By Michael Somers, CSU Energy Institute Ambassador and Graduate Research Assistant at the CSU Department of Mechanical Engineering
Since returning to the United States, I have taken time to reflect on the incredible experience I had while traveling in Europe with the CSU Energy Institute. Our small group of four students and two group leaders visited Denmark, Germany, France, and Belgium over three weeks to develop an education abroad program looking at the energy transition in Europe. The trip was exhausting, but definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience! By speaking with local, regional, and international organizations, we were introduced to the European perspective on energy transitions, and the many challenges they still face. There are any number of experiences that I could write about, but I want to highlight one in particular, which was our visit to an offshore wind farm by boat!
Middlegrunden is located 3.5 km outside of Copenhagen, Denmark in the Øresund (the strait that separates Denmark and Sweden). This offshore wind farm was built in 2000, and at the time was the largest in the world. It consists of 20 turbines that generate a combined power of 40 MW, which by today’s standards is a small offshore wind farm. However, Middlegrunden is unique as it is an example of community wind energy! The municipal utility company owns only 50 percent of the turbines, and a cooperative formed to help build the wind farm owns the other 50 percent. Since being built, Middlegrunden has become famous, and is the most photographed offshore wind farm in the world.
On our second day in Copenhagen, we had the incredible opportunity to visit the Middlegrunden wind farm by boat. The weather throughout Northern Europe was unnaturally warm while we were there, so the wind and spray off the water was very refreshing. The boat we’d organized to tour the wind farm is used for maintenance of the turbines, and the captain had even helped with installation when they were first built! He was very eager to talk about the wind farm and share his experiences with us. When asked about the culture of sustainability and renewable energy in Denmark, his response was simply “It’s in our DNA.” We would later learn more about Denmark’s history and transition to more sustainable forms of energy due to the oil crisis in the 1970’s, but his perspective was still memorable.
It took around half an hour to reach the first wind turbine, and we traveled past half of the turbines before turning around. The captain then carefully guided the boat to the base of the first turbine. At the base of each turbine is a concrete platform used for access and maintenance. The captain tied off the boat, and we were able to climb a short ladder onto this platform. What a view! From this vantage, we were able to see the remaining 19 turbines in a concave line, but also look directly up to watch the spinning turbine blades! It was truly striking how quiet the blades were, even at the base. I had never stood beneath a wind turbine before, so I found this experience to be absolutely stunning and unforgettable.
Although the Middlegrunden wind farm is small and old by today’s standards, it still represents the importance of wind power in Denmark. Prior to the oil crisis in the 1970’s, Denmark imported nearly 99 percent of its energy resources, as it had no significant natural fossil fuel reserves. However, since then, Denmark has become a leader in wind energy technology, and at times a net exporter of electricity from wind energy. Some Danes, like the captain, say that sustainability and renewable energy are in their DNA, while others suggest it’s just good business. Either way, the people of Denmark have found a model to take advantage of their natural wind resource and turn it into a asset.
The visit to Middlegrunden was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a highlight of the trip, and it is my hope that many more students from CSU and the Energy Institute are able to share in that experience in the future!