Why Scandinavia Is More Efficient Than The U.S.

Cities in Scandinavian countries are setting aggressive goals and investing heavily in renewable energy to reduce emissions and increase sustainability

What Happened?

Cities in Scandinavian countries such as Sweden and Denmark are setting aggressive goals and investing heavily in renewable energy and efficient policies to reduce emissions and increase sustainability.


Copenhagen has launched the Green Waves project designed to make it easier for cyclists to navigate the city safely and efficiently. The system works by coordinating all traffic lights for cyclists so they can maintain a steady speed as they commute during the morning rush hour. The same pattern is deployed in reverse to allow bicycle users to return home in the afternoon just as easily.

The city is expanding the Green Wave cycle track system to include new detection technology that will detect approaching cyclists at intersections. When five or more cyclists come together at a stoplight, the light will stay green long enough for the group to pass safely through.

The system is an example of city planners making cyclists’ convenience and safety a priority over personal vehicle traffic flow. This policy shift is encouraging more residents to navigate the city via bicycles, which reduces traffic congestion, lowers emissions, and cuts car-related injuries and fatalities significantly.


Cities throughout Sweden are relying on renewable energy sources to power their cities in an effort to boost sustainability and lower overall emissions. Many Swedish cities rely on district heating systems that avoid the use of fossil fuels for heating buildings, opting instead for wood, peat, household waste or other biofuels. Other Swedish municipalities have invested in alternative power projects – such as thermal heat or recycled heat – to cut costs and emissions, Phys.org reported.

According to Lund University researchers, 60 percent of heating power in Sweden is derived from district heating systems – which connects to 85 percent of all multi-dwelling houses and public buildings. The district heating systems were first launched in the 1950s in an effort to reduce air pollution, and now are deployed in all Swedish cities, Phys.org reported.


A design firm in Norway recently created a home that runs solely on solar power, while collecting extra solar energy to power an electric car for a year. The goal of the design was to not only run the home on zero emissions, but make the best us of available solar power to fuel other accessories for optimal efficiency, Huffington Post reported.

The house features solar thermal panels to provide heat and hot water, as well as photovoltaic panels on the roof slanting at a 19-degree angle to generate electricity. The developers used recovered brickwork to better balance fluctuations in temperature. The house also offers a roof covered atrium with a fireplace allowing users to enjoy the outdoors comfortably despite colder temperatures, Huffington Post reported.

New Heights

In addition, Scandinavian cities have been making great strides in setting and achieving lofty energy efficiency goals:
  • Denmark aims for 50 percent of its electricity to be generated by wind power by 2020
  • Denmark already achieved 40.7 percent of its electricity produced from renewable energy by 2011, and 28.1 percent from wind
  • Copenhagen plans to be 100 percent carbon neutral by 2025
  • Malmo wants to house 100 percent renewable electricity by 2020

The Island of Lolland, Denmark, has already achieved its goal of 100 percent renewable electricity after major investments in wind energy and hydrogen fuel cell plant technologies. The wind technologies fuel the hydrogen plant, allowing the facility to provide 100 percent renewable energy.

Keeping Pace

EfficientGov has followed energy efficiency initiatives worldwide that are not only lowering emissions but supporting economic growth in the process.

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