Denmark has committed to generating 50 percent of its electricity from wind sources by the year 2020, by which time the country hopes to have reduced CO2 emissions by 34 percent compared to 1990 levels. This renewed commitment to wind forms the central pillar in an energy bill that commits to obtaining 35 percent of the country’s energy from renewable sources by that time. And Denmark actively aims to lower energy consumption, with 2020 usage 12 percent lower than that of 2006.
“Denmark will once again be the global leader in the transition to green energy,” said Martin Lidegaard, Denmark’s Minister for Climate, Energy and Building. “This will prepare us for a future with increasing prices for oil and coal. Moreover, it will create some of the jobs that we need so desperately, now and in the coming years.”
The bill passed with a near-unanimous 171 votes out of the parliament’s 179 seats.
“Once again” is a telling choice of words from Lidegaard, but it raises a question: if not Denmark, what country was leading the pack with renewable energy prior to the bill’s passing? Certainly, wind already makes up a higher proportionate of Denmark’s energy mix than it does any other country’s—21 percent as of 2010, with Portugal (18 percent) and Spain (16 percent) not far behind.
Indeed, Denmark tops the wind charts whichever metric you care to throw at it: installed capacity per person, per square kilometer, per unit of GDP—as of 2010 (PDF) at any rate.
But when it comes to the contribution made by all renewable sources of energy, Denmark fell into eighth place based on installed power in 2009, behind Sweden, Latvia, Finland, Austria, Portugal, Estonia, and Romania. Even factoring in Denmark’s aspirations for 2020 (according to the Renewables Global Status Report 2011(PDF), published prior to this bill), the country would only be elevated to sixth place, assuming it meets its target of a 30 percent renewable energy share. (These figures are for the EU alone.)
But Denmark has only raised the bar by 5 percent of its total energy use, to 35 percent. Sweden met its target for a 50-percent renewable share in 2009, thanks to the gargantuan contribution made by the country’s hydroelectric infrastructure. By what measure, then, does the new announcement return Denmark to the top of the league?
The short answer is, it doesn’t. The government sees the 2020 targets as stepping stones to the end goal—100 percent of the country’s energy to be supplied from renewable sources by 2050. But even that wouldn’t leave it on top; Scotland is aiming for a 100-percent renewable energy contribution by 2020.
Wind has a tremendous role to play in Denmark’s renewable grand expansion, with 1500MW of new offshore wind capacity due for completion by the 2020 deadline. A third installation, with 400MW of capacity, will be built at Horns Rev; while a 600MW farm will be built in the Baltic at Kriegers Flak (where hurricanes aremercifully absent). The latter has been described as the world’s first offshore “supergrid,” and will additionally provide electricity to Germany.
But it would be misleading to portray Denmark as a country putting all of its eggs into a windy basket. It isn’t so much as placing a “price on carbon” as the OECD has recommended. Denmark seems to be making efforts (PDF) to ban it outright, phasing out coal power generation in favor of biomass energy and investing in geothermal energy.
At the smaller scale, Denmark is banning the installation of oil-fired and natural gas boilers in new buildings from 2013, and providing over $7.5 million to fund the conversion of domestic boilers to renewable equivalents. Further investment is being made available to industries that use renewable energy to fuel manufacture and the like, as well as for the promotion of CHP (combined heat and power) schemes.
The government also recognizes the need to modernize the grid to accommodate intermittent renewable sources (an oft-cited stumbling block for the rollout of renewable energy in the US), with an agreement being put in place with electricity distributors for remotely-readable “smart” electricity metering.
In the arena of transport, the government is making $12.5 million of subsidies available for electric vehicle recharging stations, and mandating that all fuel must be at least 10-percent biofuel by 2020. It has also committed to eliminating fossil fuels entirely from the island of Samsø, a proto-renewable energy community where 100 percent of electricity is already provided by wind power.
If you’ll permit a West Wing reference, Denmark might be thought of as adopting one of President Bartlet’s theories of economics and applying it to energy policy—at least partially. “Everybody’s got a magic lever they want you to push. I studied economics all my life but in this job only a fool is ever certain. You don’t push any one lever; you wanna push a little on them all.” Denmark’s certainly pulling all the levers—not a little, though. A lot.