Sweden currently produces a surplus of electricity, but to cope with crises and increased energy demand in the future, it is important to create local and flexible systems.
“We need to make the system robust,” says Elisabet Falemo, Innovation Strategist at RISE.
Sweden has an abundance of electricity today and we export around 25 percent of production to other countries through the Nord Pool power exchange. A useful system through which several countries’ electricity systems are physically connected and where the price of electricity is governed by supply and demand.
“The goal is for there to be a common European market for electricity,” says Jonas Bergqvist, Head of the Future Energy Systems focus area at RISE. “In addition, it is more optimal to be able to distribute the energy where there is a need. We need a lot of heat in the winter and Southern Europe needs a lot of cooling in the summer, so having such an interconnected system is a major benefit.”
However, as with all systems, it has vulnerabilities. Where monitoring and maintenance were usually carried out manually in a closed system, these are now done remotely, which entails greater risks of sophisticated hacking able to disrupt the electricity supply.
“The complex electricity system we have today produces a better and more secure electricity supply and at a lower price,” says Bergqvist. “But, as a consequence, we have opened up, which has resulted in greater vulnerability to cyberattacks.”
Hacker attacks a constant threat
Sweden has not suffered a power outage due to the system being hacked, but, according to the Swedish Military Intelligence and Security Service (MUST) and the Swedish Security Service (SÄPO), the threat remains imminent. However, this has happened on multiple occasions in other countries, such as in Ukraine in 2015 and 2016. Although the risk of cyberattacks has increased, Sweden has good prospects for coping in the event of crisis and war. Energy production today with a large proportion of renewable energy in the form of solar-, wind- and hydropower – together with nuclear power and bioenergy – offers a wide choice of energy resources.
“We can produce electricity in Sweden even in during a crisis,” says Elisabet Falemo, Innovation Strategist at RISE “The challenge is to distribute it to the most important users.
“As the saying goes: don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Now we have many different types of energy in our basket, but we should put them in different baskets.”
We can produce electricity in Sweden even in during a crisis
Need to build redundancy
The challenge right now is that the electricity grid is built from the top down, and to supply an area or a district without the large overall system can cause difficulties. If you do the opposite instead, i.e. build the electricity grid from the bottom up, a durable and stable system can be created.
“Then you can create redundancy and energy distribution from the bottom up, where you look at a local building, a campus, a district or city,” Jonas Bergqvist.
Buried power lines and electrical systems with alternative supply have made power outages today relatively rare compared to 30 years ago. At the same time, the digitalisation of society means that disruption now has significantly greater consequences than before.
“Today, telecommunications and data communication are critical for society to function,” says Bergqvist. “Even something as basic as buying food becomes difficult when systems are down. In addition, there essential services that need electricity and they can be prioritised so that hospitals, for example, can function.”
Sweden has only suffered two major nationwide power outages. One in 1983 and the other in 2003. On both occasions, it resulted in a large proportion of the population being without electricity for up to six hours.
“Major disruptions that affect large parts of the country are uncommon,” says Bergqvist. “A shorter crisis would not entail any major problems, except in terms of sufficient power supply to those who need electricity the most.”
Considerable challenges in electricity supply
However, the future holds considerable challenges for Sweden’s electricity supply. A growing population, the shift away from fossil fuels, and the establishment of heavy industry in Northern Sweden entail a greater demand for producing electricity. Today already, in some parts of the country, there are bottlenecks in the electricity grids and, as a consequence, there are industries that cannot obtain the additional power they would like. But rebuilding electricity grids costs is exorbitantly extensive, and the time from start to finish is very long since everyone wants to have a say and the actual construction is decided at different times.
“Somehow, you need to adapt the situation to the conditions,” says Bergqvist. “We live in a changing world and, in addition to the risks we mentioned earlier, we have an environmental threat hanging over us. If we are unable to adapt in time, we will have major problems with, for example, floods and storms that can threaten energy production.
If we were in a war today and it was said that a new line must be built here from A to B, work to build it would have started it immediately.”
It is evident that something needs to be done to meet demand. The challenge in the industry is receptiveness to major investments.
“It’s a dilemma,” says Falemo. “How does one, in a situation where there are not usually any problems, justify such a large investment into something that could be a huge problem if things go wrong?”
RISE works and conducts research in several areas related to electricity production. According to Jonas Bergqvist, future energy systems will likely comprise multiple solutions:
“It also means you have to test many different solutions, and we are good at that. For example, we can build various energy system models and simulate cyberattacks against them to see how the systems react.”