The end of the beginning

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With nearly 6000 wind turbines now turning on land, the time has come to start the offshore phase of Denmark's wind energy history. The signs are that development of wind farms at sea could go much faster than the existing utility plans allow for

The indications are that the first major chapter of the history of wind power development is coming to a close, 25 years after the first electricity producing wind turbine was linked to the grid in Denmark in 1976. The second chapter in the history of Danish wind development will mainly be written at sea. On land the next decade will in all probability see a reduction in the number of wind turbines in Denmark.

For the past quarter of a century nearly all development has been onshore and by the end of this year some 6000 wind turbines will be providing about 12% of the national electricity consumption. Over the next 30 years, replacement of Denmark's older, smaller wind turbines will lead to new and larger plant. Many "small" wind power producers will disappear along with their turbines. Further increases in wind capacity should perhaps no longer be expected on land.

The speed at which the replacement wind turbine market comes into being will depend on the politicians. They still need to back up their many words on ridding Denmark of old turbines with deeds. Incentives are needed to persuade owners to scrap old machines, many of which have long been paid for, and invest in new.

The pioneers

The offshore wind plant now on the horizon have in fact been on the way for years. Already in 1985, the town of Ebeltoft on the shores of eastern Jutland built 16, 55 kW Nordtank turbines on the harbour wall of the town's ferry terminal. A year later, the national planning agency suggested that 1800, 3 MW wind turbines could be placed in the shallow waters around Denmark's coast and supply 50% of electricity consumption. It was a vision that today is close to being realised. The official plan is for 4000 MW of wind plant to be built by 2030, most likely made up of turbines with ratings of 1.5-2.5 MW, resulting in the installation of around 2000 machines. At that time, they will meet half the national power demand. Onshore wind turbines will also make a contribution, power that could well be needed in the meantime to meet ever-growing demand.

Denmark's first offshore wind farm of 11 Bonus 450 kW turbines was installed in the far south-east of the country off Vindeby on the island of Lolland in 1991. It was followed in 1995 by ten Vestas 500 kW turbines on a submerged sandbank near the island of Tunø, which lies less than ten miles from Denmark's second largest city, Aarhus, in eastern Jutland. Then, in 1997, energy and environment minister Svend Auken ordered the utility sector to install the first 750 MW of offshore wind plant by the end of 2008. The first 300 MW of this obligation will be wind farms at Horns Rev off the North Sea coast not far from Esbjerg and at Rødsand south of Lolland. They are scheduled to be in operation during 2002.

Before they are even built, however, the utilities will already have been overtaken on the inside by a commercial offshore project. It will be delivering power to the grid by the end of the year, if all goes according to plan. The wind plant, consisting of 20 Bonus 2 MW turbines just outside Copenhagen, will supply 4% of the capital's electricity. The owner of the project, Middelgrunds Møllelaug, is a company with 8000 shareholders, both small and large. It is the world's first and largest offshore wind plant co-operative.

Speeding up

Indeed Denmark's offshore development could well proceed much faster than the official plan for 750 MW of demonstration plant by 2008 and 4000 MW by 2030. It is a viewpoint shared by Birger Madsen of Danish wind turbine consultancy BTM consult. "It's likely that development offshore by private power producers will be well underway long before building of the utility demonstration plant is finished. The necessary policy isn't yet in place for that to happen, but we're anticipating that the government and parliament will come under considerable political pressure to accelerate offshore development. If that happens, it's not likely to take 30 years to build 4000 MW. The potential for exchange of green electricity between EU countries will, in that connection, have great influence on the speed of development," says Madsen. He also expects more wind power on land, and projects that today's 1800 MW will increase to 2500-3000 MW, even though the number of wind turbines in the landscape will drop by half.

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