Unpredictable wind energy - the Danish dilemma
Naboer til vindmøller med flere.
With limited reserves of only oil and gas and the perceived onset of global warming, Denmark has a great incentive to develop new technologies for exploiting alternative sources of renewable energy and reducing energy demand. One of its many options is the harnessing of wind energy - a route that it has explored in great detail. This report describes some serious problems encountered in the extensive deployment of wind turbines in Denmark, and briefly summarises published accounts of the experiences and opinions of variously implicated Danish and foreign organisations and bodies.
About twenty years ago the Danish wind turbine industry was founded on a tide of green idealism. At that time wind turbines were small, and, being financially supported by large public subsidies, they could be afforded by individual citizens and located in close proximity to farm houses and other rural dwellings. Interest in them grew rapidly as more Danes recognised a lucrative way of earning money (often on borrowed finance), and in accordance with egalitarian principles, laws were introduced that limited the numbers of turbines or shares that an individual could own (Krogsgaard, 2001 c). Wind farms as such did not exist, and even today most turbines stand alone or in very small groups, although dedicated wind farms do occur.
With growing concerns about global warming, the industry became more competitive, and developments in turbine size and complexity occurred rapidly. By the end of 2000 Denmark had over 6,300 wind turbines of different sizes that delivered about 13 per cent of the countrys total electricity production (Dansk Energi, 2001). Per head of population, this corresponds to about 52 times the current output of wind electricity in the UK. By then, appropriate sites for land-based turbines were almost saturated (Pihl-Andersen, 2000) and large State subsidies were being offered to the owners of older, smaller turbines to dismantle them in favour of larger machines with over three times the installed capacity (From: 2001c). The average size of modern turbines is 850 900 kW (a few being much larger), so the cost can now rarely be borne by an individual owner. This has encouraged the formation of a new type of Purchase Co-operative, which includes such manufacturers as Jysk Vindkraft A/S and Dansk Vindkraft A/S, as well as large investors and pension organisations (Andreassen, 2001a). Turbines are now very big business.
Danish wind energy policy has been presented by the Government and Wind Industry as the epitome of success, and there can be no doubt that the Danish turbine industry is in a lucrative period of very rapid growth. In 1999, for example, the turn-over of turbine manufacturers grew from DKK 7.7 billion to DKK 12.5 billion, and exports of components to foreign manufacturers earned about DKK 1 billion. Production of turbines had increased six-fold in the course of five years, corresponding to an annual growth rate of 44%. The industry was expecting growth of around 10% in the year 2000, with a little more in 2001. Danish wind turbine manufacturers controlled about 50% of world markets in 1999 or about 65% if foreign joint ventures are included. Employment at Danish turbine factories was up at 3,828, to which can be added about 10,000 jobs with suppliers (Jürgensen, P., 2000).
In May 2001 the picture presented was still one of tremendous optimism. Wind power gilds Denmark, wrote Lars From (From 2001d) summarising the mood of a conference on energy supply at the Research Centre Risø. He pointed out that [Today, 12,000 Danes work in the wind industry, and the turn-over lies between DKK 12 and 15 billion. 75-80 percent goes to export. Over 6 years the turnover has grown eight-fold, and everything points to this growth continuing. Half the worlds wind turbines will be produced in Denmark]. He quoted Flemming Rasmussen, Project Leader of Risøs Research Programme for Wind Turbines, as saying: [It is therefore not unrealistic to expect that in 20 years time wind turbines will provide 10 percent of the worlds electricity supply. And with Denmarks dominating role in the market, its wind industry will acquire a significance in line with the importance that the aeroplane and car industries have in other countries]. By October 2001 Flemming Rasmussen was predicting the production of massive turbines of 6 7 MW capacity in a few years (Andersen 2001f). It is thus of no surprise that the Danish Government has done everything possible to promote this national money spinner.
