Denmark Blows Away Wind Energy Records, While Australia Says Turbines Are Too Ugly

Europe, the U.S., and China are ramping up renewable energy, but other countries are doubling down on coal.

Wind turbines. (Photo: MyLoupe/Getty Images)

Jul 21, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

An unusually windy day in Denmark earlier this month gave the Scandinavian country more power than it needed, so it sold the excess to neighboring nations.

Denmark’s array of onshore and offshore wind farms met 116 percent of its national electricity demand on July 9, according to the energy tracking website energynet.dk. The next morning, after demand had peaked, the figure rose to 140 percent. Germany, Norway, and Sweden took the power surplus off Denmark’s hands, storing excess electricity in hydropower systems for later use.

It’s a new record for Denmark, where wind farms met 39 percent of the country’s electricity needs in 2014, putting the nation of 5 million in the company of Scotland, Germany, and other countries that are producing more than a quarter of their power from renewable sources.

In the United States, wind power accounts for about 4 percent of overall electricity production but supplies significant amounts of power in various states and regions. For instance, in May, the Pacific Northwest’s Bonneville Power Administration generated more than 40 percent of its electricity for its 13 million residents from wind energy alone.

In Texas, record wind output in March met about 40 percent of the demand for most of the state’s electric grid.

“It shows that a world powered 100 percent by renewable energy is no fantasy,” Oliver Joy, a spokesperson for the European Wind Energy Association, told The Guardian. “Wind energy and renewables can be a solution to decarbonization—and also security of supply at times of high demand.”

But it also shows the divide between countries like the U.S. and China—which are ramping up renewable energy—and countries like Australia, whose conservative government has slashed subsidies for renewable energy.

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Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has called the country’s wind farms “visually awful” and recently ordered the country’s Clean Energy Financing Corporation to stop investing in wind power—Australia’s second-leading renewable energy source behind hydropower. The country, however, also is one of the world’s biggest exporters of coal.

Conservationists and renewable backers fear for the future of a $2 billion wind and solar power plant project—a 1,200-megawatt facility in Queensland that would be one of the world’s 10 largest clean energy plants. Without the government’s backing, private financing would be hard to come by, according to project backers.

Abbott isn’t just pulling money from wind farms in the name of aesthetics. He told reporters in Darwin that there was no reason for the government to be financing existing wind farms.

“What we believe it should be doing is investing in new and emerging technologies,” Abbott said.

Australia’s government also halted funding for small solar power projects, forcing some companies out of business.

Richard de Bruin, owner of R&R Solar Installations in Queensland, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation the move was ideology-driven.

“It's a stupid idea to reduce investment in an area where it has the effect of saving our environment," he said. “Their sales model is to sell coal and to sell coal is to move away from the renewables, because there seems to be a conflict of interest."

While renewable energy cuts continue, Abbott—a vocal climate change denier—has approved a $1.2 billion coal mine in the state of New South Wales. If all Australia’s planned mines are green-lit, they will collectively become the world’s seventh-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China, the United States, India, Russia, Japan, and Germany. Annual emissions from the coal produced by just one mine approved by the Abbott government last year will exceed the emissions of 52 nations.

So, Why Should You Care? To avoid catastrophic climate change, scientists say the world must limit global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius. That means existing fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground, and nations must accelerate their transition to carbon-free sources energy, such as wind and solar.