Swedish wind power poised to dominate after record year

In 2019, 1.6 GW of new wind capacity was installed in Sweden, and orders were placed for 2.5 GW in new turbines, marking yet another record year for the country's wind build-out. The Swedish Wind Energy Association sets its sights on 2023, a year when wind power will form the backbone of the national energy mix along with hydroelectric.

Charlotte Unger Larson sees record year 2019 as a stepping stone for Sweden attaining wind power dominance in its national energy mix. | Photo: PR / Svensk Vindenergi

The secular form of meditation, Mindfulness, involves slowing down and being in the present without fretting about the future – regardless of whether that's in one hour, a week, a year or a decade.

Swedish Wind Energy Association (SWEA) Chief Executive Charlotte Unger Larson might benefit from adopting the practice, because, despite the fact that our interview concerns the trade association's annual domestic build-out report, she doesn't seem particularly interested in talking about 2019.

"I'm very proud on the behalf of all our members," she says succinctly and then points out in a comment that 2019 was the best year to date for Swedish wind energy in terms of installed capacity and investments.

With 2,506 MW in new wind turbine orders placed during 2019 and 1,588.4 MW in newly installed capacity, Sweden's wind market is rather unique in the world.

That Larson will not sit down, breathe deeply and focus on the 'now' is because 2019, as a record year for Swedish wind power, is only a parenthesis in the narrative about the technology's triumph in the Scandinavian country.

As the willingness to build more wind power illustrates, 2020 will be yet another record year with an expected 1,899 MW in installed turbines – only to be surpassed again in 2021, when SWEA projects an added volume of 2,158 MW.

During last year, installed wind capacity was predicted to hit 2 GW, and from certain corners there were whispers of 2.5 GW. The former target was put forth by SWEA itself, however, as time told, it didn't pan out.

Larson doesn't seem to take that shortcoming very heavily. It's just yet another aspect that will make 2020's excellence exceed that of 2019.

"There have been some delays during December due to the weather, and that's the main factor behind us not realizing expectations for 2019. but we merely count on the projects reaching completion in 2020 instead," she says.

Photo: PR / Svensk Vindenergi
Photo: PR / Svensk Vindenergi

Wind to form the foundation 

Rather than dwell on the the record year 2019, Larson emphasizes SWEA's base-case scenario for the next few years, during which the group forecasts that wind generation will pump out as much as 44 TWh in 2023. That's more than a doubling of the 19.5 TWh of electricity churned from wind turbines in late 2018.

SWEA has its eyes set on 2023, the year when wind power's hegemony in Sweden will be unassailable.

"By that time, 30 percent of [Sweden's] electricity will come from wind power, and there will no longer be any discussion: Wind energy will end up forming the foundation of the Swedish energy system along with hydroelectric. We can only be pleased about that, especially considering such favorable co-existence with hydro for Sweden's power generation, [which will be,-ed.] driven by 100 percent renewable energy," Larson says and highlight water reservoirs as energy storage for periods of low wind conditions.

Photo: PR / Svensk Vindenergi
Photo: PR / Svensk Vindenergi

The most substantial aspect of these figures is that the hitherto jewel of the country's power system, nuclear, is relegated to third place concerning generated volumes. In the public debate, domestic wind power's record year has gone relatively under the radar in the shadow of atomic fission.

The nuclear question

"We chose to leave," said Energy Spokesperson Lars Hjälmered (Moderate Party), when he and his Christian Democratic colleague, Camilla Brodin, exited talks on Sweden's new energy policy, energiöverenskommelsen, in mid-December.

This was an important event when the two parties abandoned a joint energy policy that had indicated 100 percent renewable power as a goal. The reason for the discord was the future role of nuclear energy, and the decommissioning of the Ringhals 2 reactor reinvigorated the strife in public debate.

That discussion has not left much space for wind, which, despite such a tempestuous expansion, still requires a series of political decisions to secure confidence in the Swedish market and to kick-start the role of offshore wind in the country.

The industry is namely waiting on two promises from Parliament on halting the certification subsidy scheme, a plan originally meant to be settled before late December, as well as an offshore wind ordinance removing a grid connection fee. These two items are important, as Sweden's booming build-out is characterized by a gold rush to squeeze the last drops of public funds out of the certificate system, which will formally take place in tandem with the phase-out of the Norwegian ditto in late 2021.

The wind expansion will thereby likely experience a slow-down in 2021 if the current political disquiet in the realm of energy persists.

It's far from certain that we've already reached the peak of Swedish wind energy

Swedish Wind Energy Association CEO Charlotte Unger Larson

Larson, though, remains optimistic.

"It up for discussion as to what extent a slow-down will occur after 2021. Much will also depend on the political system, and we've just seen two parties walk out on energy policy negotiations. But now we've seen that Stena Renewable placed a large order despite of that. So, there's nothing indicating that this impacted the appetite for investment," says Larson, referring to Stena's recent order for 36 Vestas turbines with a combined rating of 155 MW for the Åby-Alebo wind farm.

New wind projects are not incorporating state aid from the certificate system into their business cases, as the sector agrees that the scheme has collapsed under the momentous build-out. Nonetheless, an appropriate brake mechanism is vital, as prior projects' financing could end up hanging by a thread in the event of an abrupt halt.

"After the two parties' exit from the energy policy talks, the nuclear question has stolen much attention, which has led to a delay. But we expect a resolution very soon," Larson says.

The next chapter

The stop mechanism for the certificate system could be seen as the end of onshore wind's golden days in Sweden, and SWEA is thus applying pressure to have the grid connection fee for offshore wind scrapped.

If successful, and a smooth transition is secured, Larson expects that the last few years' ascending growth curve could continue for many more years to come.

"The expansion comes in steps, and we've, historically speaking, been a bit behind in Sweden. Now onshore wind is developing rapidly, but when it peaks, we expect to see fantastic development within offshore wind. So, it's far from certain that we've already reached the peak of Swedish wind energy," she adds.

The process is already underway but is currently stalled in Brussels in a discussion on whether removing the network connection surcharge will distort competition within the sector.

Hunting for fine projects

Meanwhile, SWEA is striving to ensure that the expansion of onshore wind is sustained at its hitherto pace. There's flip side to that coin, though.

"It's become more difficult to get fine projects, and it's become tougher to get permits to build in favorable wind areas," Larson says.

Wind Energy will end up forming the foundation of the Swedish energy system along with hydroelectric

Swedish Wind Energy Association CEO Charlotte Unger Larson

Certain players in the industry shed doubt on whether there will be a sufficient number of projects, and there are concerns that new developments will dry up from 2023.

"Naturally, there's a consequence of the expansion, but this is something we've noticed and see as the most important area to work on at the moment. The political signal will, of course, be important in that regard," she says and points out that all the Parliament's parties, except the far right Swedish Democrats, are in favor of more wind energy:

"That's why we're trying to insert build-in climate effects in permitting processes, thus factoring into municipal decision making," she says.

The various bumps on the road still can't change the fact that 2019's record volume of new wind power, despite the combined installed capacity of 1,588.4 MW, will probably end up overshadowed from next year, when the budding of new wind farms across Sweden's landscape will once again begin to accelerate.

English Edit: Daniel Frank Christensen

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