An alternative view
Different aspects of the development are suggested by the headlines in many leading Danish newspaper reports: [Subsidies to turbines out of control], [Minister in conflict with the law], [Gold for turbine owners], [Electricity users led by the nose], [Fear of disqualification in the fight against wind turbines], [Local politicians benefit from wind projects], [Town council majority reported for tinkering with turbines], [Power plants: Impossible to check turbine owners], [Auken consulting about CO2 deception], [Buttered folk to capture customers for district heating], [Wind turbine fairytale for billions], [Electricity customers cheated of billions], [Openly cheating], [Turbine swindle], [Charge of cheating with turbines], [Off-shore turbines cost electricity customers five billion], [Electric shock], [New billion bill to electricity users], [Tax bomb under help for power plants], [Denmarks most superfluous billion investment, thinks Mayor Britta Christensen] (Krogsgaard, 2001b).
In addition come complaints from the immediate neighbours of wind turbines, electricity consumer organisations, and knowledgeable and less knowledgeable citizens. There are warnings to solicitors and estate agents about reduced property values close to turbines (LNtV, 2000a) and also mounting protests against specific site developments (Andersen, 2001a). In this country of only 5.3 million people, over 600 complaints to the Environmental Complaints Board about wind turbines were submitted between 1998 and August 2000, of which 60 cases were upheld. In rural areas, most complaints related to impacts mainly associated with aesthetic and environmental considerations, shadow cast, glinting effects and noise, although a few cases were concerned with infringements of local regulations (Pihl-Andersen, 2000). In response to this experience, at the local level such authorities as the Vejle county authorities (Vejle Amt, 2000) have decided that [A wind turbine will be unfavourably located in the landscape if, for example, it stands on a hill-top, in an area dominated by burial mounds, at the edge of a stream valley, or in the immediate proximity of a village. In an assessment of the location of a turbine in the landscape an evaluation must be made of the interaction between the turbine and landscape elements such as churches, burial mounds, characteristic landscape forms and the distance to groups of buildings]. Turbines may no longer be erected within 500 metres of dwellings.
The organisation [National Association of Neighbours to Wind Turbines] (Landsforening Naboer til Vindmøller, LNtV; - specifically set up to protect the interests of neighbours of turbines from the excesses of the wind industry) has reported a local authority, a turbine manufacturer and the Ministry to the police for breaking the law. Its chairman Jan Bødker claims that there is an atypical number of local politicians among turbine owners, that some local politicians have fiddled with local plans, and that we experience nepotism as never before (Pihl-Andersen, 2000). Most recently, local groups have started to physically obstruct the erection of more land-based turbines in environmentally sensitive areas, such headlines as [Turbine war] (Gøttler, 2001), [Farmers block wind turbines] (Pihl-Andersen, 2001), and [Site owners in road blockade] (Andreassen, 2001b) now beginning to appear in the newspapers.
Other reasons for this disquiet include: the growing burden of turbine subsidies, Government incompetence in controlling and monitoring the allocation of subsidies, alleged disregard of planning laws, and a rising disillusionment with wind turbine technology in general, especially in Jutland and Funen, where over eighty per cent of the land-based turbines are located.
Turbine subsidies and costs
Following a study of Danish conditions, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2000) stated that subsidies to the wind turbine industry have been and continue to be very large, and come in three main categories: production subsidies, tax subsidies for co-operatively-owned wind turbines, and guaranteed prices for wind-generated electricity. It criticised the Danish government for not publishing any kind of cost-benefit analysis for its wind turbine programme, and gives its own evaluation that the environmental benefits of using wind turbines instead of gas are far less than the subsidy to wind turbines. It noted that Denmark is unusual in having a combined Ministry of Environment and Energy, and comments that while co-operation is important there is a fine line between co-ordination and subordination.
Criticism of subsidies has also been made by many eminent Danes. In a country that in 2001 operated 17 central conventional power stations, about 600 decentralised, combined power and heating stations, and over 6,000 wind turbines it was claimed by Ole T. Krogsgaard (Director; Advisor to the Association of Danish Electricity Heating Consumers) and Niels O. Gram (Head of Energy, Confederation of Danish Industries) that the free market for electricity is an illusion (Krogsgaard, 2001a; Jensen, 2001b), the enforced export of excess Danish electricity even affecting market forces in neighbouring countries on occasion (Jensen, 2001b).
