Danish wind power report by IER, and views from the NRDC

Michael Giberson

Denmark has a lot of wind power capacity.  On that point, pretty much all observers agree.  Beyond that point, opinions diverge.

The Institute for Energy Research, possibly in response to President Obama’s references to Denmark as a renewable energy model, has commissioned a report from Danish think tank CEPOS on the nature of wind power in the country.  The report does a pretty good job of establishing:

(1) a lot of wind power capacity has been built in Denmark, most of it between 1996 and 2004;

(2) on average wind power production in Denmark is equivalent to just over 19 percent of electric power consumption in Denmark;

(3) variations in wind power output lead to variations in power exports, primarily to Norway and Sweden;

(4) wind power is subsidized by Danish power consumers, due to Danish government policy, and

(5) electric power rates in Denmark are higher for most retail consumers than in other European nations.

Because significant amounts of Denmark’s wind power output is exported, the report concludes that under 10 percent of electric power consumption in Denmark actually comes from wind power.  The report, and especially the accompanying press release, seems to put a lot of emphasis on this point, but I’m not convinced of the relevance of this way of counting power sources.

One point that the report emphasizes is that Denmark has only been able to achieve the relatively high penetration of wind power on its system due to its relatively large transmission links to surrounding countries and its relatively small size, as a power system, compared to the larger power systems with which it is linked.  The suggestion is that areas not so favorably situated should not expect to easily reach the same level of wind power penetration.

In my view the report seems too worried about wind power being exported from Denmark, as if the ideal scope of the regional power market should be exactly the political boundaries of the country as established centuries ago.  A more reasonable concern, at least for Danish power consumers, is the degree to which Danish-government-mandated subsidies paid for by Danish consumers ends up simply lowering prices in neighboring countries.  The report suggests that the subsidy is exported along with the wind power, to the tune of about 110 billion Euros per year.  However, the report doesn’t explain how that calculation was made, and it is hard to judge how reliable the number is.

The IER issued a press release announcing the study, but don’t judge the report by the press release.  The report is, for the most part, serious and methodical and promotes understanding of wind power in Denmark; the press release is too heavily invested in fighting Washington DC-focused political battles.  The press release caught the eye of other Washington DC-based energy policy analysts, however, with one Natural Resources Defense Council employee spilling out two blog posts at the company blog Switchboard (each at about the same level of usefulness at the IER press release).

Fortunately, NRDC energy analyst Samir Succar skipped the political spinning, and produces a pretty good summary of the report itself, also at Switchboard.  He concludes:

This recent Danish study provides a valuable data point on how grids can be managed to accommodate high penetrations of renewables. The lessons learned are not directly transferrable and integration solutions will vary by region, but is clear that a strong grid will play an important role in the large scale deployment of variable renewables.

(The report also includes a section on wind power jobs in Denmark, but I’m less interested in that issue so am ignoring it.)

(HT to NewsWatch: Energy.)

4 thoughts on “Danish wind power report by IER, and views from the NRDC

  1. Why wind power works for Denmark
    Hugh Sharman
    Incoteco (Denmark) ApS
    Proceedings of ICE
    Civil Engineering 158 May 2005
    Pages 66–72 Paper 13663

    Sorry, no URL

    My impression is that the reason wind works for Denmark is that Norway and Sweden have lots of hydro power that can start and stop on a dime. It won’t help in the US where we no longer have any reserves other than Gas turbines.

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