World leader in wind power
In 2007, Denmark obtained 20% of its electricity from wind power. Wind power is a renewable and secure source of energy that avoids greenhouse gases and other serious environmental problems of other energy sources. These include toxic air pollution (e.g. particulates, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, VOCs), acid rain, and arsenic, lead, cadmium, and uranium in air, soil and water. Danish development of wind power has benefited from centuries of use, experimentation, and learning. Three key innovations – the use of local cooperatives, subsidies, and a participatory learning processes – are understood to have been essential to the growth of wind power in Denmark.
One of the problems that often stops the development of wind power is the issue of “visual disturbance” – the fact that the appearance of a landscape changes when wind-power generators are added. In Denmark, an effective solution to this problem was to promote the formation of cooperatives of local residents who would own and benefit from local wind power. This was promoted through lowering the taxes for cooperative members, for example. One rule even specified that cooperatives should only have members who live in sight of the wind power generators. Middelgrunden is half owned by a cooperative of some 8,500 members, and half by a Copenhagen utility.
Rebates and subsidies
Danish development of wind energy has benefited from a few types of economic supports. Along with the tax rebates for cooperative members on their household electricity use, a feed-in tariff FIT) structure was used.
A guaranteed price was paid for all electricity produced, and an extra amount paid for electricity produced from renewable energy sources. The guaranteed right to connect and sell electricity into the grid goes along with the FIT. Financing has also been provided on favourable terms at times during the period 1980-2010. Economic support to wind power was reduced significantly after around 1999, which led to drastic decreases in its growth.
Participatory learning processes
The innovation of local cooperatives is one example of the larger phenomenon of effective stakeholder participation. The development of Middelgrunden exhibited not only a large, primarily local cooperative, but also dialogue processes among a wide group of stakeholders, e.g. approval authorities, the local power utility, and nature conservation NGOs. Dialogue led to key problems and concerns being raised, that were subsequently addressed through well-designed studies (prior to construction). For example, the visual impact of the wind farm was addressed by changing the formation of the wind farm from three straight rows of 27 generators to a single arc of 20.
Great potential for wind power
A conservative estimate published in 2009 by the US National Academies of Science found that for the nine highest CO2-emitting countries, their offshore wind potential was always larger than their total electricity consumption: some 20 times larger for the UK, 2 times larger for China, almost 4 times larger for the United States. A 2005 study found that just 20% of global wind potential is 7 times larger than the world's electricity use.
David MacLeod, 2004, “Blowing in the Wind”, Alternatives Journal, 30:1,
Union of Concerned Scientists, 2009, “Environmental impacts of coal power: air pollution”, http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/coalvswind/c02c.html
Tore Wizelius, 2007, Developing wind power projects: theory and practice, Earthscan
Key data are retrieved from the UN World Urbanization Prospects: The 2011 Revision, http://esa.un.org/unup/unup/index_panel2.html
Text by: Aaron Thomas
Last edited: 2017-03-15