Recycling and repowering of wind farms

85-90% of a wind turbine can be recycled. This includes but is not limited to the foundation, tower, blades, gearbox and generator. 

The blades, being made of composite materials, require slightly more complicated recycling processes than some of the other components. There is a lot of research being done on the topic of recycling of composites, coming from several different industries such as the aviation and boat industries. To apply pressure on the progress, the wind power industry has suggested a ban on decommissioned wind turbine blades ending up in landfills. 

As a guarantee of sufficient funding for the restoration of the area around a decommissioned wind farm, the Swedish Environmental Code requires a deposit for each turbine installed. The deposit is made in conjunction with the commissioning of the wind farm. The amount is usually within the range of 300,000 – 1,500,000 sek/turbine, with an average of 500,000 sek/turbine.   

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