Does the green state of Denmark really show the way forward?

Category: Environment & Sustainability
Published on Sep 01, 2010

Denmark is renown for wind power and its impressive accomplishments in reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions at a time when those of most other countries are growing vociferously.

Today, 20 per cent of the power generated in Denmark comes from wind. Green energy technology and services account for 12% of national exports. And while North American carbon emissions have risen by around 30 per cent since 1990, Denmark’s emissions are actually lower than they were two decades ago.

In our new book Macrowikinomics, Don Tapscott and I cite Denmark as a leading example of how the citizens, government and private enterprise can collaborate to drive green energy innovation. I think we got it mostly right, but energy analyst Jeff Rubin has a new post today that reveals details that alter the overall picture somewhat.

Rubin notes that while 20% of Denmark’s energy is green, the other 80% comes from coal, oil and natural gas, which means fossil fuel’s share of power generation is essentially the same as it is in China. Meanwhile, its clean-tech exports are still well below the combined value of its exported fossil fuel and fossil-fuel technology, such as oil-drilling equipment. You might call it the green state of Denmark’s “dirty little secret.”

Some have suggested that France would have been a better example. 80% its power is generated in nuclear plants, giving France the lowest per capita carbon footprint in Europe. France also has lower electricity costs. By comparison, Denmark’s impressive accomplishments on carbon emissions boil down to its high energy prices and hence its comparatively low levels of energy consumption. According to its energy ministry, the country’s economy has expanded by 80% since 1980, but its aggregate level of energy consumption hasn’t budged a bit. These gains are largely the result to some of the most rigorous energy conservation measures on the planet, and the fact that Danes pay in excess of 30 cents a kilowatt hour for electricity — 3-4 times what the average North American pays.

I think one commenter on Rubin’s post got it right when he said, “What the Danes have agreed to do, to their credit, is collectively agree to pay closer to the full price for the their energy consumption.” However, it’s not at all clear that the rest of the world will willingly pay these high energy costs too.

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