If you happen to travel along the E6 route, you will struggle not to notice that it is lined with windmills, solar farms, and buildings with H2 written on them. The extreme concentration of power generation along this route stems from the ENroads project, which was launched in the late 2020s.
Early expansion of renewable energy production was hindered, in Sweden as elsewhere, by NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard): most people wanted renewable power, but hardly anyone wanted it the hardware located where they could see it. Caught up in the polarised rhetorics of the 2010s and 2020s, local councils all over Sweden vetoed wind power expansion, thus stalling the energy transition. There is a famous political image (or “meme”, as they were called at the time) from this era: we see a beach, beyond which windmills have been crudely copy-pasted a couple of meters out in the ocean, all overwritten with a text reading “No to windpower along our coast”.
While that image was obvious agit-prop, intended to rile up the masses, there were real problems with the renewable energy expansion: most of the profits from windfarms ended up in the pockets of big-city elites—often, and not coincidentally, the same ones who bankrolled the campaigns against further windfarms—while all the disadvantages tended to be felt in the local community. More often than not, increased power production wasn’t paired with consumption reduction measures, meaning it simply added more power to the grid, and allowed more to be used. Governance and planning processes slowly started to catch on and apply abatement measures, such as the redirection of taxes from energy production to the communities where it was taking place.
However, the ENroads project took a slightly different approach. It started from the premise that highways had already gone through these contentious permitting processes, and they had already displaced people, caused harm to the ecosystems that preceded them, and blighted the landscape more generally. Surely a few windmills wouldn’t make the matter much worse?
As hydrogen production was built into the energy system, electrolysis and storage facilities were also co-located along the highways, thus ensuring easy transport connections and keeping potentially hazardous buildings away from population centers. Given Skåne’s position as Sweden’s breadbasket, and diminishing sources of more traditional fertilisers, the hydrogen was largely converted to ammonia; despite extravagant claims for hydrogen as a “fuel of the future”, the costs (not to mention the explosive risks) of actually using it as such were never brought down to a level that made economic sense, let alone profit.
After a decade or so, people largely stopped complaining about the windmills, with the exception of a few die-hard grouches. Whether that acceptance would have come naturally, without successive years of hard winters and spiralling energy prices, remains a topic of fierce academic debate to this day.