Islands take the lead: Swedish Gotland shows the way

With the Paris agreement, the whole world has agreed to limit climate change to well below two degrees. In reducing emissions, Sweden wants to be a leader that others can learn from; the global helpdesk to call or the world expo to visit. But even within Sweden someone needs to be in the lead, and the government and the Energy Agency are pointing at the island of Gotland.

Gotland it Sweden’s largest island and lies almost halfway between the Swedish east coast and the Baltic states. Its population of just over 50 000 more than doubles in summer, when it is both a popular place for vacations and the venue for the annual Almedalsveckan, the “political Woodstock” of the Nordics.

When Gotland now is to become a model for a renewable and self-sufficient energy system, it builds on a long tradition of “doing it on our own”. The gutar, inhabitants of Gotland, have a strong sense of independence and pride, which also manifests itself in Gotland’s relative independence from the mother land Sweden. More than half of Gotland’s electricity is produced on the island, mostly from some of the Nordic’s oldest and best-known wind power farms. There is now a strong push to increase the independence further, with solar power currently fighting for its place in the grid, which the dominating energy company for a while declared to be filled to the brim with renewables.

Gotland also has a large biogas plant which transforms organic waste into fuel for the buses on the island as well as a number of cars. In 2019 the first CNG-powered ferry will be delivered, connecting Gotland with Stockholm and partially to be powered by locally produced biogas.

These are all parts of Gotland’s far-reaching climate and environmental objectives, but also have a strong economic rationale. In recent years, the power supply through the underwater cables from the mainland has been erratic, with frequent power cuts, which emphasizes the benefits of generating the electricity on the island. In addition, Gotland is estimated to become particularly hard hit by climate change. The county administration warns of sea levels rising with up to 145 centimeters, with easily understandable effects.

The Swedish think tank Fores with the 2030-secretariat for a fossil independent transport sector now sees important next steps:

Clarify the timetable. By 2030, Sweden is reach a fossil-independent vehicle fleet with 70% reduced climate impact compared to 2010, in 2040 a 100% renewable energy system and by 2045 net zero in climate impact. In order to systematically learn from Gotland, the island must do all of this at least five years earlier.

Request law changes. A cost-effective and fast conversion to 100% renewable and locally-produced energy is likely to encounter legal issues. Since Gotland has been designated as the first mover, the island also has a unique chance to demand legislative changes that benefit the transformation.

Work system-wide. Establishing renewable energy is no longer rocket science, but storing electricity from a windy day to charge electric cars several days later still needs technological improvements. And don’t forget energy efficiency – behavior change will further decrease demand for energy.

Export smart. With 100% locally produced electricity on a yearly basis, much of the year, Gotland will have more than 100%. Since the cable to the mainland is not up to speed, the surplus should be sent elsewhere – for example to Poland where it can replace coal-based electricity. This can be done, for instance, by storing it as hydrogen, methanol or in other forms.

Systematize the knowledge. The global benefit of the conversion to 100%
renewable and self-sufficient occurs when the experience is systematized. This is best done by someone who is close to the action, but does not regulate, perform or finance it himself.

Communicate. The world needs good examples of achieved climate targets. The island of Gotland has the chance to step forward as a climate giant together with other island.

Gotland is not alone. Other islands around Europe, such as Danish Samsø, Finnish Åland, France’s Corsica or Spain’s Fuerteventura also want to be leaders in the move to a climate smart society. Furthermore, islands have unique possibilities to pioneer climate smart solutions for sea transport for both commute and tourism travel. The race is on, and the islands are in the lead!

Mattias Goldmann
CEO of the Green and Liberal Think Tank Fores