power in Denmark
October 26, 2000
month one of the country's largest electricity producers, the Tennessee
Valley Authority, flipped the switch on its newest power generators:
three massive windmills. The authority has planted the mills - somewhat
symbolically - on a disused strip mine. But these turbines, as they're
called, aren't a home-grown product. Like many other modern mills
in operation here they were manufactured in a small European nation
with a reputation for environmental innovation. In this final report
in our series on renewable energy around the globe, The World's
Patrick Cox reports on how Denmark has become the global leader
in wind power.
In Denmark, the wind seldom lets up. This country is made up of more
than a thousand islands. Stiff westerly breezes blow almost all the
(announcement by man on ferry)
Arriving at the island of Samsoe by ferry you can see all kinds
of windmills on the horizon: the old-fashioned sorts, like the ones
in Van Gogh paintings -- and also the newer types, tall steel poles
topped by what look like vast airplane propellers.
(noise of turbine)
This turbine is about twenty years old and it produces enough energy
to supply the electricity for one house, the home of local environmental
consultant Soren Hermansen. Hermansen is one the organizers of an
ambitious program funded by the Danish government. It's called the
Energy Island Project.
Hermansen: When we introduced the Energy Island
Project we claimed that we wanted to be a hundred percent self-supplied
by energy in the year 2008, and what we did was, we started out
with the wind turbines.
Hermansen knew that for the island to switch to total self-sufficiency
it would mean erecting several turbines far bigger than the one
in his backyard. So today, eleven sleek, modern turbines each 300-feet
high, dot Samsoe's skyline. They generate 75-percent of the energy
needs of the island's 4-thousand 4-hundred inhabitants.
The big turbines are actually quieter and far more efficient than
the older models. The Danes have been pouring money into researching
wind power -- ever since 1972 when the Danish government turned
against nuclear power.
Hermansen: Everybody expected us to have the first nuclear power
station around that time and the drawings and the planning was already
made for the plant. But then there was such a big public resistance
against nuclear power that the political parties actually said no,
they voted no to nuclear power. Then the responsibility came back
to the grassroots or to the people that said no. They were asked
"What else can you offer?" And they said, "Well renewable energy
like solar like biomass, like wind." I think from there, we had
to be serious about the development of renewable energy machinery
like wind turbines.
Glerup: We have in our little country 5,700 windmills.
Martin Glerup, chairman of the Danish parliament's Energy committee,
says, in contrast to the United States, the Danes have a national
energy policy. And what's more, it's aimed at phasing out fossil
fuels in favor of wind power and other renewable resources.
The difference between Denmark and the United States is that the
Danish government is not afraid of demanding people to use a certain
percent of their consumption from renewable energy.
In other words the government requires utilities to generate a certain
amount of green power and consumers to buy it. And that's leading
to new innovations.
(Sound of shipyard in Copenhagen)
At this former shipyard in Copenhagen, the foundations for 20 wind
turbines are under construction. The turbines, a joint project of
the local utility and a co-operative of shareholders, are headed
for the ocean. When in place in the shallow waters off Eastern Denmark,
they'll be the world's largest offshore wind farm. The rotation
of their giant blades will generate enough electricity to power
60-thousand households. Christian Kjaer of the Danish Wind Turbine
Association says improved technology and economies of scale have
transformed the industry.
The cost of producing wind energy today is is one-fifth of the cost
in the beginning of the 80s, and we expect a similar fall in cost
of producing wind turbines in the years to come as well.
Danish turbine manufacturers already sell thousands of windmills
abroad -- in fact they've built more than half the world's turbines.
Germany and Spain are especially big clients. And so is the US,
though, relative to its size, the US is moving at a snail's pace.
This, in spite of the commitments the Clinton Administration has
made to reducing greenhouse gases. In the US, energy policy is largely
controlled at the state level, and some states are more inclined
to subsidize the likes of wind power than others.
But if the Danish experience is anything to go by, subsidies, initially,
are unavoidable. The manager of one Copenhagen turbine project,
Jens Larsen, argues that Danish government subsidies are more than
justified because they reduce the amount of fossil fuels abeing
You have to get the environmental benefits into the price, but then
the wind power can compete with nearly everything. It's the most
economic energy source in the world.
(People talking on a farm)
Back on the island of Samsoe, environmental activists spend a lot
of time trying to persuade local farmers to buy into renewable energy.
Many of the farmers are now convinced, even if, like Morten Christensen,
they're not crazy about aesthetics of turbines.
At first I thought the big windmills, they didn't look very good
in the landscape. And I thought well if you have to look at them
anyway you might as well get one of your own. After seeing the first
3 windmills we got up, I think they're not looking that bad in the
country. I think the design is a lot better.
The easy part is whenever you can convince people you can benefit
from the projects. If you can earn a bit of money on it, then people
think well renewable energy is not that bad.
That's Soren Hermansen again, of the Energy Island Project. He's
pleased that the wind power component of the plan is up and running.
But now he faces a bigger challenge. He's now going back to his
turbine investors all of them island neighbors -- and asking them
to do more like buy clean-energy heaters, solar panels and even
cars that don't run on gasoline.
That's a harder process because we have to deal with a lot of individual
persons who think that well, I bought some shares in the wind turbine
out there, I've done my bit, and I don't care about the rest of
it. And that's a private opinion that we have to take very seriously
because we can't interfere with private decisions that easily.
But, the way Hermansen sees it, the fact that the island has taken
care of most of its energy needs by putting up a few turbines sets
a powerful example.
What we experienced here from converting to renewable energy can
be replicated in almost any small community anywhere in the world
Anywhere, at least, where there's a breeze blowing, a government
rich enough subsidize a conversion, and a lot of political will.
(sound of wind turbine)
Wind turbines certainly aren't welcome everywhere. In parts of the
US, wind power has earned a bad reputation because sometimes the
wind doesn't blow and turbines fail to deliver electricity on time.
In Britain, the government this week said it would pump more than
70-million dollars into wind power and other renewables. But many
Britons object to the look of wind turbines, and ambitious plans
for big wind farms have been abandoned.
Nonetheless, the amount of electricity generated by wind power worldwide
has grown more than sevenfold in the past decade. With oil prices
high, nuclear power unpopular in many countries, and most nations
committed to reducing greenhouse gases, wind energy has a bright
if blustery future.
For The World, I'm Patrick Cox in Samsoe, Denmark.