Denmark's energy policy : built on renewables, driven by wind
For almost fifty years, Denmark has been pursuing a policy of energy transition, with the aim of becoming totally independent from fossil fuels by 2050. The lessons of the past have paved the way for innovative, more sustainable solutions for the future, which are under international scrutiny.
In the 1970s, the country was faced with rising oil prices and major shortages that brought part of the economy to a standstill. It set its sights on energy autonomy and relied on renewable energies. Rejecting nuclear power, it built thousands of wind turbines, drawing inspiration from its past: at the end of 1880, the physicist Damien Poul la Cour was already experimenting with wind power for agriculture and then electricity. Between the late 1970s and 2000, 6,000 wind turbines were built. In the 1980s, twenty turbine manufacturers were established. In 1991, the first offshore wind farm (now dismantled) was established in the shallow waters off Vindeby, in south-east Denmark. Since then, large-scale installations have continued in the North Sea and Baltic Sea, the most innovative of which are those at Horns Rev and Kriegers Flak.
As such, the park is considered to be the cradle of offshore wind energy. At the same time, Denmark hopes to launch the construction of the first artificial island dedicated to the distribution of renewable energy collected from the offshore wind farm in the North Sea, 80 kilometres from the shore of the Jutland peninsula. This alone could cover the consumption of 10 million European households. There is still the eternal debate about wind turbines: landscape pollution, impact on flora and fauna on land and at sea, end-of-life, etc. To date, some 4,800 turbines are generating 6.9 GW on land and at sea (4,593 GW (4,500 wind turbines) and 2,306 GW respectively), employing 33,000 people dedicated to their operation. There's no doubt about the efficiency of wind turbines in Denmark: the most recent models achieve up to 15 MW of production over 24 hours. Wind power is the cheapest source of energy in the country. By 2030, Denmark plans to have 60% of its energy generated by wind power.
A mixed marriage
While wind power plays an important role, other sources of energy are also needed, particularly on less windy days. Energy autonomy requires a mix of energy sources, including bioenergy, solar energy and geothermal energy. Bioenergy, based on residues and by-products from the agricultural sector, biological sources and household and industrial waste, plays an important role in grid stability and accounts for more than two-thirds of Denmark's combined consumption of renewable energy. Other levers are being exploited, such as hybrid solutions (wind and solar mix, energy storage via batteries, etc.).
As far as biogas is concerned, Denmark is aiming for 22% of piped gas consumption in 2025, 50% in 2025 and 108% in 2030, compared with 22% in 2021. Nearly 43% of Denmark's energy comes from renewable sources, with 20% from wind power, 64% from biomass, 9% from biogas, 3% from solar power and 5% from heat pumps. The rest comes from oil (34%) and gas (12%). While the share of oil and gas remains important to the Danish economy, it has nevertheless fallen over the last twenty years, by -41% and -57% respectively, while renewable energy production has risen by around 300% (source: Energistyrelsen, 2022). These results are in line with the 2020 Carbon Neutrality Act (Denmark's climate law), which calls for a move away from oil and gas by 2050 and a focus on renewable energies.
"A forum on the green economy to strengthen dialogue between government, business and the trade union movement."
New life for wind turbine blades
Recycling wind turbine blades is one of the major challenges facing the sector, especially as landfill is a problem in many European countries. It is now possible to recycle 85% of a turbine, with the exception of the resin used to fuse the blade components. Siemens Gamesa has developed Recyclable Blade, a conventional blade that uses a new type of resin that can be dissolved. The fibreglass, resin, base material and metal can then be separated and reused in other industries. The first blades of this type were installed on Germany's Kaskasi offshore wind farm (North Sea) in 2022, and 44 more of these models will soon be installed on the Sofia offshore wind project off the UK's east coast. Full-scale commercialisation is scheduled for 2024. Also, in a bid to reduce carbon footprints, the company has just announced a wind turbine tower designed from more durable steel plate (which is expected to result in -63% of CO₂ emissions compared to conventional steel). "Wind power is one of the cornerstones of the green energy transition. With more than 600 GW of new capacity to be installed worldwide over the next five years, it is important for the wind industry to reduce its carbon footprint," says Maximilian Schnippering, Head of Sustainability at Siemens Gamesa.
Public and private together for the cause
If such achievements are possible, it's thanks to public and private cohesion and the financial support that enables major investment in research and innovation. The proof is in the State of Green institute, a public-private institution that benefits from substantial financial resources and the support of four ministries, public organisations and businesses, as well as the backing of Prince Frederik. Created in 2008, at the time of COP15, it brings together 600 partners involved in the energy or environmental transition. Their aim is to influence public authorities and private markets, create synergies and promote exports. "Denmark has both a Ministry of the Environment and a Ministry of Climate, Energy and Procurement. Together, they coordinate just transition policies. As part of the country's climate efforts, the government has forged numerous partnerships with businesses. It has launched a forum on the green economy to strengthen dialogue between the government, business and the trade union movement," says Gry Klitmose Holm, senior project manager at the institute. Ultimately, green energy should make Denmark's energy self-sufficient and help it make a success of the energy transition, but it should also be a source of profit. The export potential is considerable: 11% of exports to date have come from green energy and services, representing 3.4% of GDP and 33 billion euros in sales. What's more, the European Commission estimates that this energy will be able to cover up to 12% of the EU's electricity consumption by 2030, and up to 20% by 2040. Denmark's motto could be "Green business is good business". The country is sparing no expense - sometimes excessive? - to achieve its ambitions. Its strength: a wealthy state with a high level of social and economic cohesion.
