On a recent pilgrimage-and that’s the only word for it-to Denmark in September we stopped by the Danmarks Vindmølleforening (the Danish Wind Turbine Owners Association) to visit my colleagues Asbjørn Bjerre and Steen Andersen.
The association is the largest wind energy trade association in the world by the number of individual members: 36,500. The Danish association is even larger than the German Wind Turbine Owners Association (Bundesverband WindEnergie).
While the American Wind Energy Association may be wealthier, it is not supported by the grassroots as is either the Danish or German owners’ associations.
This is what makes the Danish organization so unique. It grew out of the Danish citizens movement to stop nuclear power through citizen action in building and owning their own renewable generation.
By any measure, the movement has been a resounding success. Denmark generates more than one-quarter of its electricity by wind energy alone, and a total of 43% of Danish electricity is generated with renewable sources of energy.
For many Danes, a share in a wind turbine is rewarding when it’s cold and windy outside – and that’s often the case in Denmark – they say “Oh, it’s good day today, it’s cold and windy”.
The association has been successful too. Today, 80% of all wind generating capacity in Denmark is represented by members in the association. And a spinoff from the association, Vind Energi, trades 70% of all wind energy in Denmark.
Membership dues in the association are based on the amount of capacity the member has installed. But unlike traditional trade organizations where money talks, the Danish association is managed like a cooperative. Each member has one vote, and one vote only. Utility companies that own the giant offshore wind farms, despite their financial and political clout, are entitled to the same one vote as a farmer from Jutland.
While Denmark is held up as a model country in developing its renewable resources, in many ways it’s no different than others. There are organized and vocal opponents to wind energy, and to renewable energy in general as there are in many countries. Just as elsewhere, Danish critics of wind energy play on fear and know how to use propaganda effectively. For example, they have been trained to never call a wind turbine simply a wind turbine but to always add the modifier “giant” to scare people of a monster stalking the land. In the US and Canada the term “industrial” is used in the same way. And Denmark suffered a decades-long setback as the country tried to adapt neoliberal ideology to the energy policy.
Fortunately, public opinion surveys have consistently shown support for renewable energy over the years. Typically 80% to 90% of Danes want more wind energy, even those living near existing turbines.
Both the new Danish government and the previous conservative government have ambitious plans. Denmark’s official policy by two successive governments is 50% of electricity in 2020 will be supplied by wind energy and 100% of electricity and heat by 2035.
While Denmark’s wind industry and most of the capacity represented by the association is from commercial-scale wind turbines, Danmarks Vindmoesølleforening supports further development of Hustandsmøllen or household-size wind turbines. It’s the “Sven Jensen” effect said Bjerre.
Sven Jensen sold SJ Windpower’s “windrose” or multiblade windmill for home heating in the 1970s and early 1980s. While it wasn’t particularly successful, the installation of the turbine made people more aware of their own consumption and what could be done about it. Thus, the small wind turbine had a role to play in educating the public about energy consumption and wind energy in general.
It’s good to see an organization founded decades ago by Torgny Møller in his kitchen is alive, well, and still making a difference. The Danish Wind Turbine Owners Association remains an inspiration for those of us elsewhere in the world trying to replicate its success at enabling participation in the renewable energy revolution sweeping the globe.