In the first week of January, the Danes celebrated the fact that 39% of total electricity consumed in Denmark in 2014 came from wind turbines. Data from the Danish Ministry of Climate, Energy and Building indicates that the amount of electricity consumed from wind power has experienced a significant increase from the 18.7% nearly a decade ago, to 32% in 2013 up to 39% today. Last year’s increase can be attributed to the decrease of energy consumption and the installation of over 100 new offshore windmills.
The historical increase of wind power over the past decade is a result of massive investments in wind technology by the Danish industry since the 1970s. These investments resulted in the establishment of the first offshore wind farm in the world in 1991 off the Danish coast. In addition, Denmark has numerous wind turbines installed across the country, and Danish wind companies have spread their technology by installing over 90% of the world’s offshore turbines.
Glancing at these achievements, a few facts can be easily misinterpreted, such as the percentage of turbines in Denmark relative to the world, the real share of wind in the total energy production, and the necessary effort to reach 100% renewable energy.
MYTH 1: Denmark has a huge share of the world’s wind turbines
FACT 1: Denmark only has 1.5% of global wind power capacity
Denmark has many installed wind turbines and the country plays a key role in the global wind energy field. However, the installed capacity of wind power in the country is only about 5 GW, which is very high for its small population of 5.6 million, but very low when compared to countries such as China, USA and Germany. In fact, Demark only has 1.5% of the installed capacity globally, as presented in the graph in the right column.
MYTH 2: A large share of Denmark’s energy production comes from wind
FACT 2: Only 5% energy production in Denmark comes from wind
In Denmark, 39% of the wind power in total electricity consumed in 2014 was responsible for only 5% of total energy produced. Notice that the units are different: consumption vs production.
Let’s go back to concepts to make some sense out of this information.
Electricity consumption refers to the energy used in the form of electricity by the final users — such as your use of lighting and electronics at home. However, energy can be delivered to users in other forms that are not electricity, such as heating, gasoline at the gas station or fuel wood. All these different forms of energy delivered for final use are known as final energy consumption. Different actors such as industry, transport, households, services, agriculture, forestry and fisheries consume final energy.
There is a significant mismatch between the share of a given primary energy source and the electricity generation because not all the primary energy produced is converted into electricity, and because there are many losses in the energy conversion and transportation. To clarify, look at the two graphs to the right about energy production and electricity in Denmark. These illustrations indicate this difference for the year of 2012, when wind power already represented only about 5% of all energy produced in Denmark.
Graph A is about the total energy produced, in which the dark green area indicates the share of wind power in the energy mix. The line is thin because oil and natural gas were the main primary energy sources produced. Of all the primary energy produced shown in the graph, only 20% was used to generate electricity; the rest had other uses such as transportation and heating.
Graph B is about electricity production indicates a much smaller presence of oil and natural gas, which means they were not used as much to produce electricity. The dark green shaded area represents the total amount of wind energy used for electricity production; which is thicker than the first graph since it represents almost 30% of electricity generated in 2012.
MYTH 3: Denmark is very close to reaching 100% renewable energy
FACT 3: Business as usual is not be enough to reach the 100% target
The Danish government has set a goal to reach 100% clean energy supply by 2050. Since the country has reached already 39% of wind power in the electricity consumption share, one might think that there is only 61% left to reach 100% renewable energy. That is a misinterpretation. The goal goes beyond electricity and includes heating, transportation and industrial uses, thus much more renewable energy needs to be produced to make the entire energy supply clean by 2050.
If you have read Myth 2, you might be thinking that there is still 95% of the energy supply to be covered. Thankfully, the scenario is not that bad because of the international energy trade. Denmark purchases large amounts of renewable energy from Germany and the other Scandinavian countries. In addition, the Danes produce more energy than they consume, and most of what they export is in the form of oil and its derivatives. Thus, not all the non-renewable energy produced in the country stays here.
You should be raising a big red flag right about now. Even though Denmark is working hard to reach 100% renewable energy supply, it will continue to produce fossil fuels to other countries. Traditionally, the country that burns these fuels is responsible for its greenhouse gases emissions — that the supplier of fuels, such as Denmark, should be exempt of other responsibilities is a discussion for another time.
FILLING THE ENERGY GAP
Nonetheless, just reaching 100% renewable energy supply by 2050 is in itself a very challenging target for the Danish government, and business as usual will not suffice. There remains a big energy gap, which the available technologies do not have the capacity to fill with renewables at a cost effective price yet. Amongst the suggestions to reach the target, professor Brian Vad Mathiesen from Aalborg University recommends combined heating and power plants to invest in heat pump systems that run on wind-generated electricity rather than fossil fuels. Other suggestions include policy improvements, investment in research in efficiency and in other energy sources.
Demystifying the wind energy data is key to enabling informed decision-making that will improve the way business is done around the world. The amount of Danish wind power might not be enormous on a global scale and its production not as significant to the total energy produced nationally, nevertheless the percentage of electricity consumed being sourced from wind, now 39%, is the highest in the world — a fact worth being celebrated and used as an example that we can always push for further and better action towards climate change.