More specifically, Krogsgaard (2001a) claims that Danish electricity consumers annually pay more than DKK 10 billion (including VAT) in excess of what they would if the country only operated its central power stations, said to be amongst the most modern and least polluting in the world. Other estimates put the annual total Danish climate input cost at DKK 15 billion (From, 2001e). About DKK 2.5 billion of subsidies is paid to private owners of turbines (excluding VAT); and a further very large subsidy is paid to combined heat and power (CHP) plants, many of which (e.g. open field plants) are facing serious economical problems. In addition come the extra costs of transmission, the sale of expensively produced electricity abroad at market prices, and the reduction of efficiency at the central generators that results from their growing function as back-up for the small producers. The consumer is also being expected to pay off a loan taken out on a national grid for which it is claimed he has already paid (Krogsgaard, 2001a,b; Kongstad, 2001a). [More than anything it resembles Ebberød Bank, in that one firstly lets consumers pay large subsidies to build combined heating and power plants and wind turbines and then pay large subsidies to the central power stations to remedy the damage from the first subsidy] (Krogsgaard, 2001b). Very recently another form of financial support has crept in, with Elsam being offered compensation for not delivering electricity from twelve of its wind farms for 12 hours during a period of predicted over-production at New Year 2002 (Rostgaard, 2002)!
The committee delivered its conclusions to the government in October 2001, and new legislation must follow. Meanwhile, to secure balance in the Jutland Funen system this winter, and to minimise the burdening of neighbouring systems with un-planned imports of electricity, Eltra has devised an emergency plan for use in the event that the wind turbines again produce critical over-run. This plan involves the closure of central heat and power plants, Elsams wind farm (c. 170 MW un-prioritised), Elsams decentralised heat and power plants (c. 20 MW un-prioritised) and about 70 decentralised heat and power plants (c. 830 MW prioritised production) (Andersen, 2001e). Parts of the plan had recently to be implemented.
The need for stability and quality
Local plants account for more than half of western Denmarks production capacity, and are connected to the grid at low voltage levels. Of the total installed capacity of 6,534 MW, 600 MW are connected at 60 kV, and 2,921 MW at 20 kV or less. More and more frequently operational situations arise that make it necessary to develop new regulation, control and monitoring methods in order to maintain a reliable supply and system (Andersen, 2001d). Referring to the Danish situation, Laughton & Spare (2001) have recently emphasised the importance of stability and quality in the electricity supply, and raise the question as to whether direct connection to the electricity system is the most appropriate way forward for the UK in the long term if a significant proportion of the generating capacity is provided by renewable generation plant.
Off-shore wind power
Solutions to the problem of unpredictable production clearly need to be found and implemented in Denmark as rapidly as possible, not least because of the planned development of off-shore facilities. The installed capacity of onshore turbines is currently about 1,900 MW, but opportunities for further expansion on land are limited. Instead, over the next three decades, using much bigger machines (Andersen, 2001f), the previous government aimed to erect 4,000 MW of turbines at sea, where the negative environmental impacts are less and energy production is said to be more predictable and between 50 100 percent more efficient (Eltra 2001). It was predicted that in 2005 bio-mass and wind energy would account for a total of about 32 percent of Denmarks electricity production, and that export peaks would reach as high as 3,000 MW during a windy January night (Wittrup 2001b). The recent change in government policy (Environment Daily, 2002) will probably change these estimates, but the problem of over-production will undoubtedly grow unless practical solutions to the problem are found.
Significance of wind electricity for carbon emissions
A common argument used to promote wind farm development is that an expansion of wind electricity will help to prevent global warming, the assumption being made that the latter is at least partly caused by the atmospheric accumulation of greenhouse gases, particularly the carbon dioxide produced by man. This may or may not be so, but in the affirmative the important question to ask is to what degree?.
