What a paradox! The Scandinavian nations — Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland – remain at the top of the World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index for 2023. Yet Sweden and Finland rely heavily on nuclear energy, and Norway is a significant producer of oil and gas.
What’s more, Norway has just announced it had authorized oil companies to develop 19 oil and gas fields with a total investment of $18.51 billion – part of a strategy to extend production for decades. Norway 2020 introduced temporary tax incentives to encourage petroleum investment, and in 2022 Norway overtook Russia as Europe’s biggest supplier of natural gas.
Norway’s lucrative oil and gas industry in 2020 produced 740 million barrels of crude oil per day (over half for export), and 112 billion cubic meters of natural gas (nearly all for export). The petroleum industry accounts for 40 percent of Norway’s exports and 14 percent of its GDP.
Over 90 percent of Norwegian electricity comes from hydropower, with wind a very distant second. Norwegian wind, however, suffered a heavy blow two years ago when the nation’s supreme court stripped two wind farms of their operating licenses after reindeer herders argued that wind turbines were frightening animals grazing nearby and jeopardizing age-old traditions.
Wind energy is being used offshore Norway to supply power to its North Sea oil and gas platforms. Oil giant Equinor partnered with two other companies to build the world’s largest floating wind farm, which will produce about 35 percent of the electricity needed.
Thirty years after “deciding” to abandon nuclear energy, the Swedish government in 2010 had a change of heart. Furthering its commitment, the government in January announced plans to build at least ten large reactors over the next 20 years to meet the growing demand for low-carbon energy.
Last month, Sweden announced plans to lift a long-time ban on uranium mining to support its domestic nuclear industry. Several companies, including Australia’s Aura Energy and Canada’s District Metals, have expressed interest in developing sites.
Finance Minister Elisabeth Svantesson said wind and solar power are too “unstable” to meet energy demands in Greta Thunberg’s home country. To ensure a supply of “stable” energy, Sweden changed its energy target from 100 percent renewable to 100 percent fossil-free.
According to Climate Minister Romina Pourmokhtari, “The climate transition requires a doubling of electricity production in the next 20 years, and nuclear power plays a decisive role for us to succeed.” Nuclear reactors today provide more than a third of Sweden’s electricity, behind hydro (which provides about half) and ahead of wind and biomass.
The World Economic Forum does not consider nuclear energy as “renewable,” though nuclear energy is essentially carbon-free. Doubtless, that distinction is a significant reason why climate extremists are horrified. Lund University professor Lars J. Nilsson, a member of the European climate advisory board, discounted the government’s nuclear stance as “symbolic.”
Nilsson, who claims “the expansion of electricity production in Sweden is through wind power,“ fears that Sweden’s reputation as a “green leader” on the global stage is shifting. Sweden, he says, does not need that many nuclear plants — ignoring the export potential. France, for example, relies on nuclear for 70 percent of its electricity,
Sweden holds 80 percent of the EU’s uranium deposits and already extracts uranium as a waste product when mining for other metals. Today, Russia dominates the processing of nuclear fuel, while Kazakhstan produces 43 percent of mined uranium. Another 15 percent comes from Canada, while Namibia supplies 11 percent.
Finland is the Scandinavian nation with the most diverse electricity generation sources. Nuclear energy remains on top, at nearly 60 billion kilowatt-hours, or about a third of the total. Hydro and biomass together accounted for 40 percent, with wind and fossil fuels well behind.
Olkiluoto 3, the first new European nuclear reactor in more than 15 years, brought the price of electricity in Finland down by 75 percent from December 2022 to April 2023. With heavy snowfalls last winter, the nation’s hydroelectric plants are also cranking out more significant than average amounts of electric power, pushing prices down to near zero. Finns were already using less than usual amounts of electricity in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Denmark until recently, had been a significant oil-producing nation, thanks to its North Sea operations. Oil production began in 1972, peaked at 22.6 million cubic meters in 2004, but has dropped to just 3.8 million cubic meters in 2021. In 2020, the Danish government opted to end all new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea and pledged to stop extracting fossil fuels by 2050. Danes rely on wind turbines for well over half their electricity, but nearly a quarter comes from burning biomass – fossil fuels still supplied 15 percent in 2020.
Method in their “madness”?
Norway’s geography makes hydro-a-affordable, so it hardly uses fossil fuels for electricity. Norway also leads the world in electric vehicles -79 percent of new registrations in 2022 were EVs – but has no intention of foregoing its primary source of export revenue. North Sea oil and gas will bring Norway $131 billion in revenues in 2023 alone.
Swedes and Finns, while relying significantly on hydropower, are for now, firm believers in nuclear energy. Finland just fired up the first European nuclear plant in 15 years, and Sweden is on a path to double its own nuclear capacity. Only Denmark is backing away from fuels the World Economic Forum does not declare to be “renewable.”
Yet there could be another reason the Norwegians, Swedes, and Finns are willing to buck the climate extremists to whom even nuclear is the Devil incarnate.
The radical green CleanTechnica was salivating in citing a new report by Danish scientists Peter and Susanne Ditlevsen that “there is ample evidence” that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), commonly known as the Gulf Stream, could collapse as early as 2025.
“The collapse of the Gulf Stream- an epitaph for a Dying Planet” predicts the imminent collapse will “severely disrupt the rains that billions of people depend on for food in India, South America, and West Africa” and also increase storms and dramatically lower temperatures across Europe. And more!
A shuddering Peter Ditlevsen says, “I think we should be very worried.” Cleantechnica blames the “almost certain” collapse on “the burning of fossil fuels [which] has added the heat of 25 billion atomic bombs.” Millions will surely die because “we have refused to listen” even as “our seas boil, our forests burn, and our cities become too hot to step outside.”
Whew! Yet Ben Booth of the Met Office Hadley Centre says the paper’s conclusions are “far from settled science,” and even the IPCC thinks the collapse may not be so imminent. According to the BBC, many scientists’ reservations focus on assumptions made by the Ditlevsens, noting that the climate system is highly complex.
But if the Ditlevsens are correct, and temperatures in the North Atlantic fall by 10 to 15 degrees, the Scandinavians’ energy decisions may be their only salvation. Regional cooling, not global warming, could be in the very near future.
Just don’t bet the farm.
This article originally appeared at Town Hall
Duggan Flanakin is a Senior Policy Analyst with the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow.
A former Senior Fellow with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Mr. Flanakin authored definitive works on the creation of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and on environmental education in Texas.
A brief history of his multifaceted career appears in his book, “Infinite Galaxies: Poems from the Dugout.”