Video: The greening of Sweden

By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 1/4/2007 12:26:27 PM ET 2007-01-04T17:26:27

GOTHENBURG, Sweden — As gas prices remain at near-record levels, there’s a new push in America to find alternative fuels.

Across the Atlantic, Sweden has made an astounding pledge to phase out fossil fuel use by 2020.

Already, 26 percent of the country's energy comes from renewable resources and between a joint effort by the government and consumers, Sweden hopes to make that number even higher.

Turning garbage into methane gas
Like many Swedes, Nina and Sven are environmentalists and choose organic goods when shopping.

And when they drive? They go green as well. Their car takes unleaded gas at $6 a gallon, but also subsidized, cheaper, methane.

“It almost feels strange to fill up with gasoline nowadays because you don't use that as much,” said Nina Wolf.

The methane is made from garbage in Sweden. It's untapped energy that ends up in a tank at the local dump.   

Ulf Martinsson, the director of the Biological Treatment, explained how the system works.

“It's like a cheap stomach. We feed it with biological waste and it gives me biological gas in return,” said Martinsson.

The methane powers buses and cars. In fact, close to 15 percent of all new cars now sold in Sweden run on alternative fuels. But in 2005 that number amounted to only about 1 percent.
Government commitment
What’s the reason for that dramatic increase? Not just the heightened awareness of the environment by Swedes, but generous incentives offered by the government.

Volvo Trucks intends to be the first non-polluting heavy industry by later in 2007. If all goes as planned, the factory will emit no greenhouse gases.

It's all part of a bold plan to wean Sweden off fossil fuel by 2020.

“It's not easy, but it is doable, and most of all it's necessary,” said Mona Sahlin, the former Swedish Minster for Sustainable Development.

Sweden is already saving by tapping into its forests and have been compacting sawdust into wood pellets. Tens of thousands of homeowners and businesses burn the wood pellets for heat. 

They even recycle what goes down the toilet. It comes up transformed by a maze of pipes and pumps into energy to warm city apartments. As you walk along the coast, you can see oil pipelines giving way to wind farms.

‘Big change starts with small change’
The Wolf family is doing what they can at home. Where do they get their electricity? They pay extra to make sure it is green — from wind power. 

"Big change starts with small change in the beginning,” said Sven Wolf.

The family even plans to add solar panels and a wood pellet heating system. Their eventual goal is to get even greener.

Ned Colt is an NBC News Correspondent based in London.


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