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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Independent Nation

Air Date: Week of December 15, 2006

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The Swedish government offers many incentives for consumers who drive alternative fuel vehicles. And as Lars Bevanger of Radio Deutsche Welle reports from Stockholm, Swedes are now ahead of the pack in Europe in buying environmentally-friendly cars.

Transcript

GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman. To reach its goal of oil independence by the year 2020, the Swedish government is offering drivers incentives for using alternative fuels. Fuels such as E85, a mixture of 85 percent ethanol - a renewable fuel made from crops - and 15 percent petroleum.

As Lars Bevanger of Radio Deutsche Welle reports from Stockholm, Sweden’s use of so-called biofuels is leaving drivers in other countries in the dust.

[CAR DOOR SLAMS]

BEVANGER: This is it. It looks just like a normal Saab.

OLSLON: That’s the point. It is a normal Saab and it travels like a normal Saab.

BEVANGER: Arian Olslon from Saab takes me for a drive in what looks exactly like a normal car from the Swedish carmaker. Only a tiny badge that says “bio-power” on the back gives the game away. Instead of petrol this car runs mainly on ethanol.

OLSLON: We saw this opportunity on the market and since the investment you had to do with research and development on the car for launching this version, it wasn’t such a vast sum actually. And the increase in price for the customers is also quite low actually. So, I don’t see no reason why you shouldn’t buy this version if you are considering a Saab 9-5.

[TRAFFIC SOUNDS]

BEVANGER: The sale of so-called green cars has skyrocketed here in Sweden. It’s increased by 340 percent just in the past year. If this continues, soon one in five new cars will run on environmentally friendly fuel. Other European countries are nowhere close to this development. So what is it with the Swedes? Eva Somersett works with environmental affairs for the city of Stockholm.

SOMERSETT: One thing is that these vehicles are available on the market. They are here and they are working. They are exactly like a conventional vehicle. We also have economical incentives for these; no tax on clean fuels in Sweden. There’s also carrots like free parking in various cities and municipalities in Sweden.

[GAS PUMPING SOUND]

BEVANGER: The most popular alternative fuel here is the E-85; a mix of 15 percent petrol and 85 percent ethanol. Ethanol is made from renewable resources like sugar cane, wheat, or trees. Sweden’s larger filling stations are now obliged to offer this fuel by law. That’s good news for big car producers like Saab, which has invested a lot in production of ethanol cars. Arian Olslon from Saab again.

OLSLON: We have more than 500 ethanol pumps here in Sweden and along the main roads you can always find ethanol I would say.

BEVANGER: And if you can’t find ethanol, are you stuck then? You can’t go anywhere in this car?

OLSLON: Not at all. Then I just fill it up with normal petrol and drive on. That’s the beauty of it. But why should I do it? I always try to find the ethanol because it not only reduces the carbon dioxide, it also makes the car more fun to drive.

BEVANGER: With so many people turning to cleaner cars it seems this country is really serious about finding alternatives to oil. Just how serious became clear earlier this year when the then Prime Minister Goran Persson announced this to parliament.

PERSSON: (Swedish translated to English) We shall get out of our oil dependency. We shall become independent of oil, and it shall happen by the year 2020.

BEVANGER: This plan relies heavily on a massive increase in the use of alternative fuels like ethanol. But critics say there simply won’t be enough space to produce ethanol in large quantities. Steven Hinton is a Stockholm-based consultant on environmental affairs.

HINTON: The solution for mass transport, I don’t think it’s realistic. You’d have to produce ethanol and not food. We would be scouring Sweden for every single tree we could find, every field we could find, just to support this incredible energy intensive way we live.

BEVANGER: Mr. Hinton argues the only way forward is not to replace fossil fuels with alternatives but to replace our dependency on cars. Eva Somersett of the city of Stockholm disagrees.

SOMERSETT: It’s very hard to change the infrastructure in a city when they’re already there. There’s no farmer within the boarders of Stockholm so where are we going to get the food? We need to transport it in and of course we can use trains and so on to a certain extent. But I still think that in the future we will have trucks and cars. But I do believe that we will not have fossil fuels in these vehicles.

[CAR DOOR SLAMS, ENGINE STARTS]

BEVANGER: As long as ethanol cars aren’t much more expensive to buy and the fuel remains slightly cheaper than petrol the sale of such cars looks set to continue to rise here. And for now at least, most Swedes seem to worry more about the shortage of oil than a future shortage of ethanol.

GELLERMAN: Our report was produced by Lars Bevanger and comes to us from Radio Deutsche Welle.

 

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