The Nature of Wind Power A Review by Paul Gipe

By Paul Gipe

 The Nature of Wind Power is another celebratory book on Danish wind power leading up to the climate change conference in Copenhagen in 2009. The Nature of Wind Power is by a leading Danish landscape architect, Frode Birk Nielsen.

I’ve written about and extolled the beauty of previous books by Nielsen and this book is no exception. It is the long-awaited definitive coffee-table book on the beauty of wind turbines in various landscapes around the world, but mostly in Nielsen’s native Denmark.

The Nature of Wind Power is a joy to hold, beautifully illustrated, with passages that are almost poetic in their description of the importance of wind energy and its role in the landscape. This is exemplified when Nielsen opens the book by paraphrasing H.C. Andersen, known to us as the storyteller Hans Christian Andersen, by describing wind energy as the “ugly duckling that became a beautiful swan”.

Nielsen is one of the unsung pioneers of Danish wind power. I first came across his work when thumbing through dusty old reports in the library at the Folkecenter for Renewable Energy in Denmark. He published his first paper on integrating wind turbines into the landscape in 1980. At the birth of Danish wind power Nielsen was already tackling what would become one of the major questions surrounding the expansion of wind energy, public acceptance.

As in his past studies, Nielsen forthrightly takes on the question early in the book. As recently as 2006, public opinion surveys reveal that 96% of Danes have a positive attitude towards wind energy. Somewhat surprisingly, neighbors to wind turbines have a higher positive attitude to wind than those living further away. This is only somewhat surprising because unlike in most countries, those Danes living closer to the wind turbines typically own the wind turbines nearby. More significantly, 91% of Danes are proud of what they and their nation have accomplished with wind energy. In 2007 another survey found 90% of the population supports expansion of wind energy, while only 5% are against it.

As a landscape architect, Nielsen also has a lot to say about the need for and how to site new transmission lines in the landscape. He may be one of the first to offer specific guidance on how to site transmission lines to maximize their aesthetic acceptance. But Nielsen goes further; he offers his designs for what new transmission towers should look like. While other architects accept commissions to design grandiose and never-to-be-fulfilled building integrated wind turbines, Nielsen offers down-to-earth designs for new transmission pylons. This is the just the kind of work the world needs from architects.

As a Dane, and as an architect who matured during Danish wind power’s heyday when the citizen’s movement that propelled Denmark to world leadership prospered, Nielsen has an important place in his book for community-owned projects such as those on Samsø. Denmark’s renewable energy island is a remarkable success story that spread the term “energy democracy” around the world. Like much of Danish wind power, the wind power on Samsø is owned by the people who live there.

Similarly, Nielsen doesn’t overlook the success of Middelgrunden, the 40 MW project offshore from Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital. Though once vehemently opposed by the wealthy living along the shore, the wind project has now become the symbol of a green city.

Middelgrunden is also a shining example of how to aesthetically integrate a wind project into a cityscape with its graceful alignment. Moreover, the project was initiated, developed, and is owned by a cooperative of people living in Copenhagen. Both the project’s physical beauty and the people’s sense of ownership of the turbines are two powerful reasons that the city and its inhabitants have proudly adopted the turbines as symbols of the city that hosted the climate summit. Copenhagen, says Nielsen, now uses the Middelgrunden project to market itself to the world.

Nielsen also takes on the idea that wind is nice but won’t ever amount to much with one simple example. One array of turbines 200 km by 200 km, a land area about half that of Denmark itself, could supply 20% of all of Europe’s electricity.

But in more realistic terms, Nielsen notes that Denmark’s official state policy is to generate 50% of its electricity with wind power by 2025. To do so, Nielsen explains, Denmark will need to electrify all its railways and convert one-third of its passenger vehicle fleet to plug-in hybrids. Both are achievable targets. The Danes have proven they can deliver on what seems at first as unobtainable dreams. It isn’t as daunting as it first seems, says Nielsen. It would only require 400 to 500 modern wind turbines to power Denmark’s entire fleet of passenger vehicles.

Nielsen closes by noting that the reality of the Danish wind power’s success exceeded proponent’s imagination three decades ago. Wind turbines have become “a valued and indispensible feature of the Danish cultural landscape.”

“Wind turbines are the most distinctive landscape statement of our times,” says Neilsen. And despite Denmark’s small size, and densely populated landscape, “it has proven possible to integrate wind turbines into the landscape without significant disturbance to people, [agricultural] production, or nature. . . Experience shows that it is possible to achieve both: to develop clean and renewable energy while at the same time preserving the natural assets and soul of the landscape. Wind farms are not just beautiful, they are clean and green and absolutely necessary.”

Nielsen’s beautifully powerful book is a welcome contribution to a better future for all of us-and the planet.

The Nature of Wind Power by Frode Birk Nielsen, Landart, 2009, 257mm x 247mm; 184 pages, 1.5 kg; ISBN: 978-87-993240-0-2.