CLIMATE SPECTATOR: Australia's twist in the wind

Australia’s wind resource is twice as powerful as that in Europe, where countries like Denmark are leading the way towards cleaner and more secure energy policy. So what are we waiting for?

Climate Spectator

Denmark's renewable energy achievements and its ambitious targets demonstrate a serious plan to lead the world in tackling global climate and energy security. Wind turbine technology will power half of its plan.

At the end of last year, Denmark announced that it will increase its share of wind power in the electricity supply mix from 25 per cent, its total today, to 50 per cent by 2020. The earlier plan was to do the same, but by 2025.

Denmark's bullish drive towards wind energy comes from the public’s ongoing strong support for the industry and technology. Over one million Danes currently live within one kilometre of an operating wind farm. Many of these wind farms are being, or are scheduled to be, upgraded with newer turbines. This ongoing process of upgrades shows that support for wind energy stays strong in the local vicinity even after communities have lived with a generation of turbines that have served their useful lives.

Denmark will reach its 50 per cent wind power target through three main tracks. They’re building a generation of new onshore wind farms as well as the establishing a brand new offshore wind industry. A very important part of the plan involves the repowering of existing wind farms. That is where many older wind turbines with lower hub heights and lower capacity factors are taken down and recycled; then a smaller number of taller, quieter more efficient machines are built in their place.

The Danes aren't just narrowly looking at today's electricity sector either. They've got a plan for full decarbonisation right across the economy, freeing the country from fossil fuels completely by mid century. In 2020 they'll be running half the country’s electricity on wind. Two per cent will come from rooftop solar and given that Copenhagen has relatively good sun for Northern Europe, they've probably grossly underestimated this contribution in their plans.

Denmark also has a plan for the other two energy sectors: heat and transport. The country’s strategy is to migrate much of the heating fuel sector and the transport sector over to electricity. When these sectors are electrified the Danes will achieve their overarching 100 per cent renewable energy target for 2050 and they'll have the electricity sector completely switched by 2035, using a combination of wind, solar, renewable heat and biomass.

Denmark is leading the way on electrification of its transport fleet. In the coming decades it will expand and upgrade its railways to international standard 25kV AC and will offer significant incentives for electric vehicles, including the widespread deployment of charging stations to get people into EVs.

It will also provide public funds to shift vehicle purchasing habits. On the heat side, a combination of ground source and air source heat pumps, combined with solar and biofuels, will provide heat energy. These sources will power its highly efficient district heating networks, which offer very cheap heating and are relied on by half of the households in the country.

Interestingly, in Denmark areas with larger populations living closer to wind farms have higher acceptance levels for wind turbines than other areas. These wind powered communities show support at greater than the national average acceptance, which is already extremely high – 86 per cent of the public is in favour of wind power over alternatives. The majority of people who live near wind turbines in Denmark and abroad realise that they are experiencing no discernible issues with the technology. Furthermore they can see that, along with solar, wind power is society’s most socially just, environmentally sound, and safest way of generating electricity.

Their positive experience of wind has led the nation to strong bi-partisan support during successive centre-left and conservative governments and oppositions.  Most wind farms in the early days were community owned. Today, larger commercial projects usually have a portion available for community ownership.

And in 2020 Denmark won't be resting on its laurels. Although Danes will have 8,000 MW of wind, supplying 50 per cent of their nation’s electricity, they'll continue to deploy even more wind turbines. They will need this additional capacity to cover their new electric vehicle charging requirements and expanded electric rail networks as they get off oil for transportation.  They'll be meeting their heat requirements with ground-source heat pumps driven by electricity, combined with new and existing bio-mass combustion.  In all, Denmark will use mostly renewable electricity, domestically sourced, to wean themselves off fossil fuels and provide an example for the world.

Contrast Denmark with Australia.

For every wind turbine we install, for every cubic metre of concrete we pour, or for every hour we employ someone to build one wind turbine we'll get twice as much electricity out the other end during the wind turbine’s design life (30 years). Why? Because our wind resource is twice as powerful as in Europe.

Think of it as a ‘buy one get one free’ scheme. People literally crawl over each other to get that kind of deal at the Myer’s Christmas sale.

So why aren’t we rushing to install wind energy? We’ll get twice the bang for our buck. In Australia, we are lucky to be a member of an exclusive club of countries like Chile and New Zealand that achieve exceptionally high wind capacity factors that are twice or more than the average of Europe (36 per cent vs 18 per cent). However, despite this advantage, we have failed to run with our luck.

How myopic Australia is, only getting a measly 2 per cent of its electricity from wind power. The Victorian and New South Wales governments have tried their best (and so far

successfully) to make it difficult for wind and solar  farms. If this retrogressive policy prevails the Australian population will become far more dependent than it needs to be on 19th century fossil energy and locked out of the more secure energy future wind and solar provide.

Denmark has picked the future and has maintained its leading economy status for many years. Despite not being blessed with much in the way of natural resources, it has embraced 21st century wind and solar technology.

Along with Germany, the Danes are showing the rest of the world how to reach energy independence and a better standard of living through local energy autonomy. History tells us that in Australia’s situation, ignoring the inevitable, staying too focussed on the status quo and becoming a one horse energy economy, we are leaving ourselves open to getting an acute case of Dutch Disease as well as becoming an international pariah for the high per capita greenhouse pollution we produce and export.

Denmark rates high on the international wellbeing index and shows that you don’t have to have dirt cheap fossil fuel energy to be a prosperous nation.

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