Last year, Sweden made headlines thanks to its pledge to become the world’s first fossil fuel-free nation, not just in terms of electricity generation but in terms of total energy production. However, as some have pointed out, this may prove difficult: They are gradually phasing out their nuclear power, which has an insignificant carbon footprint. This means they will be relying on just renewables, which as one new study suggests will prove not just difficult, but actually counterproductive.
Writing in the European Physical Journal Plus, a pair of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Germany and the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden highlight that, yes, Sweden has a carbon dioxide-free electricity generation, but this is thanks to both its hydroelectric plants and its nuclear power plants. Removing the latter and replacing it with wind power has its problems.
Although undeniably a useful and clean source of energy, wind power is intermittent, and storing its generated electricity is difficult. It’s likely that without the constant and efficient supply of power from nuclear fission, a back-up electricity system will be required, and this will most certainly take the form of a fossil fuel combustions system – probably natural gas.
A wind farm in Sweden. mrwhiterat/Shutterstock
Based on Swedish electrical infrastructure in 2013, and updated to take into account the switch from nuclear power to wind power, the researchers conclude that the carbon dioxide emissions from the Scandinavian nation would actually increase, not decrease. This highlights the need for nuclear power in the fight against man-made climate change.
“A mix of wind power at 22.3 gigawatts plus a gas based back-up system with 8.6 gigawatts producing together 64.8 terawatt hours would replace the present infrastructure with 9 gigawatt nuclear power producing 63.8 terawatt houses of electricity,” the researchers write in their study, noting that “CO2-emissions increase to double in this case.”