Last week, I posted a piece about the DOE’s modeling which showed the feasibility of the US obtaining 80 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2050. That projection certainly raised hopes in many hearts, I am sure. If we can muster the political will and financial commitment to achieve this, it will be a tremendous accomplishment. But it still won’t put us at the head of the class. That honor appears to belong to Denmark.
Denmark’s Energy Strategy 2050 contains initiatives aimed at reducing fossil fuel consumption 33 percent by 2020 and to achieve complete independence from fossil fuels by 2050. And unlike the U.S. plan to achieve 80 percent renewables in electric generation, the Danish plan also includes the heating of buildings as well.
How is this to be done? It will take a combination of the same approaches used in the U.S. plan, strong commitment across the board, and some additional out-of-the-box thinking.
By 2020, numerous new wind projects, including offshore wind, will be completed, bringing the total wind power contribution to Denmark’s electric supply, up to 40 percent. This will bring the fraction of electric power provided by renewables up to 60 percent. (Note: The 33 percent figure cited earlier refers to total energy consumption.) At the same time, aggressive energy efficiency efforts are expected to reduce total energy demand by 6 percent, which will retain Denmark’s global position as #1 in this area as well.
This transition is going to be expensive, but the government calls the path an “economically responsible” one. According to Lykke Friis, the Minister for Climate and Energy, “No one is saying that carrying out major investments in energy efficiency and expanding our use of renewable energy is going to be free. But the alternative: Continued dependence on fossil fuels will, as all signs indicate, only become more expensive in the years to come. Converting to renewable energy will shield Denmark from the effects of increasing energy prices.”
In the end, it will be money well spent, like springing for a warmer coat for that trek across Siberia.
Specific actions include:
- Subsidies for biomass and biogas
- Mandate 10 percent biofuel additive by 2020
- Aggressive deployment of wind energy
- Aggressive deployment of smart meters
- Aggressive energy efficiency targets
- Tighten building codes
- Phase out oil and gas furnaces
- Support R&D for solar and wave power
- Pursue geothermal energy research
- Encourage enabling technologies for district heating plants
This last item, in conjunction with the one about phasing out oil and gas furnaces, are where the out-of-the-box thinking comes in.
Denmark has made a major commitment to district heating, which they refer to as. “Low Carbon Urban Heating,” that integrates the energy and building sectors. For starters, every new power plant built since 1976, has been a combined heat and power (CHP) plant. Next, comes the conversion, already under way, of fossil fuel heating systems to renewables. Between 1980 and 2009, the Danish heating sector has reduced its carbon emissions by 60 percent. The new goal is now an 80 percent reduction by 2020.
At the same time, there is a goal to increase the portion of buildings served by district heating (which essentially uses the waste heat from electricity generation), from 46 percent to around 67 percent of the market. Other goals include:
- Further 25 percent improvement in building efficiency
- Reduced maximum return temperature of 95 degrees F
- Aggressive use of renewables as substitutes for the waste heat generated by fossil fuel plants including:
- Wind-powered heat pumps
- Solar heating
- Wood pellets
- Renewable powered electric boilers
- Waste to energy with flue gas condensation
- Biogas substituted for natural gas
- Large scale solar
- Large, high temperature biomass boilers
This strategy, which includes both electrical generation and building heat does not include transportation. However, Denmark is aggressively pursuing electric cars which will fall under this strategy. At present, and until 2015, electric cars in Denmark are exempted from the vehicle registration fee and car tax, which are required on other vehicles. They have also undertaken a major partnership with Nissan to promote the use of these vehicles. It is difficult to estimate the impact of this transition onto the overall electric demand picture, though it is clear, that if a large percentage of vehicle owners convert to electric, it will both put additional demands on the electrical system and substantially reduce overall fossil fuel usage.
This is a very impressive effort, which hopefully, will inspire a number of other countries, including our own.
RP Siegel, PE, is the President of Rain Mountain LLC. He is also the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.
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