Denmark is the great wind power success story. What began as a local, popular, self-help movement during the oil crisis of the 1970s may provide 50% of the country’s electricity consumption by 2020.

Electricity generation from wind power is supported by the general public in Denmark and all major political parties. The government has ambitious plans for the sector after 2020.

But, big ambitions are no guarantee of success. As this infographic from Leonardo Energy shows, ambitious wind power development plans have fallen short in the past. An attempt to introduce market mechanisms actually stalled the wind industry for more than five years.

danish wind energy infographic

Source: Leonardo Energy

Denmark’s Popular Wind Power Movement

The popular movement that played such an important role in the establishment of Denmark’s wind power industry has gradually been whittled away. The latest wind turbines are five to ten times as expensive as the wind turbines of the early 2000s. Today’s large scale wind projects are undertaken by a handful of organizations with the financial clout and big project know-how to deliver them. 

As ownership in the Danish wind power sector has become increasingly concentrated and remote, local opposition to new wind developments has stiffened.

From popular movement to concentrated ownership

Between 1975 and 1995 the Danish wind power sector was characterized by 55kW to 300kW turbines up to 60 meters high, owned by 20 – 40 households who purchased them with bank loans, according to Prof Frede Hvelplund from Aalborg University. 

While new wind turbines were typically 500kW to 1MW after 1995 – and they tended to be erected by individual farmers rather than cooperatives – the revenues from the wind turbines continued to be taxed and spent locally.

A new center-right government proposed a very different wind power support regime for the liberalized electricity markets of the 2000s. Environmental and security-of -supply goals would be balanced against the need to protect the interests of the consumer.

The feed-in tariff regime was replaced by market mechanisms – a type of renewables portfolio standard, including CO2 quotas, tradable emissions allowances and renewable energy certificates.  Requirements for an element of local ownership were removed. That was seen as a barrier to competition among investors. Remote investment meant fewer local benefits and less local taxation.

Denmark’s Promotion of Renewable Energy Act 2009 re-established feed-in tariffs for wind power as well as other renewable energy technologies. 

But the scale, cost and complexity of wind turbines have changed forever. Restoration of the original pattern of popular and local ownership of wind turbines is not possible.

Restore popular ownership by restricting concentration?

One solution, according to Professor Hvelplund, is local ownership with external support. He wants to see regulations requiring local communities to be offered a majority share in any new wind developments.