I – Denmark


Denmark has the highest intensity of wind power in the world, with a penetration of about 24% in terms of installed capacity as a per cent of the total. It has not added capacity since 2003.

Denmark has a history of the use of small turbines for individual or small community installations, as is the case in many European countries. The 1970’s oil crisis caused many Western countries that were dependent upon energy/fuel imports to look to ways of reducing such dependencies. Wind power appeared to be a solution due to its apparent renewable and sustainable characteristics, and the important consideration that it can be produced domestically. Because of the costs, the government provided generous subsidies, which in turn attracted developers to build wind “farms”. These started to appear in the late 90s, and as a result of strong government support a Danish industry was born. The Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Administration studied the Denmark case in 1998 and found no merit in the Danish wind power commitment except that it appeared to have laid the foundation of an industry for the production of wind turbines. Today, Denmark is the largest exporter of wind turbines in the world.

After the election in 2001 of the right-of-centre Venstre party in Denmark, further off-shore wind plant deployment was cancelled and subsidies cut. Since then the installed wind capacity in Denmark has remained flat, and their turbine manufacturing companies build almost solely for foreign markets. One Danish government official explained there was no reason to go offshore when there is so much room onshore in many other countries. Additionally, despite a major commitment to wind power, Denmark’s CO2 emissions record since 1990 is one of the worst in the EU.

The following table provides a four year average of Denmark’s electricity profile.

Table 1 – Denmark’s Electricity Profile




Actual Production



Where Actual Production is Used



– Wind




– All Renewables (including Wind)




– Fossil Fuel




– Nuclear




Exports (Wind)


Wind Energy Production Used for Domestic Consumption

Wind power does not supply anything close to 20 per cent of Denmark’s domestic needs, as is often claimed. This is a misinterpretation of the Danish Energy Authority’s (DEA) published information.

Denmark does have installed wind capacity of 24 per cent of total capacity, which produces wind energy at 17 per cent of total electricity production as shown in columns (1) and (2). This production is far in excess of the practical limit of about 5 per cent. At this level, due to the mismatch between wind production and demand and the erratic behaviour of wind production, so large an amount cannot be managed within Denmark. It is therefore necessary to dump (export) a large portion of the wind production to Norway/Sweden and Germany who take it at highly discounted prices. This is shown as the Exports row in column (3). Norway’s and Sweden’s electricity systems combined are 75 per cent hydro and about five times the size of Denmark’s. Germany’s system is ten times the size. Norway/Sweden balances Denmark’s wind with their large hydro capacities, and the German system is so large that these imports can be absorbed easily.

As a result, the wind production used to meet domestic demand should have these exports subtracted. In column (3) of Table 1, the exports of 11 per cent are subtracted from both the wind and all renewables (including wind) amounts. This leaves wind with a 6 per cent contribution to domestic supply.

The DEA’s calculation ignores this consideration and reports the total wind production (before exports) as a percent of total production after exports are removed. This calculation approach is not uncommon, and does not introduce significant distortion for most countries where imports/exports are relatively small. In Denmark’s case the large amount and nature of the exports misrepresents reality and leads to the common misunderstanding.

CO2 emissions

A further misinterpretation of the DEA’s published information is that Denmark’s total CO2 emissions have been reduced by 13 per cent since 1990. In fact, the DEA shows that emissions have increased by 9 per cent in total, and 18 per cent in electricity production. The difference is that the DEA goes on to use “accounting adjustments” to reduce the actual emissions, taking credit for exporting “clean” electricity. About half of the exports go to Norway and Sweden where they are absorbed in their large hydro capacity. No CO2 reductions there. The other half goes to Germany, which can take duplicate credit for renewable energy used. In Germany, the Danish wind is likely shadowed by fossil fuel generation, which then pollutes at least as much as in normal operations. Again, there is no reduction in CO2 emissions. Artificial “proxies”, such as these accounting treatments, should not be used to replace real CO2 emissions reductions.

Offshore Wind

Denmark is the current leader in offshore wind plant implementation, with an installed capacity of only 426 MW. There is much interest by the wind industry in the development of offshore wind plants, although they are more expensive to construct and maintain. The incentives are more intense wind regimes and availability of offshore sites versus onshore, especially in Denmark and Germany. The UK has the second largest capacity of offshore wind plants in the world, second only to Denmark, but experienced average capacity factors of less than 30 per cent in 2006. This is not even as good as the number often quoted (and not achieved in extensive, mature implementations) for onshore wind plant operations. In general, offshore wind plants, like onshore before them, are not showing their initial promise. Apart from costs, the stronger wind regimes found offshore are offset by the greater amount and degree of fluctuations experienced, which is industrial wind power’s Achilles’ heel. However, governments find policy direction in this area has the advantage of not using private land and perhaps less public opposition.

European Union (EU) Energy Policies

In 2007, the EU made a major, broad sweeping and very questionable energy policy announcement, with a heavy commitment to new renewables, especially wind power. In summary, the policy sets the EU on the road to de-carbonization of the European economy, which is admirable in intent.

Criticism focuses on excessive dependence on wind power and a re-vitalization of the unsuccessful Emissions Trading System to achieve the ambitious goals set for 2020. Further, the need for overall systems strategies and to co-ordinate the considerable investments required is at odds with the unbundling and competition agenda. To compare this policy with President Kennedy’s announced objective of landing a man on the moon by the end of a decade ignores the greater complexities facing the EU as an organization of disparate countries. The objective for renewables is arbitrarily set at 20% to coincide with the same targets of 20% for emissions reductions and energy efficiency improvements. No rationale is provided in terms of how the 20% renewables target will reduce CO2 emissions or contribute to security of supply, another basis for the policy.

For a very critical analysis of these policies see the January 2008 issue of The Economist. Also providing a critical review is Dieter Helm, an economist and professor of energy policy at the University of Oxford, who specializes in utilities, infrastructure, regulation and the environment, and concentrates on the energy, water and transport sectors in Britain and Europe.

In recent years, much of the adoption of industrial wind power in some European countries can be explained by these energy policies. Targets have been set for each member country with penalties if the targets are not met. Probably as a result, for example, the Danish government has “pledged” to double the amount of renewable energy used by 2025 and the United Kingdom has announced a major commitment to offshore wind implementation. It remains to be seen how and if these will occur.

Last updated November 4, 2008

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  1. Craig Goodrich said

    With respect to offshore wind:

    We know that land-based turbines generate a penetrating low-frequency thub-thub-thub due to the increase in air pressure as the blades pass the steel tower. In wild areas — mountain ridges and the like — this has driven off wildlife for as much as two miles from the tower.

    We also know that the steel towers conduct vibration, and that sound travels for great distances in water (think whale communication). Has there been any study of the effect of offshore wind plants’ effect on fish (and fishing) in the area?

  2. whitherindustrialwindpower said

    I am not aware of any study on the effect of offshore wind plants on sea life.

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