The technology for the energy transition already exists. But time is short: Sweden must be climate neutral by 2045. If the timetable for society’s rapid electricity grid expansion is to be maintained, more and better cooperation is required between energy industry operators – and fewer lengthy permit processes.
Regulations, planning, participation, information exchange and behaviour changes are being examined in the RISE initiative Energiklivet (Eng: Energy Leap). Valuable time can be gained, especially time spent on permit processes and regulations, and Sara Bargi, Project Manager at RISE, believes that it is these types of issues that are underdeveloped in relation to technological development:
– “In general, technological development and research are uncontroversial and politically harmless. But changing regulations is more difficult and has a completely different political cost.”
Bargi is a driving force in Energiklivet, a RISE initiative serving as a workshop for Sweden’s climate goals, which necessitate the rapid and total electrification of society. Current lead times for building or overhauling infrastructure are a notorious obstacle. It can take 10-15 years – from planning to operation – to erect national grid lines.
Participation and new approaches can resolve goal conflicts
Many things eat away at time. Several delayed wind power projects can be blamed on conflicts between what is desirable globally but mostly in the way locally.
– “This needs to be addressed and approached in new ways,” says Bargi. “There may be more innovative ways to tackle goal conflicts, not just saying that one is more important than the other. We need to involve people, get them to participate in the transition, show them the benefits. Otherwise, the energy transition risks stalling.
– “It’s important to test new ways of doing things. The conflict lies between legal certainty and predictability, and the authorities’ way of testing new solutions.”
Dialogue crucial for efficient processes
Anna Månsson from RISE is an expert on permit processes. She was part of the Environmental Assessment Inquiry, which among other things looked at how the initial consultation process according to the Environmental Code can be improved.
She says that honest dialogue between the operator and the county administrative board is crucial for an efficient process. The problems must be put on the table as early as possible. The greater the transparency and clarity, the easier it is to define an environmental impact statement or determine the scope of decision-making:
– “It’s important that we try to help each other move forwards. But since you have different roles as an operator and authority, you want different things.”
She emphasises the importance of being clear and having courage when it comes to selecting and rejecting. Major investigations that answer irrelevant questions benefit no one.
– “An important conclusion is to limit the permit process to solely focus on things that require a permit,” says Månsson. You should not put things in unnecessarily that can be more easily solved with supervision.
– “The aim is not to diminish environmental protection. There must still be high environmental requirements, but the focus should be on what’s important.”
It’s important that we try to help each other move forwards
Successful establishment in Skellefteå
Joachim Nordin, CEO of Skellefteå Kraft, cites the Northvolt establishment as a successful example of collaboration between the region, the municipality, and the business community. It involved “preparing the best environmental application that anyone had ever seen” and avoiding the time-consuming, back-and-forth loops that occur when incomplete applications need to be completed.
However, the experience is different when it comes to overhauling an existing hydropower plant and avoiding reassessment of the entire permit.
– “With regard to permits for hydropower in particular, it seems more difficult to foster collaboration between authorities and the business community. You are not used to it, but the attitude is more: “We’ll meet in court and see who wins”.
Identify solutions together
Sara Bargi has high hopes for moving forward when all operators in Energiklivet can gather in the same room. Participants include authorities, companies, industry organisations, county administrative boards, regions, and municipalities, all of whom must represent the public interest in some way.
– “The goal is to identify solutions together. Not just send a wish list to politicians. If electricity companies are not good at consultation, then perhaps they will hear this from the county administrative board. Maybe it will be a step on the path to finding better solutions?”