In 1994 Denmark set a new national export record for wind energy. Wind turbine sales were listed among the top ten Danish export industries. Most sales were to Germany and India. The domestic market remains slack, though, with sites hard to find and falling payments per kWh. But the new Social Democratic coalition government has a pro wind environment and energy minister which spells hope for the future. The minister has called for wind plant zoning plans from all regions of the country. Last year an opinion survey showed that 68% of the Danish population are prepared to pay more for green energy. Some utilities will now offer a choice between green energy and that from fossil fuels. The Danish Organisation for Renewable Energy, however, is against making green energy a product which only the rich can afford.

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Denmark's wind industry set a new export record in 1994 -- 316 MW of wind turbines were sold to customers abroad, beating the long standing record of 220 MW, achieved in 1985 at the height of the California wind boom. With sales of over DKK 2 billion last year, wind turbines also moved into the top ten hit list of Danish exports. In ninth place, the wind industry even managed some rough justice by squeezing in ahead of North Sea oil.

Of the 23 countries to which 1001 Danish turbines were shipped during the year, Germany and India were by far the biggest customers, buying 37% and 34% of the capacity exported, respectively; 6% was shipped to the UK, 5% to China, 4% to the US and 3% to Sweden. The Danish wind industry association also reports that its members are currently supplying 45% of the world market for wind turbines and that 1994 exports represented a 75% increase on those in 1993.

Vestas, with sales of DKK 900 million last year compared with DKK 650 million in 1993, continued to lead the field in 1994, ahead of Micon, which doubled its turnover from DKK 200 million the previous year, to DKK 400 million. Bonus and Nordtank each had a turnover of DKK 350 million last year, up from DKK 200 million and DKK 250 million, respectively. Denmark's six largest wind turbine manufacturers report a combined turnover of DKK 2.2 billion in 1994, a 50% increase on the year before. Over DKK 2 billion was earned from sales abroad. Expansion of the industry has also resulted in a 40% increase in employment in the wind business, states the industry association. Prospects for this year look good, too, with all manufacturers expecting increased sales.

Home market picks up

Although no more than 15% of turbines from any single manufacturer went to domestic customers, sales in Denmark nonetheless took a turn for the better in 1994 after four years in the doldrums. An end-of-year spurt in installations (30 MW in the last three months) brought the 1994 total of new capacity to 52 MW, compared with just 29 MW in 1993. At the end of the year Denmark had 535 MW of wind power, made up of 3,600 turbines which produced 1.1 billion kWh. But wind energy lobbyists point out that to reach the government's target of 1500 MW of wind power by 2005, the installation rate must increase to 100 MW a year.

Falling payment for wind produced kilowatt hours and problems finding new windy sites still lie at the root of the Danish market's problems. Wind turbine owners receive 85% of the consumer price of electricity in Denmark, but lower fossil fuel prices have led to lower electricity prices and thus a reduced wind tariff. The average rate paid for wind has dropped to around DKK 0.57/kWh ($0.09/kWh) -- not enough for investors to feel their risk is adequately covered on any but the windiest sites, many of which are already occupied. Lobbying efforts by wind turbine owners for a guaranteed minimum payment of DKK 0.60/kWh have not met with success.

But a new breeze could be about to sweep through wind energy politics in Denmark. A change of government in September, from Conservative to Social Democrat, has greatly improved the political atmosphere for renewables. The country is also now blessed with a powerful environment minister, Svend Auken, who also heads the energy ministry. It is a combination of ministerial posts which the Danish Association of Wind Turbine Owners has high hopes for. An experienced and respected politician, Auken says he is determined to see wind energy meet 10% of Denmark's electricity demand, the aim of Energi 2000, Denmark's national energy policy. At the moment it accounts for just under 4%.

One of the new minister's steps to date has been to strongly support the requirement that all regional and local authorities in Denmark draw up zoning plans for wind energy, allocating areas suitable and not suitable for wind development. These are to be ready by July 1. This zoning policy has already been met with scepticism, both in the wind community and elsewhere. The most immediate effect of the policy so far has been to cause a hiatus in wind development -- many are just awaiting the publication of the plans. The other fear is that wind turbines could be directed to relatively small areas, causing land prices there to rocket. For this reason, the wind lobby, in an advisory paper, admonishes the authorities to allow wind development in as many areas as possible.

