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Svend Auken and Denmark's Path to Energy Independence
Alex Steffen, 21 Mar 05

Ed. note: Worldchanging friend and ally Paul Fleming (whose own work focuses largely on water and sustainability) brings us this great report on Danish MP Svend Auken's recent tour explaining how Denmark has become a leader in clean energy. Thanks Paul!

Energy independence in the U.S. is a policy goal whose pursuit tends to be tied to the vagaries of Middle East geopolitics. When conflicts erupt into open warfare, there is much gnashing of gums and proliferation of position papers, but when the warfare subsides, the discussion of energy independent fades as the uninterrupted flow of oil acts as an anesthesia, numbing most to the long term realities of an untenable situation.

But what would it take for a country to break this cycle and make energy independence a consistent, long term goal? Better yet, what would it take to achieve this goal?

One need look no further than Denmark. In 1973, during the Yom Kippur war, Denmark was 98% dependent on foreign oil for its power. Today, thirty-two years later, the country derives 21% of its energy from wind and is a net exporter of energy.

How'd they do it?

Here in Seattle, the promise of learning the secret of that transformation drew an estimated 500 people to a Friday night lecture by Svend Auken, a member of the Danish Parliament and former Minister for Energy & Environment.

After the ’73 oil crisis, Denmark got real about energy. First, they focused on energy use, by requiring greater energy efficiency in buildings through insulation and energy audit requirements. Second, they invested in district heating systems, in which electricity producers capture “waste” heat created during power generation and distribute the heat to homes and buildings for use as a heating source. Third, they made a commitment to developing clean, renewable energy, and now provide 40% of the world’s wind energy, generating $4 billion turbine technology exports and creating 23,000 jobs in the process.

Auken is the kind of erudite yet personable politician who can make you swoon. He frames clean, renewable energy as a means to address the triple challenges of security, economic prosperity and climate change. He understands the political power of renewable energy, seeing it as an opportunity to build urban-rural connections. Finally, he envisions the pathway to a bright green future, saying that “it need not be dull, it need not be boring, we don’t have to give up our lifestyle, we just have to be a little bit more smart about how we live.”

Denmark is not an energy utopia. Part of their pathway to energy independence has been lined by aggressively pursuing oil drilling in the North Sea. But Svend describes a Danish society that is looking forward rather than towards the past. They appear to have incorporated the clean, renewable ethos into the fabric of their society and have committed to invest $1 billion in tidal, solar and fuel cell technology R&D over the next ten years, an investment which should dramatically boost their renewable portfolio and presumably their exports to a world market hungering for renewables.

Another interesting element of the evening was City of Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels announcing that he is working with other mayors in the U.S. to implement the Kyoto Protocol at the municipal level. His goal is to have 141 cities (141 being the number of countries that signed onto Kyoto) commited to implementing Kyoto by the time the U.S. Conference of Mayors meets in June. This laudable effort serves as yet another example of local governments in the U.S. showing leadership when the federal government has failed to do so. [Full disclosure: I work for The City of Seattle, though not on energy issues.]

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About cities implementing Kyoto and local governments:

This is in line with what David Suzuki (among others, I'm sure) says: Solutions for a sustainable world will come from the local level, because its in the best interest of the people living there.

Back in the, you lived above you business and were part of the local culture, so you couldn't be a bad citizen, pollute and take more of your share without facing peer pressure and backlash.

But now, people live on the other side of the world from where their business operates and only look at paper reports, mostly the ones with the $ columns.

So yeah, people who live somewhere, plan to stick around and have children will fight to keep their environment clean a lot more than businessmen who come and go, chasing profit.

Posted by: Mikhail Capone on 21 Mar 05

Thanks for the report, Paul.

More info on Danish energy here, here, and here.

Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 21 Mar 05

The real story is: As Windpower is non-reliable because of the unpredictable wind indeed DK is still relying on fuel-combustion and giving the surplus of wind-generated electrity at very low prices to Norway where it can be rather well combined with the fast-reacting hydro-power-stations. But this comes now to an end, as that capacity is exhausted and that is the main reason beside of reduced sponsoring, that since 2002 nearly zero new installation in DK-windpower has been done.

Posted by: Duepmann on 28 Mar 05



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