Blowing in the Wind: The Danes Have Shown That Wind Energy Thrives When There Is Consistent Government Support and Community Ownership

By MacLeod, David | Alternatives Journal, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Blowing in the Wind: The Danes Have Shown That Wind Energy Thrives When There Is Consistent Government Support and Community Ownership


MacLeod, David, Alternatives Journal


POLITICIANS in Denmark don't need to be reminded of the importance of wind power. All it takes is a simple look out the window, since the Danish parliament buildings in Copenhagen overlook the striking Middelgrunden wind farm, a graceful array of 20 wind turbines situated three kilometres offshore.

The presence of Middelgrunden in the political and economic hub of the country serves as an apt symbol. The roots of the Danes' success in the wind industry can be traced directly to the way their communities have embraced the idea of wind power as well as the consistent political and economic policies that have nurtured the spectacular growth of the industry.

Denmark has emerged as a major force in the global wind industry over the last century. Wind now accounts for 18 percent of Danish electricity consumption and is targeted to reach 40 to 50 percent by the year 2030. This ongoing commitment to wind as an energy source has also led to the creation of a significant industry for the Danish people. Today, over half of the wind turbines in the world come from Danish manufacturers. In a country of only five million, more than 20,000 people make a living in the wind business.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In contrast, wind power is still in its infancy in Canada, with slightly more than 300 megawatts of wind power installed. Denmark has developed almost 3000 megawatts of wind power, an astonishing feat for a country with less than one percent of the landmass of Canada.

Success factors

A number of factors critical to the success of wind in Denmark are worth noting as we begin to take advantage of this opportunity in Canada.

Necessity, the mother of invention Denmark has enjoyed a long history with wind power. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, wind was an important source of mechanical power in Denmark, with tens of thousands of windmills pumping water and threshing crops. The Danes invented the first electricity-generating windmill and by 1918 wind was meeting about three percent of electricity demand. Interest in wind power rose during a supply crisis in World War II, and then again during the oil supply crisis of the 1970s. Denmark initially shifted its attention to coal, but as environmental concerns emerged in the 1980s, policymakers recognized the need to take bold steps to address the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions. Being short on domestic energy supplies, concerned about the environment and opposed to nuclear power, the Danes saw wind power as the natural choice.

A long-term view One of the hallmarks of the Danish success story has been the stability and consistency of Danish energy policy over the last 30 years, though the motives have evolved. In recent years much of the support of renewable energy has been driven by the desire to reduce greenhouse gases; the current target is to reduce C[O.sub.2] emissions by 22 percent between 1988 and 2005. More than one-third of that target is forecast to come from replacing coal-fired power generation with wind power.

The Danes' latest long-term scenario extends to the year 2030. This long-term view creates a stable environment for the growth of wind power, where the typical time horizons for projects cover 20 years or more. In the US, by contrast, the wind industry has suffered from inconsistent and short-term policies. The fluctuating nature of support has created a boom-and-bust cycle in wind development and stunted the overall growth of the industry.

Motivating support schemes Once the Danish government made the political decision to support wind power, it created the policies and instruments that would stimulate development. The basic support mechanism is a fixed-price system that sets, by sector, what price will be paid for electricity produced. A premium is added to the price paid to suppliers of renewable energy, financed equally by all electricity consumers according to their energy use. …

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