Compared to other countries, Denmark is a useful model for examining this question, although currently its wind farm developers can only hope to reduce carbon emissions in association with the production of electricity for the grid. The Danish Wind Industry assumes that wind electricity directly replaces electricity generated by coal-fired generators, and will therefore save the emission of about 850 g carbon dioxide per kWh of wind energy. Since the overall production of carbon dioxide in Denmark was about 52.7 million tonnes in 2000 (From, 2001e), one can estimate a theoretical overall saving in carbon dioxide emissions of about 7.2 percent.
However, this is probably a serious over-estimate because:
a) It does not fully account for the consumption of fossil fuels in the manufacture, installation and dismantling of wind turbines.
b) It does not allow for the nature of the fuel or power source actually displaced. Combined heat and power plants produced about 25 percent of the total production of electricity from natural gas and bio-mass, etc. (Dansk Energi, 2001), and possibly 34 to 45 percent of the total production of wind electricity in 2000 was sent abroad (Schoubye, 2001) where it partly displaced hydro- and nuclear electricity generated in Norway, Sweden and / or Germany.
c) Finally, it takes no regard of the fact that because of the unpredictable nature of wind, the running of back-up generators on fossil fuels (usually coal) is necessary, and this process becomes less efficient when operating in spinning reserve mode. Emissions from conventional power stations are minimised by reducing demand fluctuations and maximising the base load, this allowing the cleanest systems to predominate. However, unpredictable wind electricity imposes extra demand fluctuations on power stations, decreases base load, and thus raises emissions because the mix of power plant must change to provide more spinning reserve. Neither nuclear power nor gas (CHP) is technically suitable as spinning reserve to provide electricity at immediate notice, so the use of wind turbines tends to restrict the choice of back-up fuel to coal.
Some Danes argue that the deployment of wind electricity will reduce their recurring need to import nuclear electricity. The need for fossil-fuelled back-up for wind turbines connected to the grid means, however, that unless the overall demand for electricity is reduced, this strategy could actually involve an increase in carbon emissions. Only when the over-production of wind electricity can be stored or used directly outside the main grid can this problem be properly addressed.
For all these reasons, as pointed out by the OECD (2000), views differ on the value of the environmental benefits that have been obtained. Certainly the true savings in carbon dioxide from wind electricity production are much less than the figure of 7.2 percent, and could be closer to the projected 2.7 percent contribution of wind energy to Denmarks overall energy demand for 2000 (Dansk Energi, 2001. The general point was recently raised by the Chairman of Eltra, E.J. Rasmussen, who asked of Danish politicians [Is it environmentally friendly to produce electricity with wind turbines if there is no-one who can use it? And is it environmentally friendly to burn natural gas in decentralised heat and power plants while dumping the over-production from Danish wind electricity in Norway, where it possibly leads to water being diverted away from the water turbines?] (Kongstad, 2001b).
Following a study visit to Denmark, Asle Selfors (Wind Power Consultant for the official Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Administration (NVE)) reported in the companys in-house magazine that the Danish initiative suffered from [inadequate controls] and [massive and unrestrained funding] which in turn have led to [serious environmental effects, insufficient production, high production costs, high grid costs, and wind farms where there is too little wind]. The main advantage of the Danish investment in wind power would appear to be that it has [laid the foundations of an industry for the production of wind turbines] (Norbye, 1998).
Many agree with this assessment and would add that the current deployment of wind turbines in Denmark has, on occasion, badly disrupted its electricity transmission system, and produced relatively small reductions in carbon emissions. Clearly, the current practice of exporting the critical over-run of wind electricity to neighbouring countries can only continue as long as these countries do not themselves operate many wind farms! Until systems are on-line for storing the over-run it will be necessary to use the wind electricity for direct heating, or find industrial uses for the intermittent supply, - such as the heating of water at CHP plants, hydrogen production etc.. As intimated by OECD (2000) and Niels Abildgaard (2001), for the same investment much greater savings in carbon emissions could have been achieved by rationalising and constraining energy consumption at home and assisting less developed countries to modernise their electricity and heating systems with new technology.
