Thankfully the lay press has finally stopped calling for the United States to follow Brazil’s lead for energy independence. The blogosphere took over where the lay press left off on that misdiagnosis, although I still hear the echo once in a while. Turns out, Brazil may be heading for an energy crunch of its own. According to this article in the Economist, Brazil may be experiencing blackouts within five years if the economy grows as predicted.

Because they are fat with rivers, they plan to build more dams, which is one of those damned damned if you do dam, damned if you don’t dam situations. Apparently they already get four-fifths of their energy from dams, and there are still lots of rivers to tap. Wind, solar, and geothermal power don’t enter the discussion — I suspect because they are not as cheap.

But then there was this:

Another possibility is to generate electricity from sugar cane, in conjunction with ethanol production, though the technology for this is still fairly new … if the area under sugar cane were doubled, fertiliser applied and farming mechanised, Brazil’s ethanol output would increase [almost ten fold].

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There is nothing new about burning biomass to fire a boiler to cogenerate power for an ethanol refinery. I also find it hard to swallow that you can get ten times more cane from just twice as much land, and I have to wonder where all that land is going to come from.

Brazil does not appear to have many solutions that would be applicable here in the States, but what about Sweden? They plan to be carbon neutral sometime in the next decade or so.

Compared to the United States, phasing out carbon in Sweden should be like taking candy from a baby. Spin your globe and put your thumb over Sweden. It has a population about the same size as that of New York City, but with the surface area of California. Thanks in large part to the oil shocks of the 70s, Sweden gets the vast majority of its electricity from nuclear or hydroelectric and it heats most urban structures with efficient communal geothermal and cogeneration methods like burning waste wood chips — which it has no shortage of, considering that 70 percent of Sweden’s surface area is covered in forests. This is old school, meat-and-potatoes energy generation, requiring no new and innovative technology.

In contrast, the U.S. is the third most populous country on the planet. We get about 80 percent of our electricity from coal. We have more cars than we have people. What looks easy in Sweden won’t work here any more than it would work in Ethiopia. We are going to have to be a little more innovative.

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About the only thing they use fossil fuels for is transportation. Getting rid of that should also not prove to be insurmountably difficult when you consider that bicycles have always been very popular there. Just less than half of the people in Sweden own cars. Interestingly enough, according to this source, Sweden is one of ” … the lowest taxing countries for car ownership, whatever the size of car, and impose[s] only moderate levels of taxes on car use.”

They use more ethanol than any other country in Europe, and 90 percent of it comes from Brazilian sugarcane. Sweden is also starting to use biodiesel and is looking to Indonesia for it. However, unlike our government and most biodiesel enthusiasts I know, they are taking into consideration the environmental ramifications of their biofuels. The Swedish Minister for Foreign Trade demonstrated his understanding of the role of government in giving direction to the free market when he said:

Consumers want to be assured that the environmentally-friendly product they bought is indeed environmentally-friendly or they are likely to not buy it in future.

Unless, of course, they don’t get a choice in the matter, as is the case when mandates force it down consumer’s throats after having been forced to subsidize it. Our own Imperium Renewables biofuel refinery near Seattle shares this fear of a consumer backlash. I wonder how Swedish consumers would respond if they find that their ethanol is coming from the Cerrado? Thanks to the incessant whining of environmentalists, consumers (and politicians) are finally learning of these environmental ramifications.