April 7, 2014
While the international community is due to finally take serious action against climate change it is worthwhile having a look at Denmark, Sweden and, to a lesser degree, Finland and Norway that have succeeded to generate two thirds of their electricity from renewable sources, mostly from wind and water.
But despite intensive efforts and favourable conditions – zero population growth, large forest areas, a very big hydro power potential and ideal wind conditions – they are still miles away from a fossil-free energy supply which Denmark aspires by 2050.
Still, the international community might learn a few lessons from their experience:
build a strong political and popular support.
Without such a support technical efforts will go nowhere. This support is there in each of the countries.
set long term objectives, buffered by short-time targets on which to focus concrete action.
Thus by 2020 Denmark aims to cover one third and until 2050 its entire energy needs from renewable sources.
Similarly the EU operates with 2020/30 targets within a 2050 horizon.
- put in place a strong institutional framework: a climate and energy ministry and energy agency.
Denmark has led the way.
introduce cost-effective support schemes for accelerating the shift from fossil to renewable energy.
Denmark has tried a panoply of measures, strongly focused on wind power, its principal renewable source, investment grants to enterprises shifting their energy supply from fossil to renewable sources and recently also premiums for solar power.
Unlike Germany which has wasted huge amounts of subsidies for photovoltaic installations, not ideal in a country lacking sun during much of the year, the Scandinavian countries have concentrated their efforts on wind energy of which they have plenty. Such a focus on the most effective source of renewable energy is crucial for obtaining cost-effectiveness.
- offer subsidies only for a limited period (10 years) and adapt them to falling production costs.
Here too Denmark is a better example than Germany that has offered premiums unchanged for 20 years.
invest from the start in energy storage and interconnections for periods without wind or sunshine.
Here Germany has also failed for a long time.
- begin with renewable electricity even if heating and transport are more important energy consumers.
do not forget pushing for more effective thermal insulation of the building stock, where the Nordic countries have also been outstanding.
do not renounce mandatory action, for example energy efficiency standards if you can monitor their implementation.
last not least, phase out all direct and indirect subsidies for fossil energy.
In conclusion, if Humanity is serious with reducing green house gas emissions every major energy consuming country must without delay put in place the institutional and legal bases for reducing its fossil energy consumption.
To be effective it must draw up an appropriate strategy containing a long term vision and short term operational measures.
It is up to the UN to invite its most appropriate institution to help countries in that exercise and make sure that those countries implementing effective climate strategies will benefit from the financial assistance that has been promised by the international community.
But even with the most devoted efforts the Nordic countries` experience shows that it will take decades before such policies will produce strong results. Homework should therefore start without any further delay.
Author : Eberhard Rhein