That’s not because it’s a particularly breezy country; it has pretty ordinary average wind speeds. The reason the Danes now get 47% of their electricity from wind, with more to come, comes down to a combination of history and policy.
First, the history: Paul la Cour was a scientist and inventor who experimented with and engineered early wind power machines at the start of the 20th century. So it’s not surprising that Denmark invested in building wind power early, beginning at a national level in the 1970s. In the 1980s, due to a strong grassroots movement opposing nuclear power plants, Denmark ramped up production before many other countries were even considering it.
Denmark has also had significant government support for wind-energy projects, as well as support from the country’s technology-focused universities. Even back in 2002, the country was taking climate change warnings seriously, aiming to cut fossil-fuel emissions by 20 percent, which they did via renewable energy investment and implementation.
Some of the world’s largest companies in the sector — including Vestas, which builds turbines, and Orsted, which specializes in offshore wind projects — are Danish, so the country has an impact beyond its borders.
The outsized impact of Denmark’s wind-energy business is important because it’s a small country, so while an almost 50% rate of electricity from wind is admirable, it’s also minor in terms of overall planetary impact.
While Denmark gets half its electricity needs covered from 5,758 megawatts (MW) of capacity, Spain’s 23,000 MW covers just 18 percent of its electricity supply as it’s a much bigger country. China is the leader in wind energy at 221,000 MW, and the U.S. is second in the world at about 96,000 MW.
Denmark’s long support of wind-energy technology and pro-wind policies have proven this approach can work to decarbonize the economy, even on a bigger scale. At the end of 2019, lawmakers in Denmark set a new goal: increasing the share of electricity sourced from renewable power to 100%.