How Danes changed the re­new­ables game

Taranaki Daily News - - Magazine - ROGER HANSON

Den­mark is of­ten held up as a model of so­ci­etal and eco­nomic devel­op­ment; rich, en­light­ened and reg­u­larly in the top three coun­tries in the world with the hap­pi­est cit­i­zens.

A snap­shot of how Den­mark went from medi­ocrity to leader of the pack within the last 50 years pro­vides some in­ter­est­ing lessons.

In the BBC ra­dio pro­gramme Global Busi­ness, re­porter Keith Moore in­ves­ti­gated Den­mark’s suc­cess in wind power tech­nol­ogy. Den­mark re­ceived a wake-up call in Oc­to­ber 1973 when the Or­gan­i­sa­tion of Arab Pe­tro­leum Ex­port­ing Coun­tries im­ple­mented an oil em­bargo. In Den­mark, as in many oil con­sum­ing coun­tries, this re­sulted in im­me­di­ate fuel ra­tioning which hit par­tic­u­larly hard and the Danes quickly re­alised the era of cheap fuel was over.

They did two things, firstly they set up a com­pany, DONG (Dan­ish Oil and Nat­u­ral Gas) and started ex­ploit­ing their own hy­dro­car­bon sources. Se­condly, de­ter­mined to re­duce their de­pen­dence on for­eign en­ergy sources they de­cided to in­ves­ti­gate har­ness­ing some of the year-round winds that blast the Jut­land coast.

Forty five years later they are the world lead­ers in wind tech­nol­ogy. In 2016 42 per cent of the elec­tric­ity grid in Den­mark was sup­plied by wind power, that is streets ahead of any other coun­try – sec­ond is Spain with 20 per cent. The EU av­er­age is 12 per cent, the world av­er­age is 3.7 per cent and in New Zealand it is a rather lowly 7 per cent.

Wind power in Den­mark has de­liv­ered much more than en­ergy free from green­house gases, but in an in­ter­view with re­porter Keith Moore, Pro­fes­sor Brian Vad Mathieson of Aal­burg Univer­sity points out, if there wasn’t a good busi­ness case, wind power in Den­mark wouldn’t have suc­ceeded.

As it turned out, wind power was a spec­tac­u­lar com­mer­cial suc­cess. To­day, the wind en­ergy busi­ness in Den­mark em­ploys

30,000 peo­ple (this in a pop­u­la­tion of only 5.7 million) and ac­counts for 5 per cent of the coun­try’s ex­ports. One of the big­gest wind tur­bine man­u­fac­tur­ers in Den­mark, Ves­tas, was man­u­fac­tur­ing house­hold ap­pli­ances in the 1940s; in 1950 they switched to mak­ing agri­cul­tural ma­chin­ery. Then in

1979, faced with sur­plus ca­pac­ity, Ves­tas turned its skills to man­u­fac­tur­ing wind tur­bines. Another com­pany, LM Wind Power started as fur­ni­ture mak­ers in the 1940s then mor­phed in the 50s to mak­ing boats where they be­came ex­perts in glass fi­bre man­u­fac­ture. In the ‘80s they turned their at­ten­tion to and spe­cialised in mak­ing tur­bine blades.

To­day they have 10,000 em­ploy­ees world­wide in­clud­ing 240 ded­i­cated to re­search and devel­op­ment alone. In 2016 they fin­ished con­struc­tion of one of the largest tur­bine blades in the world – it has a di­am­e­ter of 88.4 me­tres, that’s al­most the length of a rugby pitch. Ninety per cent of the world’s off­shore wind tur­bines are in the North Sea and 70 per cent of these are shipped from the Dan­ish port of Eb­sjerg.

In many parts of the world wind tur­bines are re­garded as un­sightly and their pres­ence is met with con­sid­er­able re­sis­tance. The same was true in Den­mark, but Mathieson says the key to wind power gen­er­a­tion is to make it lo­cal. There is a law in Den­mark that re­quires at least 20 per cent of the shares in any wind farm devel­op­ment to be owned by the lo­cal com­mu­nity. This gives the com­mu­nity a vested in­ter­est in the devel­op­ment and pro­vides real cash re­turns. When cit­i­zens, rather than anony­mous cor­po­ra­tions, are mak­ing money from the wind tur­bines in their neigh­bour­hood the tur­bines be­come ob­jects of pride rather than blots on the land­scape.

Ac­cord­ing to Mathieson, one of the key lessons the Danes have learnt from their ex­pe­ri­ence with wind power is the crit­i­cal im­por­tance of po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus. In 2006 the Dan­ish gov­ern­ment de­clared that they were de­ter­mined to en­sure that Den­mark reached its goal of 100 per cent re­new­able en­ergy pro­duc­tion by 2050. This goal was re­stated in 2016. The ef­fect of this long term gov­ern­ment strat­egy is that it gives busi­ness cer­tainty – busi­nesses know where the in­dus­try is head­ing and that en­cour­ages in­vest­ment. That is the main les­son to be learnt by New Zealand gov­ern­ments.


Wind farms are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly com­mon in Europe.

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