Denmark’s dedication to purpose was born out of the 1974 oil crisis. Back then, more than 95% of Danish energy came from petroleum. The economic effects of the oil crisis were devastating. Cars were banned entirely from streets on Sundays. Leaders across the political spectrum agreed to end dependence on oil. Mass popular opposition led to abandoning any nuclear programs in 1985 and the emergence of policies to rely entirely on renewable energy.
Today, wind energy supplies more than 20% of the electric energy consumed in Denmark. In ten years, it will be 50%. They won’t stop there. Indeed, the government’s goal is a carbon-free power grid, with most of the energy coming from wind power. Denmark is leveraging its green power grid by adopting electric vehicles as the main mode of personal motorized transportation (40% of the population commutes by bicycle). Efficiency is key too—so-called power plant “waste heat” is captured to provide hot water and space heat through district heating systems that already serve 60% of all buildings.
Accommodating the variability and uncertainty of the growing reliance on wind power is a central focus. Risø National Research Center Director Henrik Bindslev explained that instead of energy supply responding to demand, demand will respond to supply in the Danish grid. When the wind comes up, excess energy can be stored as hot water for the district heating systems and in electric vehicle batteries. When the wind dies off, batteries can give back some of the energy to the grid. The island of Bornholm will soon be the first system served entirely by renewable energy and virtually isolated from the main power grid.
When the wind doesn’t blow for longer periods, batteries won’t be enough. The Danes are burning wood chips and other waste bio matter in their power plants. Rescuing straw from being burned or left to rot on farmers’ fields, the Danes invented a process to turn straw into alcohol for fueling cars, molasses to feed cattle, and lignin pellets to fuel the big power plants that used to burn coal.
Little Denmark, with a population hardly more than Oregon’s is not only replacing all its fossil resources with renewable energy, it is adding jobs by exporting technologies such as the straw-to-alcohol plant. From 1990 to 2007, Denmark’s GDP increased 40% while its weather-adjusted carbon emissions decreased 14%. This is our future once we find the political will to follow it. I can hardly wait.
By Ken Dragoon, www.windpower.org