Broad collaboration on Gotland’s energy transition

13 oktober 2022

People walking with wind turbines in the background

In her research, Johanna Liljenfeldt studies how the energy transition can be enabled by political decisions and by involving the local population.

Gotland has been singled out by the government as a forerunner in the transition to renewable energy. The goal: to have an energy system based on renewable energy by 2040. And the efforts have really gained momentum, explains Johanna Liljenfeldt, researcher at the Department of Earth Sciences.

Johanna Liljenfeldt, researcher at the Department
of Earth Sciences. Photo: Daniel Olsson

“Having waited for an energy transition to start for the last few decades, it truly is under way now. Things are happening all over and it’s full speed ahead. It’s great fun to be a part of it and to have the opportunity to do research on it,” she notes.

Many different projects are under way as part of the ‘Energiomställning Gotland’ (Energy Transition Gotland) project, in close collaboration with the local community as well as other universities such as the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the Royal Institute of Technology. Last autumn, for example, the ‘Gotland ställer om’ (Gotland in Transition)  project was launched – an energy and climate campaign directed at the entire population of Gotland with the aim of stimulating a discussion about how to make the transition.

“The idea is that smaller projects will be launched and that every parish will manage its own transition. By involving people in the planning and decision-making, we will hopefully arrive at solutions that can gain greater acceptance,” explains Liljenfeldt.

Hydrogen-based ferries

A project examining hydrogen-based ferry traffic is also being run here – a much-vaunted area both at home and internationally. On Gotland, ferries play an important role as a link to the mainland and sustainable solutions need to be developed.

“Another project deals with negative emissions in the agricultural sector and addresses both technology and policy issues. How can we ensure that all of this feels reasonable to the farmers and not just burdensome?”

Naturally there are major challenges involved in working on the energy transition. In fact, the same applies to all major societal changes, Johanna explains.

“We are working on one of our generation's biggest community-building projects, and there will always be both positive and negative consequences. It's a transition across society as a whole, not just the energy system; everything from what temperature you have in your bedroom to how we run the country.”

Broad collaborations

Liljenfeldt is a human geographer who came to Gotland in 2017 to conduct research into wind power. Recently, her perspective has widened to include the entire energy transition. A platform has been developed in collaboration with other actors on the island, local initiatives, authorities, companies and other universities.

“A prerequisite has been to foster very broad collaborations involving large and small actors. It’s important to find ways to work together so that all actors see some benefit. Those networks are worth their weight in gold, both for what we are doing now and for the future.”

Why is Gotland a good place to research this area?
“It is a defined system. You can see where it starts and ends and create models, so from a research point of view it is very interesting to be here. There are also major challenges.”

Dependent on electricity cables

She mentions the energy-intensive agricultural sector and the Cementa factory, which is the largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions on Gotland. Although there is a lot of renewable energy, such as wind power and solar energy, Gotland is dependent on electricity transferred via cables from the mainland. Sometimes there are problems with the electricity supply to these cables, which leads to power cuts.

“In addition, we have many forms of transport that need a solution. There are no alternatives to flights and ferries here to connect us to the mainland.”

In her research, Johanna studies how the energy transition can be enabled by political decisions and by involving the local population.

“We want to ensure that any changes that are implemented are perceived as positively as possible by as many people as possible, so that progress can keep being made. Because if there is no acceptance of this, it will not happen.”

Great range of initiatives

There is an advantage to Gotland in this regard too; something that has been noted by the Swedish Energy Agency, Johanna adds.

“There is a real entrepreneurial spirit on Gotland, with wind power cooperatives and other projects. There is a great range of initiatives and innovation on the island that is on display in this context.”