Denmark Extends Renewables Standard to 100% by 2050

Denmark’s parliament in late March agreed to a new energy strategy seeking to wean the country off oil and gas. It could result in the Nordic country cutting its greenhouse gas emissions 34% by 2020, compared to 1990 levels, and decreasing energy consumption by more than 12%, compared to 2006. Under the new strategy, Denmark could also supply 52% of its total energy from renewables by 2020—and ultimately produce 100% of its energy from renewables by 2050. The effort would mean Denmark will need to phase out all its coal-fired power plants in the midterm—a fleet that provides 44% of its generating capacity (Figure 2).

2. Taking the dilemma by the horns. Denmark’s parliament recently approved an energy strategy that would require 100% of the country’s power to be produced by renewables. Meeting that goal will be challenging, analysts note, because Denmark currently generates 44% of its power from coal-fired plants. This image shows DONG Energy’s Avedøre Wind Farm, just outside Copenhagen, which is located next to the 250-MW Avedøre power station’s coal-fired Unit 1. Courtesy: DONG Energy

Denmark, a country that has been a strong global advocate for climate change mitigation measures, has had a long history of consensus-based policy making and political stability that has allowed it to adopt such ambitious goals.

The measure would prepare Denmark for an energy future in which prices are bound to surge for oil and gas, said Danish minister for climate, energy, and building, Martin Lidegaard. Denmark already has the highest electricity prices in Europe, and this latest measure would require 5.6 billion crowns ($1 billion) of additional spending by 2020, according to government estimates.

Denmark’s vision for a low-carbon future is commendable, but wrought with challenges, said the International Energy Agency’s executive director, Maria van der Hoeven. Integrating large volumes of variable electricity supply would require a large reconfiguration of the electricity network within Denmark and elsewhere. Denmark is well-connected with its neighbors, she said, but more investment in interconnectors will be needed.

Ensuring reliability would also be difficult. Denmark already sources a fifth of its power from wind turbines, but it has virtually no hydropower or nuclear plants, and it is still heavily dependent on coal-fired generation. Denmark’s total installed capacity in 2009 was 12,808 MW, about 9,316 MW of which was fossil fuel capacity. Wind power contributed 3,482 MW in 2009. The new energy strategy calls for wind power to account for 50% of power consumption, compared to the current 25%. This will require installation of 15,000 MW of new offshore wind.

According to the Danish Energy Association’s Lars Aagaard, the “real” challenge of achieving the “extremely ambitious target” will be “to use the fluctuating electricity in such a way we will get a maximum of benefits from it. We will need to introduce big heat pumps in the district heating system—replacing coal, gas and biomass. We will also need plans for converting individual heating from oil- and gas fired boilers to heat pumps and for using electricity to power cars. And then we will need to have much more capacity in transmission lines to the rest of Europe, including new transmission lines to e.g. the UK.”

Sonal Patel is POWER’s senior writer.