Denmark: 50% wind powered electricity by 2020

» By | Published 16 Jul 2012

Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action

Denmark is synonymous with wind energy. Last year the Nordic country met a massive 26% of its electricity demand with wind power, confirming its pole position as a beacon for wind energy as well as for its ability to integrate renewable electricity into the grid.

Already a world wind energy leader, Denmark plans to do better: by 2020 it wants wind energy to occupy a 50% slice of its electricity generation as part of its plans to phase out fossil fuels by 2050. With this target, set by the Danish centre-left coalition government last year, and a second target to deepen carbon dioxide cuts to 40% by 2020 – the country is a blueprint for transitioning to a renewable, climate-friendly, fuel-independent economy.

And it is not just the government and industry backing wind power in Denmark, it’s the public too. In 2009, the Danish Wind Industry Association, DWIA, conducted a public opinion survey of over 1,000 Danes on energy production in Denmark in the future. An impressive 91% of respondents said that the country should expand the use of wind power and 85% thought this expansion could take place in their local area. Moreover, 96% thought that the government should support wind power development so that Denmark can maintain its international standing as wind energy pioneer. Some 62% were even more ambitious for wind saying that more than 50% of the country’s electricity production should be wind-powered. Jan Hylleberg, CEO of DWIA quite rightly said: “It is widely agreed that wind power will become the backbone of Denmark’s future electricity supply.”

Denmark first started its love-affair with wind energy in the 1800s when scientist and inventor Poul la Cour set about building an experimental windmill to generate electricity. His work was instrumental in bringing electricity to rural Denmark in the early 20th century – a time when electricity was only available in cities. Despite its pioneering position, Denmark up until the mid-1970s was like most countries of the world – dependent on imported oil. When the period of abundant, cheap oil came to an end with the first oil crisis of 1973, Denmark decided to diversify its energy supply.

Wind energy did not immediately come to the fore. Oil had been discovered in the Danish part of the North Sea in 1972 and nuclear energy was seriously considered until a 1985 Parliament decision to abandon all plans – one year before the Chernobyl disaster. Nevertheless, by 1979 Denmark already had an independent supply chain of blades and components and today’s three-blade design was up and running.  By 1981 political support came in the form of the First Energy Plan which included wind power, and by 1990 the government set a target for 10% wind energy in total electricity generation by 2005.

Today the Nordic nation has a total installed capacity of 3,871 MW, with 857.3 MW of that offshore at 13 offshore wind farms. Not only is Denmark a pioneer for onshore wind energy, but it was also the country to build the world’s first offshore wind farm: Vindeby (5 MW) was grid connected in 1991. Horns Rev I (160 MW) was constructed in 2002. When the Anholt offshore wind farm comes online in 2014 (400 MW) 15% of the Danish electricity supply will be powered by offshore wind. Another world-first is expected in coming years with the Krieger’s Flak project which will be the first truly international offshore wind farm with a transmission line between both Denmark and Germany.

With manufacturers like Siemens and Vestas and a broad base of sub-suppliers, Denmark is naturally home to the world’s largest wind turbine industry. In 2009, Danish wind energy exports amounted to €5.6 billion (DKK 41.7 billion), representing 8.5% of the country’s total exports. The sector is also a significant source of job creation with 24,000 wind energy-related jobs in 2010.

European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard once summed-up her country’s approach to renewable energy: “In Denmark, we have proven that it pays off to harness our resources with care. Since 1980, Denmark’s economy has grown 78% while our energy consumption has remained nearly level and our CO2 emissions have fallen. We have achieved this because we have chosen to use our resources in new and intelligent ways. One of these has been wind power.”

This article was first published in industry magazine Wind Directions