By: Leon Kaye
Denmark has long been one of the world’s leaders in wind power. The country of 5.6 million has set a goal of generating 50 percent of its power from clean energy sources by 2020 and aims to be entirely fossil fuel-free by 2050. Those goals, especially the one for 2020, are well achievable: Denmark has announced it scored 39.1 percent of its energy from wind in 2014.
That statistic is quite a jump from 2013, when Denmark generated 33.2 percent of its electricity from wind, and it has more than doubled its wind power capacity from a decade ago (18.8 percent). The result is a country that has understandably dubbed itself the world’s “Wind Power Hub.” Considering the Danish wind industry’s claim that it has built over 90 percent of the world’s offshore wind turbines, Denmark’s continued surge in wind power development, while stunning, has its origins in long-term planning.
Denmark’s wind energy policy dates back to the 1970s, when the oil shocks resulting from the Middle East crises sent the energy import-dependent nation scrambling for new sources of power. At first nuclear energy was the preferred choice, with up to 16 locations across the country identified for future power plants. But an anti-nuclear energy campaign launched, eventually nudging the Danish parliament to abandon that option by the mid-1980s — even before the Chernobyl disaster spooked many countries into abandoning their more ambitious nuclear power plans. Meanwhile a nascent wind power sector began to take shape, eventually leading to today’s giants such as Vestas and DONG Energy. Long before feed-in tariffs became commonplace in Europe, the Danish government launched such programs in 1990 to help scale wind power throughout the country.
Now Denmark has over 5,200 wind turbines in operation, with about 25 percent of those offshore. The Danish government is offering strong support for its wind power sector, with approximately €135 million ($200 million) earmarked for wind power research and development and other energy technologies annually. Meanwhile coal, long the backbone of Denmark’s energy infrastructure, is slowly being phased out. Denmark estimates less than 30 percent of its energy needs will come from coal by 2020.
Denmark’s ambitious plans for a future free of oil and gas are not entirely guaranteed. Some experts argue that the rapidly increasing output of wind power could cause the price of wind energy to collapse to the point where energy companies would have to scramble to sell off that energy, leaving customers with higher utility bills. And while Denmark’s achievements are impressive, it’s going to take more than this little Nordic country going carbon-free to stop global warming. What Denmark does prove, however, is that long-term energy planning can pay off with not only a more secure energy policy, but added economic growth as well. Oil may be cheap now, but it will spike again at any moment: So, while many countries will yet struggle again because of their lack of an energy plan, Denmark will be relatively unscathed.