Topic Area: GHG abatement
Geographic Area: Sweden
Focal Question: The adoption of biomass : A case for the abatement of GHG's.
(1) Olerup, Deciding on Biomass in Hasselby. Energy Policy , v. 22 (5). May 1994.
Reviewer: R. Scott Ames, Colby '96

In 1986, Stockholm Energi realized that it's plant in Hasselby needed renovating in order to acquire a continued license to emit pollutants before its permit expired in 1993. This new permit would require a decrease in pollutants emitted by the facility, but the current system in Hasselby was a coal and oil burning plant which would not be able to meet the new required standards for 1993. Aware of technological innovations that occur over time that can make some energy systems cost effective in the future which may not be cost effective now, the Stockholm Energi board began looking for a solution six years before the deadline for the permit application was due.

The initial choice by the board was to renovate or re-invest in another coal burning facility, which was voted on and accepted in 1987. Due to the good condition of the present system, it was said that it could be renovated fairly inexpensively with flue gas cleaners or they could either build a new, lower emitting system that was more expensive. Although both solutions would have reduced the emission of pollutants, they both had fairly large fixed and variable costs.

By 1989, technological innovations made possible a cost effective natural gas system that cost about 90% less than the coal investment project and was a cleaner source of energy. The obstacle presented to Stockholm energi was that it would take approximately five years for the system to be installed and operational and the permit application needed to be submitted by 1992. The reason for the delay in establishing a natural gas system was because of the time dimension involved with laying piping to get the natural gas to Hasselby. Due to the delays and the rapidly approaching deadline for a new system, the board began looking for a temporary solution to meet the energy demands for the year beginning 1993.

The first short term solution the board considered was a heat pump system, despite some significant problems with this system. The first was that the system required electricity to run it. This was a problem mainly due to the phase out of nuclear energy. The option of powering the system with fuel oil was politically undesirable due to carbon emissions taxes and other new pollutant regulations. The heat pump system was cost effective because the Hasselby plant had access to a heat pump, thus the refusal to implement this system was one of political and social pressures rather than of economic principles.

The deadline was near for the permit application when in 1991 technology gave rise to a fourth alternative, a biomass system. This system was found to be very cost effective and environmentally sound- appealing to both economists and politicians alike. Although this solution was a bit more expensive than the natural gas solution, it was by far the cheapest and most politically acceptable solution for the short run. The planners realized that, not only did this system reduce the emission of GHG's from a coal fired plant, but its source of energy was waste that is transformed into combustible pellets. This was even more appealing when the waste problem of the Stockholm area was considered.

As it turned out, the waste site in northern Stockholm at Uppsala was near capacity and it was estimated that it would reach capacity within seven to ten years. This made biomass all the more viable, not only for its low investment costs but also because it could help reduce the burden on the Uppsala disposal site. This lead to the decision to adopt a short term biomass solution in June of 1991.

This solution to the energy problem became even more appealing in 1992 when technology made the biomass system even cheaper than natural gas. Since a plan had already been initiated to use a natural gas system, the planners designed a combined system which used both natural gas and biomass for the long run energy demand of the Hasselby system. This was both environmentally and economically acceptable due to the reduced emissions of GHG's associated with fossil fuels and the low investment costs associated with the planned system.

The situation in Sweden is parallel to the situation often faced by energy planners in the United States. Here, we see a mix of economic viability and political partisanship in the determination of system adoptions. Yet, in the United States the emphasis seems to be more on economics than social concerns for environmentally sustainable approaches. Also, the fact that the Swedish planners began preparation very early causes one to think that technological advances are a more recognized by countries other than the United States. The Swedish case presents us with a solution to a planning dilemma that is both economically viable and environmentally sustainable, an aspect that appears to be lacking in the United States' case.

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