Denmark’s Energy Museum Loses Funding—Will Close

By Paul Gipe

Denmark’s Energimuseet (the Energy Museum), a “must see” for anyone working in the energy field, especially those of us in wind energy, has lost funding from a major donor and will close.

Until recently, Energinet, the state operator of the electricity and gas transmission system in Denmark, was a major sponsor of the museum and had done so for the past two decades. Danish electric utilities had been major sponsors for the previous two decades of the museum’s existence.

Support by the Danish Ministry of Culture and the community of Viborg make up the difference to the Energy Museum’s budget.

The move is a sad commentary on the times and what Kolya Abramsky calls cultural vandalism with the increasing attacks on libraries, schools, and education in general.

The news of the museum’s closing has shocked the international wind community in part because Denmark has played such a key role in modern wind energy and the country proudly boasts of its success, but also because Denmark has a well-founded reputation for public support of the arts and cultural institutions, such as museums.

That the museum and its staff are an essential part of the research community hit home recently when Erik Möllerström and I worked closely with the museum’s senior curator, Jytte Thorndahl, on our technical paper on the history of wind turbines. Thorndahl’s book for the museum on the history of the Gedser Mill was essential to our work. (See History of Conventional Wind Turbines Published—Finally, and The Rest of the Story: Part 2 of History of Conventional Wind Turbines–the 1970s onward on our publishing journey.)

The Gedser Mill at the Energimuseet.

The Gedser Mill is the grandfather of the “Danish concept” that has dominated wind turbine design worldwide since the great wind revival of the 1970s. The upwind turbine was designed by Johannes Juul, a former student of Poul la Cour, himself a pioneer in wind energy and telephony. (He’s known as the Danish Edison.) Though ungainly–the machine used struts and stays to brace the rotor–the Gedser Mill was durable at a time when experimental wind turbines lasted a few years if that. In contrast to programs in the USA, France, and Britain, the Gedser Mill was never intended as an experiment. It was designed for commercial use and operated for a decade beginning in the mid 1950s. It was the world’s most successful wind turbine until the mid 1980s and the rise of the modern Danish wind industry.

Pitchable blade tops on the Gedser Mill at the Energimuseet.

Importantly, the Gedser Mill’s lovingly restored nacelle is a key feature of the open-air display at the Energy Museum. Students and researchers of wind energy can see with their own eyes one of the reasons for Danish design’s dominance of the industry. Clearly visible on the two blades mounted to the nacelle are the pitchable blade tips. These were one of Juul’s most significant technical innovations and led directly to the success of Danish wind turbines in California during the 1980s. Pitchable tips are what made Danish wind turbines work so much more reliably than other wind turbines of the period.

Altogether the museum covers 60,000 m² of exhibition space spread across seven different buildings. The grounds include other open-air displays of other historical wind turbines. They recently added a Bonus wind turbine from the world’s first offshore wind farm at Vindeby.

Riisager wind turbine at the Energimuseet.

The Bonus turbine joins the Gedser Mill and a Riisager turbine, machine from the rebirth of Danish wind energy in the late 1970s-early 1980s. Christian Riisager was the first Dane to connect a wind turbine to the grid since the Gedser Mill of the 1950s. And like the Gedser Mill from which it is descended, Riisager’s design used an upwind rotor braced with struts and stays. You can look from one to the other and see their similarities.

Close up of the Riisager wind turbine at the Energimuseet.

Riisager departed from Juul’s design by using laminated wood blades, an integrated gearbox, and a flange-mounted induction generator. He also used air brakes in the blades rather than pitchable blade tips, but he wisely incorporated the lesson Juul had taught: wind turbines needed a means to protect themselves when everything goes wrong. This was a lesson that the wind industry would painfully relearn in the years to come. In its heydey, Riisager’s design was widely copied.

The museum is located between Viborg and Aarhus on Denmark’s Jutland peninsula. It is set against the backdrop of Lake Tange, water from which still drives the turbines at Denmark’s largest hydropower plant, Tangeværket (the Tange Works).

The Energy Museum’s closing is a loss for the world.