Recent decades have seen a strong increase in bioenergy utilization in Sweden, from 52 TWh in 1983 to 128 TWh in 2013. Much of this increase has been achieved by replacing fossil fuels with different forms of bioenergy in district heating. Increased use of bioenergy is generally seen as key to reducing fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions and improving energy security.

However, replacing fossil fuels with solid biomass fuels in stationary heat and power generation entails significantly more complicated fuel supply logistics, with geographically scattered material associated with storage difficulties and low energy density. Given these risks and challenges and the key role of biomass-based district heating in the Swedish energy system, disturbances in fuel supply to district heating could potentially be an energy security issue.

Through literature studies and interviews with employees at 18 district heating plants, the authors mapped present and future risks and risk management strategies in district heating supply in the Mälardalen region, south-east Sweden. Although small disturbances to fuel supply are not uncommon, the likelihood of heat supply failures due to fuel supply problems is low. Risk awareness is generally high among fuel supply managers, with widespread use of multilevel redundancies and diversification as key risk management strategies.

However, fuel supply to plants is highly dependent on functioning truck transport and, consequently, availability of diesel fuel for trucks. Risk management can be strengthened further by implementation of forward-looking risk assessments that are less reliant on past experiences.