The original texts of Danish articles are available on request.
1. Abilgaard, N., 2001: Jyllands Posten, 8th February. Nej til vind og gas. [No to wind and gas].
2. Andreassen, J., 2001a: Berlinske Tidende, 11th April. Staten betaler for vindmølleskrotning. [The State pays for scrapping turbines].
3. Andreassen, J., 2001b: Berlinske Tidende, 20th June. Lodsejere i vejblokade. [Site owners in road blockade]
4. Andersen, P., 2001a: Eltra magasinet, February. Sen, men massiv protest mod havmøller ved Grenaa havn. [Late, but massive protest against sea-turbines near Grenaa harbour].
5. Andersen, P., 2001b: Eltra magasinet, April. The Good the Bad the Ugly. [The Good the Bad the Ugly].
6. Andersen, P, 2001c: Eltra magasinet, May. Eltras formand:- Vindkraften har skabt akut behov for nytænkning. [Eltras Chairman: Wind power has produced an acute need for new thinking].
7. Andersen, P., 2001d: Eltra magasinet, June/July. Det vestdanske elsystem er på godt og ondt vendt på hovedet. [For better or for worse the electricity system for western Denmark has been turned on its head].
8. Andersen, P., 2001e: Eltra magasinet, November 2001. Eltra forbereder nødplan for vinterens eloverløb [Eltra prepares an emergency plan for this winters over-run of electricity].
9. Andersen, P., 2001f: Eltra magasinet, November 2001. Om 15 år har vi møller på mere end 20 MW. [In 15 years we will have turbines of more than 20 MW].
10. Auken, S., 2001: Jyllands-Posten, 27th August. Det evige omkvæd. [The eternal chorus].
11. Bülow, T., 2001: Eltra magasinet, June/July. Eltra forbereder lagring af vindkraft på tanke. [Eltra prepares for the storage of wind electricity in tanks].
12. Dansk Energi, 2001: Henrik Hornum, personal communication. Contribution of wind turbines and other sources to Danish electricity production in 1999 and 2000.
13. Ellemann-Jensen, U., 2001: Berlinske Tidende, 11th August. Vindmøller og vindbøjtler. [Wind turbines and windbags].
14. Eltra, 2001: http://www.eltra.dk/show.asp?id=12905. From wind turbines to wind power stations.
15. Eltra magasinet, 2001. May. Vi får mellem 0 og 2.000 MW vindkraft i morgen. [We will receive between 0 and 2,000 MW wind energy tomorrow].
16. Environmental Daily, 2002. 28th January. Denmark puts the brakes on green power.
17. From, L., 2001a: Jyllands-Posten, 30th January. Tab på salg af strøm. [Loss on the sale of electricity].
18. From, L., 2001b: Jyllands-Posten, 31st January. Elbiler på overskudsstrøm. [Electric cars on excess electricity].
19. From, L, 2001c: Jyllands-Posten, 7th February. Milliard til skrotning af vindmøller. [Billions for scrapping wind turbines].
20. From, L., 2001d: Jyllands-Posten, 1st May. Vindkraft forgylder Danmark. [Wind power gilds Denmark].
21. From, L., 2001e: Jyllands-Posten, 29th August. Energi: Klimaindsats koster 15 mia.. [Energy. Climate input costs 15 Billion].
22. Gøttler, K., 2001: Ekstra Bladet, 21st June. Mølle-Krig. [Turbine war].
23. Heimann, K., May, K., Morsing, T., Schumacher, E., Ølgaard, P.L., & Østergaard, K., 2000: Jyllands-Posten, 17th March. Fup eller fakta. [Fact or Fiction].
24. Jensen, L.W., 2001a: Berlinske Tidende, 24th November. Grønt el-tilskud giver prestige. [Subsidies for green electricity give prestige].
25. Jensen, S.L., 2001b: http://www.di.dk/miljoeogenergi/artikel.asp?page=doc&objno=122610. Danmarks elreform skaber risiko for strømsvigt. [Denmarks electricity reform is creating a risk of power failure].