Auken's most recent flag waving for wind power was in an open letter published in a Danish national newspaper, Politiken. "Wind power is the future," he stated. "The Energy Agency's calculations show, without doubt, that electricity from new, large wind turbines on good sites is close to being just as cheap as electricity produced and supplied by new, coal fired power plant." He also pointed out that noise is only a problem with old wind turbines and current regulations in Denmark provided ample protection for citizens worried about this aspect of wind energy.

Under five cents a reality

The optimism expressed by Auken about wind's costs is based on real world prices, not economic theory. A utility in the south of Denmark, Sønderjyllands Højspændingsværk (SH), reports that production statistics for eight Micon 400 kW turbines for 1993 reveal they supplied power for just DKK 0.28/kWh ($0.046/kWh). According to The Engineer, a Danish trade newspaper, this is the same production price as that quoted for new power plants. SH is so pleased with its wind plant, it is now installing 38 of Micon's new 600 kW model. According to Ole Bøgelund Nielsen of Micon, these should further bring down the cost of wind power generation to DKK 0.020-0.025/kWh, an estimation supported by SH's Axel Petersen.

The enthusiasm now being shown for wind power by SH seems to reflect the dawning of a more positive utility attitude to wind energy in Denmark. The chairman of utility association, Elsam, Egon Søgaard, said recently that modern 500 kW wind turbines are now so effective and reliable they are beginning to be of economic interest to utilities. His statement echoes the conclusion of an Elsam report of the status of wind energy in Denmark, published last year. "In spite of present site-planning difficulties, wind energy must be considered a substantial part of the Danish energy supply system on a long term basis," states Elsam. "If the prices of wind farm installation continues to decrease and the coming sites are as good as the past, wind energy production is going to be a realistic and even attractive adjunct to electricity generation."

Planning problems perhaps a myth

The utility adds, however, that technical restrictions will limit wind energy utilisation to some extent, along with the many planning restrictions associated with protection of coastal areas, fear of wind turbine noise, safety zones, and so on. Yet a report by BTM Consult, a firm of Danish wind energy consultants, suggests that blaming planning problems for the dramatic slowing of wind development in Denmark could be entirely wrong. The report reveals that planning permission has been granted for installation of about 400 wind turbines, or 250 MW. Yet, for reasons almost entirely connected with poor economic prospects, these projects are not being built.

The report's conclusions are based on research, conducted in six of the windiest county's in Denmark, which unearthed 383 unused planning permits for 222 MW. Extrapolated to include the whole country, these figures suggest that there are permits going begging for up to 250 MW of turbines. The report further states that the brakes on wind energy development seem to have far more to do with poor economics than with a public unwilling to give permission for erection of turbines. This conclusion is backed by an opinion survey last year, conducted by Gallup for Denmark's power association (DEF), which revealed that 68% of the Danish population not only like wind turbines, but are prepared to pay more for the electricity they produce.

Consumers to be given green choice

This expression of public opinion has been noted by several utilities, two of which are devising systems by which consumers can choose the source of their electricity -- and pay for the privilege of doing so. Wind, biogas, straw, solar, or traditional fossil fuels will be the options on offer, each with their own individual price.

Spearheading the idea is Effo in north Zealand. It is contacting each of its 21,000 customers to find out how many would accept a price rise of DKK 0.05/kWh ($0.008/kWh) for electricity produced by wind turbines. If all goes according to plan, Effo says it will then invest in enough wind turbines to meet consumer demand, starting within the next year. "We believe there are many people willing to pay more for a better environment. And we will guarantee the electricity they are paying for is produced by wind turbines," Effo's managing director, Finn Petersen, told The Engineer.

Neighbouring utility, NVE, is treading a similar path. It is working on a proposal to DEF for a national pricing policy for green-choice electricity. "If people demand a particular type of electricity, then we have to adjust the market accordingly -- just as we do for any other product," says NVE's Jens Rubæk. "But we want to see a price policy in place before we start supplying ecological electricity." The only thing the utilities cannot promise is that the electricity actually used by the individual consumer comes from renewables.

The concept of green-choice electricity has received a mixed reaction. While several politicians have indicated their support for the scheme, the Danish Organisation for Renewable Energy (OVE), is scandalised. The introduction of higher, individual prices for a renewable product which, in the case of wind power, is already supplying nearly 4% of Denmark's electricity, is heavily frowned upon OVE's chairman, Ejvin Beuse.

"People shouldn't have to pay more for electricity produced in a sensible way. If electricity companies are in a position to erect more wind turbines, then why don't they just go ahead and do it if that's what consumers want?" he asks. "We all suffer from pollution so the costs of renewables should be shared. It is an unhealthy social development that electricity from a clean source will only be available to people who can afford to pay for it."

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