A Danish Lesson for New England about the Power of Wind

Seth Kaplan

There was a moment about ten years ago when the building of wind energy facilities, and in particular offshore wind farms, was just getting going in Europe and it appeared that the United States, and New England in particular, would not be far behind.  The Horns Rev project in Denmark was brand new and the folks at Cape Wind Associates were proposing to replicate that model of a successful offshore wind farm near a resort area here, giving Cape Cod the same opportunity that the vacation town of Blaavandshuk in Denmark has had to welcome tourists to a visitor center and museum with a wind-farm view.

Fast forward to the present and you can see a massive proliferation of clean, zero-polluting offshore wind farms in Europe.  The numbers and facts (PDF alert) are strong and clear: 418 new offshore wind turbines in 13 offshore wind farms in 2013, bringing the total (at the end of 2013) across Europe up to 2,080 turbines now installed and grid connected, a cumulative total of 6,562 MW, in 69 wind farms in eleven European countries.

The result of this expansion is striking and clear. As described by a blog post, and illustrated below, the nation of Denmark now sometimes produces more energy than they consume – a state of affairs that one can see play out in real time on the internet in images like this one from early in the morning of March 3, 2014. At that particular moment 3,893 MWs of energy was generated by wind turbines (the equivalent of more than three and half nuclear power plants like the one in Seabrook, New Hampshire, running all out) while the electricity consumption of Denmark at that moment was 3,875 MWs. (Note the European notation uses a decimal point instead of a comma between thousands and hundreds.)


Screenshot of Danish electric system

This is not an isolated phenomena – a review of wind production and energy use in Denmark shows that it is not a rare occurrence, during any given hour, for wind-energy production to approach or exceed Danish nation energy use.


This image tells a powerful story about a potent resource that can be an essential element in a clean-energy future. Of course this one resource alone can not carry our energy load – it will also need to work with other resources like energy efficiency, demand response, solar power and hydroelectricity. Indeed, in the short term, while other clean resources come online, it can also be supplemented by quick-start natural-gas-fired generation that is properly permitted and limited in its life and operations.

While we have a lot to be proud of here in New England, from the creation of a regional cap-and-trade program limiting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, to tremendous investments in key states in energy efficiency and solar power, the reality of wind development in Denmark and Europe is a sharp contrast to the situation here.

Since that day more than a decade ago when the Cape Wind developers came to talk to CLF, a massive expansion of wind-energy development (and offshore wind development in particular) has played out in Europe generally and in coastal nations like Denmark in particular. In contrast, the pace of wind development here has been slow and we have yet to bring on-line a single commercial offshore wind project. While Cape Wind is finally moving towards reality it is hard not to look back over the last decade and consider the progress we could have made on this front.

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