Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Denmark, "a global leader" in green energy - fiction and facts

"Progressive" and "green" governments and politicians all over the world clearly cannot resist the temptation to present rosy future scenarios for a time when they are not anymore around to fulfill their promises. The latest contribution comes - surprise, surprise - from Denmark, the country with the world´s highest electricity prices for private consumers:   

The Danish government has stepped up its green energy and carbon reduction targets for 2020, hailing the plan as the "broadest, greenest, and most long-term energy agreement" it has ever reached.
Danish minister for climate, energy and building, Martin Lidegaard, confirmed on Friday that parliament had agreed a new set of goals designed to wean the country off oil and gas.
The deal aims to see Denmark cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 34% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels and decrease energy consumption by more than 12% compared to 2006.
It also aims to supply 35% of its total energy from renewables, with half of its electricity delivered by wind farms. The agreement also covers advances in renewable heat, smart grids, and biogas among other green technologies.
"Denmark will once again be the global leader in the transition to green energy," said Lidegaard. "This will prepare us for a future with increasing prices for oil and coal. Moreover, it will create some of the jobs that we need so desperately, now and in the coming years."

The agreement will help Denmark achieve its goal of supplying 100% of its energy from renewables by 2050, including electricity, heating, industry and transport.

Read the entire article here

Back in the real world, the "global leader in the transition to green energy" looks somewhat different:


Denmark is the wind capital of the world - that's one of the reasons why Copenhagen was chosen to host the great climate change conference last year. Between 1985 and 2005, more than 3GW of wind-turbine capacity was installed, of which about 15 per cent was sited offshore.
There are few areas on western Denmark's coast and in its flat or gently rolling countryside that are unaffected. Fortunately, the nation's agricultural community has learned to love the modern intruders - or at least the subsidies.
As the sector expanded, so did the size of the wind turbines. The latest idea is to build 20MW versions as tall as the Eiffel Tower. Each turbine requires an access road, massive concrete foundations and, of course, electricity pylons.
Wind turbines, despite being so very green themselves, are antipathetic to nature. On forested hillsides, they require the clear felling of woodland; on low-lying coastal sites, they necessitate the draining of wetland to facilitate the construction of access roads and enormous concrete foundations.
As independent energy consultant Vic Mason has pointed out, such side-effects could stimulate the oxidation of peat (releasing carbon dioxide) and damage many sensitive habitats essential for particular species of wildlife.
Until recently, the most important subsidy supporting the sector was that the Danish National Grid (and hence consumers) was obliged by law to buy all the electricity produced by wind-power projects - and to do so at prices determined by the government, not the market. That's why Danish householders must pay almost double the UK price for electricity. Estimates of the costs of the subsidies differ - the Danish government says it is about DKr4 billion (£443 million) a year - but independent experts put it at about DKr10 billion a year. If the higher estimates are correct, it would mean that Denmark has been spending more on wind turbines each year than on education.
In spite of the cost, wind power generates only about 4 per cent of the electricity used in Denmark: the truth is that almost all of it is wasted.
Specialists believe that it is unrealistic to expect turbines to produce much more than 20 to 25 per cent of their potential annual output, and that has been the experience in Denmark. Sometimes there is too little wind, sometimes there is too much. Sometimes the machines are broken or being serviced and polished.
With wind turbines, a conventional power station must always provide back-up. For the Danes, traditional power stations with capacities equal to 90 per cent of the installed wind-power capacity must be permanently online to guarantee supply at all times.
But worse still, even when the turbines are busily whirring away, the electricity generally cannot be used. For "technical reasons", as they say, to ensure stability in the domestic grid, most of Denmark's wind power has to be exported at prices well below what it costs to produce. During 2003, 84 per cent of the wind electricity generated was surplus to demand at the moment the wind blew.
Energy specialists calculate that Denmark's exports of electricity to its large, hydro-nuclear-powered neighbours to the north cost local consumers about DKr1 billion each year.
All this combines to explain why, in practice, only 4 per cent of the electricity Danish consumers actually use comes from the turbines. For this miserly contribution to "green thinking", people must pay double the bills.
Nowadays - reneging slightly on its commitment to reduce Denmark's 0.0003 per cent contribution to the CO2 released annually into the atmosphere from the Earth - the Danish government is dismantling its obligatory purchase scheme, although owners of existing wind turbines and district heating plants will continue to receive subsidies. In fact, even after years of spending on an array of wind turbines, Denmark's carbon emissions were rising until recently.
What lessons do the Danish experiences offer us? None, it seems. The UK government is attempting to follow suit. It aspires to a European target of 20 per cent renewable energy by 2020. This nominally equates to about 20,000 2MW wind turbines, along with new systems for energy back-up.
A rule of thumb says that to prevent turbulence from adjacent turbines taking power from each other, they should be separated by up to 10 times their rotor diameter. Thus, the installation of 40GW of wind power in the UK would leave a turbine "footprint" (that is, the land directly appropriated), on land and/or at sea, equivalent in size to almost half the total land area of

Read the entire Times Higher Education article by Martin Cohen here

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