Wind turbines in Denmark: Lessons to be learnt

  • Stable support schemes and sufficiently high payments per kWh produced, backed by ambitious political objectives, will instill widespread investor confidence in wind-power projects.

  • Public involvement in the planning phase and local ownership generate acceptance and public support.

  • Wind power already provides 28 percent of the electricity used in Denmark and additional economic and environmental benefits are possible by increasing this to 50 percent, which the Danish government aims to have installed by 2020.

Wind power is a key factor in modern energy and climate policy. Changing the source of electricity generation from fossil fuels to wind turbines reduces the emission of greenhouse gases. This will reduce health costs by reducing emissions of sulphur and NOX. Combating climate change requires more wind power, as eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels does. Being a domestic energy source, additional wind power will increase the reliability of supply by lowering Denmark’s dependence on external sources of energy.

Stable support schemes and ambitious targets

Experience shows that wind power can be an important element in the energy supply system, but that this requires having a stable support scheme and predictable economic incentives backed by political will and ambitious targets.

As long as the tax system and energy prices do not reflect the environmental costs of using fossil fuels, the development of renewable energy has to be encouraged. In Denmark a premium of DKK 0.25 per kWh during the first 22,000 full-load hours is paid to the producers of wind power, in addition to the market price for electricity. An additional DKK 0.023 per kWh during the entire lifetime of the turbine is paid to compensate for the cost of balancing power. Support for electricity production is financed as a public service obligation paid by all Danish electricity consumers. The support will for wind turbines installed after January 1, 2014 be reduced gradually if the market price of electricity surpasses DKK 0.33 per kWh and will, thus, disappear if the market price surpasses DKK 0.58 per kWh.
The lessons learnt in Denmark and other countries show that such support schemes must be stable and transparent with sufficiently high premiums in order to instill widespread investor confidence in the wind power projects.

Another crucial factor in developing wind power is the political will to ensure flexible planning procedures for new projects and giving renewable energy sources priority access to the grid. Clear and ambitious signals at a political level are needed to guide energy companies and investors.

Due to long-term planning, political commitment and sufficiently large tariffs, wind power in Denmark developed rapidly during the 1990s. However, the development of new wind turbine projects had almost stopped by 2003 due to hesitant and blurred political signals. Fortunately, in 2009, new projects developed again, inspired by new legislation, and new energy and climate targets set by the EU.

Cooperatives – local and democratic ownership of wind turbines

One characteristic aspect of the Danish wind-energy sector is cooperatives or guilds. Approximately 15 percent of Danish wind turbines are currently owned by local cooperatives or guilds.

Many of the wind turbines erected in the 1980s and early 1990s were and still are owned by such. Just before 2000, some 150,000 households were co-owners of local wind turbines. Since then single-person ownership and large energy companies have played an increasingly important part in the establishment and ownership of wind turbines in Denmark.

Even so, cooperative ownership is still an important factor, and new legislation from January 2009 aims to stimulate local involvement and ownership in new wind-energy projects. The new Danish act on renewable energy imposes an obligation on all new wind-energy projects to offer a minimum of 20 percent ownership to local inhabitants, e.g. cooperatives.
The lessons learnt from many wind-energy projects in Denmark show that local involvement and local ownership facilitate dialogue and acceptance.

Opinion polls show that more than 90 percent of the Danish population is positive towards wind power in general. The attitude towards the erecting of new large onshore turbines is more positive among people who have already experienced wind turbines in their neighborhood than among those who have not.

Local production and involvement in wind energy projects make sustainable development understandable. Local involvement in the development and building of local wind turbines is a concrete example of how individuals can contribute to the development of sustainable, eco-friendly energy production.

More wind power to be integrated

Today, wind generates about 39 percent of the electricity used in Denmark (2014). But wind power has the capacity to deliver much more electricity to the grid. The technical challenges can be overcome: all it takes is the political will to do so. The target is 50 percent wind power by 2020.

Integrating the fluctuating amounts of wind energy requires accurate planning and control systems. Operating in the Nordic electricity market, utilities and dispatch centers have managed to integrate wind power through a number of tools. Renewable energy resources are given top priority in the power grid. The tool box also includes the planning of the power grid, robust interconnections with neighboring countries, accurate wind forecasts, and adequate reserve capacity for calm periods.

Integrating even more wind power is both possible and desirable. Energinet.dk (Denmark’s transmission system operator) has analyzed a number of new technologies in the areas of both supply and demand. To a large extent the technologies are already available for achieving 50 percent wind-power coverage. The Danish government’s target is, thus, 50 percent wind power coverage by 2020.

Energinet.dk concludes that 50 percent wind coverage would benefit both the economy and the environment. New legislation and control systems are needed together with economic incentives and intelligent meters. More green electricity should be used whenever it is cheap and plentiful for powering electric cars and household appliances and for converting wind power into hot water.