Copenhill, Club Med for cogeneration
The Copenhagen cogeneration plant produces 66% of the energy for the city's district heating network by incinerating biodegradable waste. Initiated as part of the zero energy waste project, it heats 800,000 people. Every day, between 250 and 300 lorries from the five Danish municipalities, including Copenhagen, supply the plant. In total, 613,000 tonnes of waste can be incinerated each year, with a minimum of 430,000 tonnes required to make the process profitable. This has sometimes led to aberrations, as waste has had to be imported. Managed by the municipality of Copenhagen, this plant is unique in that it houses recreational facilities on its roof: a bar, climbing wall, ski slopes, etc. The idea was born in 2011 as a result of cooperation between engineers and architects (BIG architecture in this case). In 2017, the factory was delivered and since 2019, this open mountain has been accessible. It cost €600 million to build, making it the most expensive plant in Denmark. The gradual replacement of gas- and oil-fired installations by district heating, as well as other initiatives such as incentives for building insulation and the adoption of renewable energies, have enabled Denmark to take the lead in energy saving.
Horns Rev 1 turns 20
For two decades, Horns Rev 1, the oldest offshore wind farm in the world, has been turning to the rhythm of the winds in the North Sea, around twenty kilometres off the coast of Denmark. A maritime area deemed ideal in 2003, when the Elsam group, now Orsted, made it the home of 80 wind turbines generating 160MW, and supplying some 150,000 Danish homes. This pioneer in terms of installations (transformers on platforms at sea rather than on land) has since made disciples who have surpassed the master. Although the wind farm does not look its best, it has fallen behind its smaller brothers Horns Rev 2 and Horns Rev 3, inaugurated in 2019 and now the largest offshore wind farm in the world with 406.7MW of cumulative power. This latest generation, operated by Swedish electricity company Vattenfall, is set to boost Denmark's wind power output by 12%, and still benefit some 425,000 homes.
Zero emission district heating networks
Most district heating plants are the result of the post-oil crisis policies of the 1970s, combining heat and power production and distributing the surplus heat generated by electricity production. Local authorities have even been using district heating networks as a planning tool since the 1980s, making connection compulsory in neighbourhoods where they consider this solution to be the most virtuous in socio-economic and environmental terms. Ten years ago, district heating accounted for between 30% and 40% of Denmark's total greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Danish Energy Agency, the aim is to reduce this share to 3% by 2025 and to less than 1% by 2030, which corresponds to 0.1 million tonnes of CO2 eq. Interesting examples of district heating include Sønderborg Kraftvarmeværk (CHP) in southern Denmark, which burns waste to generate heat and electricity. Or the Copenhagen plant run by the City of Copenhagen, where 66% of the heat from incinerated waste is fed into the city's district heating system. All biodegradable products can be incinerated. To date, 64% of Danish homes are connected to heating networks, compared with less than 6% in France.)
Denmark is launching the Green GDP to assess, among other things, the loss of biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions and air and water pollution. Green GDP can therefore help citizens and politicians to assess whether economic growth has been to the detriment of the climate and the environment. In particular, it is based on GreenREFORM, an analytical tool that assesses the environmental and climatic effects of economic policies from 2015 to 2100. The models, developed by a group of researchers from the University of Copenhagen in collaboration with researchers from the University of Aarhus, DREAM and Statistics Denmark, aim to "give forests, the atmosphere and threatened species a clearer voice in the Danish economy". By examining in more detail how much Danes would pay for clean air, how much it should cost to emit a tonne of CO2 and how to price water pollution, the models enable assessments of different climate policies to inform the political objective of reducing greenhouse gases. The model can therefore calculate the efforts required to achieve the targets. "Green GDP makes it possible to capitalise on environmental and natural assets. In the first stage, we calculate physical measures of how much we have depleted various natural resources and how much we have emitted various pollutants. That in itself is valuable information. In the next step, we calculate the costs or gains in monetary terms", says Peter Birch Sørensen, Professor of Economics at the University of Copenhagen, one of the pioneers in the development of models.
Millions of homes supplied with electricity from an artificial energy island: the vast project being prepared in the North Sea - currently on standby for economic reasons - 80 kilometres west of the Danish coast, looks like something straight out of a mad scientist's lab. A budget of between 30 and 40 billion dollars is currently being put forward to build this island, as well as its twin on the island of Bornholm, in the Baltic Sea, for an estimated total production of 6 GW of electricity. The little mermaid may cling to her rock, but it is off Copenhagen that all eyes are riveted: surrounded by wind turbines, several artificial islands (or existing ones, such as those in the Baltic Sea) off Denmark or neighbouring Belgium are destined to become maritime hubs "centralising the production of electricity from the surrounding offshore wind farms, with a view to distributing it between several countries", according to the Danish government's plans. From the Scandinavian peninsula to off the coasts of the United Kingdom and the Baltic States, a number of island asylums are currently under the microscope, all very real "artificial paradises", real ecological and technological challenges in line with Denmark's energy ambitions.