panorama of Stockholm, Sweden

District energy lowers GHG output in Sweden

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Sweden’s approach to greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction has been deemed a fitting, albeit challenging, example for Canada to emulate. In an address to the Sustainable Built Environment Conference of the Americas in Toronto earlier this week, Dianne Saxe, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, compared the two countries’ climates and contrasted their reliance on fossil fuels for heating and domestic hot water.

“It’s cold in Sweden, and they have reduced emissions from buildings between 86 to 88 per cent,” she said.

Despite registering among the highest energy use per capita in Europe, Sweden has one of the continent’s best carbon footprints. As of 2013, it had reduced GHG emissions by 22 per cent, or 16 million tonnes, from 1990 levels. In 2013, the national GHG ouput in Sweden was 55.8 megatonnes — dramatically below Canada‘s 731-megatonne tally even when accounting for Canada’s fourfold larger population.

The buildings sector produces approximately 10 per cent of Sweden’s national GHG emissions — equating to less than 6 million megatonnes. The Canadian building sector’s approximate 12 per cent share of countrywide GHG emissions amounted to 84.6 megatonnes in 2013.

Beyond Sweden’s low-carbon electricity supply, largely from nuclear, hydroelectric and renewable sources, Saxe commended the country’s emphasis on district energy through building code and planning requirements. As is also envisioned in Vancouver’s new Zero Emissions Building Plan, she argues district energy should be embedded in urban growth.

“Electricity is the smallest and cleanest of our energy sources,” Saxe said. “We are not going to be able to get much more out of the electricity system. What we have to do is get our emissions down in everything else.”

Greenhouse gas emissions from electricity have fallen from nearly 130 megatonnes in 2001 to just above 78 megatonnes in 2014. The shutdown of Ontario’s coal-fired generating plants has been a major contributing factor, as the national power grid’s carbon intensity fell below the that for the buildings’ sector for the first time in 2012.

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