26. Jürgensen, P., 2000: Maskinmesteren, 12, December, p.17. Har seksdoblet produktion på kun fem år. [Six-fold increase in production in only five years].
27. Kjær, C., 2001: Politiken, 26th January. Matematisk makværk. [Mathematical mess].
28. Kongstad, 2001a: Jyllands-Posten, 28th February. Ny milliardregning til el-forbrugerne. [New billion bill for electricity users].
29. Kongstad, 2001b: Jyllands-Posten, 26th April. Grøn el sælges med tab. [Green electricity is being sold at a loss].
30. Krogsgaard, O.T., 2001a: Politiken, 14th January. Energipolitik som vinden blæser. [Energy policy as the wind blows].
31. Krogsgaard, O.T., 2001b: Jyllands-Posten, 30th March. Lovgivning, troværdighed og energipolitik. [Legislation, Credibility and Energy Politics].
32. Krogsgaard, O.T., 2001c: Jyllands-Posten, 24th May. Lovlydighed som vinden blæser. [Respect for the law as the wind blows].
33. Laughton, M. & Spare, P., 2001: Energy World, Institute of Energy, 1st November, Limits to renewables how electricity grid issues may constrain the growth of distributed generation.
34. LNtV, 2000a: Personal communication. Summary of article.
35. LNtV, 2000b: http://www.naboertilvindmoller.dk , 6th December. [State Accountants have officially reprimanded the Danish Energy Agency for lack of control with windmill subsidies].
36. Norbye, V.H., 1998: Vann og Energi, 2-98 (Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Administration, (NVE)). Dyrekjøpte vindkrafterfaringer i Danmark. [Expensively bought wind power experiences in Denmark].
37. OECD, 2000: OECD Economic Surveys Denmark, July. IV. Encouraging environmentally sustainable growth.
38. Parliamentary Report, 2001: Report J. No. ENS 601-0222. Miljø- og energiministerens besvarelse af spørgsmål nr. 241 af Folketingets Energipolitiske Udvalg. [Energy Ministers answer to Question No. 241 raised by the Parliamentary Energy Policy Committee] (Alm. del bilag 461).
39. Pihl-Andersen, A., 2000: Jyllands-Posten, 14th August. Vindmølle-klager er mere end fordoblet. [Wind turbines complaints more than double].
40. Pihl-Andersen, A. 2001: Jyllands-Posten, 20th June. Landmænd blokerer for vindmøller. [Farmers block wind turbines]
41. Rasmussen, J.E., 2001: Jyllands-Posten, 24th November. Vindmølleindustri frygter V-indgreb. [Wind industry fears V-measures].
42. Rigsrevisionen, 2000: Rigsrevisionen RB B502/00 November 2000. Beretning til ststsrevisionerne om ststens driftstilskud til vindmøller. [Report to State Auditors concerning state aid to wind turbines].
43. Rostgaard, A., 2002: Jyllands-Posten, 5th January. Vindmøller stoppet nytårsdag. [Wind turbines stopped on New Years Day].
44. Schoubye, P. 2001: Haldor Topsøe a/s. Personal communication. Untitled.
45. Tornbjerg, J., 2001: Politiken, 2nd February. Energi: Lange udsigter for grøn strøm til billig penge. [Energy: Long time before cheap green electricity].
46. Vejle Amt, 2000: Vindmølleplan. Områder til opstilling af store vindmøller. Tillæg nr. 7 til Regionplan 1997 2000 for Vejle Amt.[Wind turbine plan. Areas for the erection of large wind turbines. Supplement No. 7 to the Regional Plan 1997 2009 for Vejle County], p.17.
47. Wittrup, S., 2001a: Ingeniøren, 23rd February. Grøn strøm er for svær at styre. [Green current is too difficult to control].
48. Wittrup, S., 2001b: Ingeniøren, 23rd February. Opgør med el-dogmer på vej. [Showdown with electricity dogmas on the way].