Great Danes: Denmark Makes Huge Leap Toward Fossil Fuel-Free Future

Last week, Denmark rolled out the world's most ambitious green energy policy. Held og lykke!

"To be or not to be." So opens Hamlet's famous soliloquy in Shakespeare's 1603 tragedy about royal revenge in the kingdom of Denmark. Today, the Scandinavian state has answered a similar question. Though perhaps not as existentialist, it is one that has been plaguing many countries: To be green, or not to be green. And Denmark has resoundingly answered in the affirmative, upping the ante and challenging the rest of the world to catch up.

On March 22, with an impressive majority vote (171 out of the total 179 seats), the Folketing, or Danish parliament, agreed to what is the world's most aggressive national low carbon strategy, one that aims to have CO2 emissions reduced to almost a third of their levels in 1990 within the next eight years. Part of plan is to reduce total energy consumption by more than 12 percent compared to 2006 over the same time period.


"It is the broadest, the greenest, and the most long-term energy agreement that has ever been reached in Denmark," said Martin Lidegaard, the Minister for Climate, Energy and Building. "This is a historic day for Danish energy policy." In a press release, the ministry characterized the move as a "decisive step towards a society free of coal, oil and natural gas."

Under the new initiative, half of Danish electricity will be derived from wind energy, with over 35 percent of the nation's total energy portfolio coming from renewable sources. The vote comes as two large offshore wind farms at Kriegers Flak and Horns Rev are being planned, along with a wide range of sustainable investments in solar energy, wave power, biomass and biogas.


While 2020 is the near-term goal, the plan outlines state energy policy through 2050, setting up Denmark to be one of the world's most energy-efficient nations.

And while many have said that akvavit, the caraway-flavored spirit that Danes calls "snaps," is an acquired taste, for cleantech and greentech entrepreneurs, that's a taste worth acquiring. In February, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), one of the world's leading organizations in wildlife conservation and endangered species, ranked Denmark first among all nations for having "the best conditions today for clean technology start-up creation," in their report Coming Clean: The Global Cleantech Innovation Index 2012.


"Large changes will be made over the next decade," said Lidegaard. "However, with this agreement the parties have started a transition that will strengthen the competitiveness of Danish businesses and ensure that citizens will not be subjected to exorbitant price increases on fossil fuels."

Part of the bill's negotiations were over how much such a shift would cost to residents and businesses, and in that regard, an agreement to improve energy efficiency standards helped to reduce the total price tag. In 2020, the average Danish household will pay around DKK 1300 (USD 230) more on their energy bill, while businesses will pay around DKK 200 (USD 36) per employee. But the additional because energy usage is expected to go down, the total bill of DKK 3.5 billion (USD 623 million) in 2020 will not be a big as it could be.

In addition, the lawmakers hope, the increased percentage of renewable sources in the nations's overall energy mix means that there will be more stability and less vulnerability to rising fossil fuel prices. "Investments are necessary if we are to switch society towards green energy," said Lidegaard. "But the bill will be much bigger if we do not act in time. At the same time, the transition will benefit climate mitigation and the environment, and it will ensure the future competitiveness of Danish industry."


While the goals are impressive, the fact that the agreement was signed by lawmakers representing the minority government coalition of the Social Democrats, Social Liberal Party and Socialist Peoples' Party, as well as Denmark's Liberal Party, the Danish People's Party, the Danish Red-Green Alliance and the Conservative Party shows what can be done when partisan politics are put aside to achieve important universal goals.

"In our everyday political work, the parties are different shades of red and blue," said Lidegaard. "However, today—together—we have laid down the foundation for a green future." The members of U.S. Congress can stand to learn a thing or two from their counterparts in Denmark. (And if they did, Senator John Kerry wouldn't be so mad.)


The Danish physicist and chemist Hans Christian Oersted (1777-1851) was a main proponent of the romantic philosophy of nature. In his 1850 book Aanden i Naturen (The Soul in Nature), Oersted underscored the connection between rationality and natural laws, as well as the link between nature and spirituality. "Spirit and nature are one, viewed under two different aspects," he said. "Thus we cease to wonder at their harmony."

With this new green energy policy, Oersted's countrymen are making a similar link between reason and the laws of nature. And if they are successful in their mission to have a fossil fuel-free future, they will most likely find a level of harmony that has so far eluded mankind since the Industrial Revolution. I wish them good luck, or as they say in Denmark, held og lykke!



Danish Minsitry of Climate, Energy and Building. New Danish energy agreement: 50 % of electricity consumption from wind power in 2020. March 28, 2012. Accessed March 30, 2012.
World Wildlife Fund. Denmark tops first-of-its-kind Global Cleantech Innovation Index. February 27, 2012. Accessed March 30, 2012.
Ibid., 1.
Ibid. Oersted, Hans Christian Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 2008. Accessed March 30, 2012.

image: Offshore wind farm in Copenhagen Harbor, Denmark (credit: Christopher Porter, Flickr Creative Commons)