Denmark and Wind Power

Denmark has long been an international leader in commercial wind power development. In 2011, wind power produced 28.1% of Danish electricity [1], and in 2012, the Danish parliament passed a resolution to have the country derive 50% of its electricity from wind power by 2020. [2] To explain Denmark’s dominance in the wind power arena, one need only look at its history: in many ways, wind power was a natural (and inevitable) choice for the Danes.

Denmark’s move to renewable energy (and consequently, wind power) can be traced back to the 1970s. The first and second oil crises of 1973 and 1979 prompted Denmark to switch its feedstocks from oil to coal in its power generation system. While this change in policy greatly improved Denmark’s energy security, it caused Denmark’s greenhouse gas emissions to spike [3]. In the 1980s, Denmark resolved to reduce its reliance on coal-fired electrical power plants, in an effort to decrease its carbon dioxide emissions per capita. At around the same time, the Danish anti-nuclear lobby was pressing hard against nuclear power. By 1985, Denmark has passed legislation prohibiting the construction of nuclear power plants on Danish soil. Furthermore, domestic sources of oil were limited [3]. With neither oil, coal, nor nuclear power a viable option, renewable energy seemed the logical choice for Denmark.

Wind power, from the outset, was considered a feasible option for Denmark. In addition to its onshore wind, Denmark has massive offshore wind resources with higher wind speeds and, as a result, huge potential for electricity generation. Much of this offshore wind can be found in sites with shallow water, meaning that wind turbines can be built with greater ease [4].

Amazingly, the Danish government expedited the country’s adoption of wind power rather than hindering it. The government subsidized wind power development in its early years, paying in some cases more than 30% of the initial costs of infrastructure. Additionally, Danish citizens were allowed, and even encouraged, to buy shares in nearby wind farms. Administration was handled by a single governing body, composed of representatives from the Danish population and the country’s energy grid provider, to further streamline this process [5].

Owing to these various factors, Denmark’s reliance on wind energy rose rapidly during the 1980s and 1990s. The chart below shows the percentage of Danish electricity generated by wind energy from 1983 to 2002. The black line indicates raw data based on varying annual weather patterns, while the red line depicts this data normalized to average amounts of wind per year [3]. 

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By 2005, Denmark had installed 3100 MW of wind capacity. By 2012, this amount had grown to more than 3900 MW [6]. Almost 1000 MW of this wind capacity was provided by offshore wind (which meets the electricity needs of roughly 1 million Danish households). Yet Denmark plans to ramp up its wind capacity even further: this year, the government proclaimed that it plans to add infrastructure for an additional 1500 MW of offshore wind [4].

Ultimately, Denmark stands as a shining example of the feasibility of renewable energy in a modern world. We could all learn a thing or two from this remarkable country.

[1] http://cleantechnica.com/2012/09/28/danish-renewable-energy-generation-wind-energy-generation-percentage/

[2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/mar/26/wind-energy-denmark

[3]http://web.archive.org/web/20070927011857/http://www.windpower.org/media(492,1033)/wind_energy_policy_in_denmark:_status_2002.pdf

[4] http://www.forbes.com/sites/peterdetwiler/2013/03/26/denmark-1000-megawatts-of-offshore-wind-and-no-signs-of-slowing-down/?ss=business%3Aenergy

[5] http://www.energymatters.com.au/index.php?main_page=news_article&article_id=992

[6] http://www.ens.dk/en-US/Info/FactsAndFigures/Energy_statistics_and_indicators/Annual%20Statistics/Documents/Energy%20Statistics%202008.pdf

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1 Comment

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One response to “Denmark and Wind Power

  1. I was aware that Denmark attained a large percentage of their electricity from wind, but I was unaware that this percentage was that large.

    However, there is a reason why Denmark has so much wind.

    Being from the neighboring country and having visited Denmark multiple times through my life, I can safely say it is by far the flattest place you will ever come across. There are no large trees, mountains, or even hills that provide hindrance of the wind. Actually, the highest point in Denmark is barely 170 meters above sea level. To put this into perspective, the UT tower is 100 meters high (from the ground it stands on), and Austin is between ~130-300 meters above sea level.

    So … In other words they have the perfect topography, and are going about solving the energy problem the right way 🙂

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