Wind Power–The Danish Way

By Paul Gipe

Wind Power The Danish Way: From Poul la Cour to Modern Wind Turbines is a book written by a who’s who of Danish wind power. It’s a celebratory book and Danes have a lot to celebrate–a lot to be proud of. Yes, they have given the world modern wind power. But more than that, Danes have given the world another way of developing wind power too. This is often overlooked in our eagerness to talk about the growth of the technology, exciting as it is.

Even for those of us who have followed, researched, and written about the Danish wind industry for decades, there’s always the nagging doubt that we, as non-Danes, don’t quite get it.

The Danes have been good about putting a lot of their material in English. Even official Danish documents are often published in both Danish and English. Still, a non-native speaker of Danish knows that there there’s more than just a language barrier. In the end, it’s never just the language itself. Fortunately, Danish wind energy pioneers have sat down and written for us Anglophones a brief history of Danish wind power development from Poul la Cour, the Danish “Edison”, to the modern era.

The rise of wind power in Denmark is as much a story about people and a people who sought to share in the natural resource riches of their country–their abundant wind energy. Wind Power The Danish Way tells this story too. This is the story of the struggle to liberate rural Denmark from poverty by bringing electricity to even the poorest of villages. This was Poul la Cour’s mission.

Denmark today is as much known for its wind turbine technology as it is for the ownership model that powered Denmark to international leadership in wind energy. Until 2000, nearly all Danish wind development was initiated, developed, and owned by the people who lived nearby. Even today more than three-fourths of Danish wind power is owned by people in the community, by Danes themselves as investors in locally-owned share cooperatives.

It is this shared ownership that was the natural outgrowth of the philosophy espoused by Danish wind pioneer Poul la Cour and many of those who followed him. La Cour was as much the Danish Edison as he was the Danish Lincoln. His outlook was that wind was power to the people, by the people, for the people. And leaders in the Danish wind power revival of the 1970s and 1980s, such as Preben Maegaard, shared this outlook.

The book has enough never-before-seen historical photos of early Danish wind turbines to satisfy the most die-hard wind turbine geek. I was particularly struck by a 1979 photo of the Herborg-HVK wind turbine standing at the old Vestas plant in Lem. Next to it is a bi-blade Darrieus turbine built by one of the book’s authors, Birger Madsen, a long-time friend and colleague. It struck me because I have a cherished photo of the same scene from 1980. I knew then that history was being made and I’ve used that photo in several of my books since then.

Normally for a review like this I highlight several passages in a book then I comment on them. My copy of Wind Power the Danish Way is so marked-up with so many highlights that it would take another book to just jot them down.

The book is a real gift to all of us in the industry. Every technical library in the English-speaking world should have several copies. (Engineering professors and professors of the history of technology are notorious for taking copies for their own personal libraries and never returning them.)

Wind Power The Danish Way is a fun book for the technologist, but it also has a serious message. Wind energy need not be the sole domain of the Florida Power & Light’s of the world. The wind is everyone’s resource, and everyone should have the opportunity to share in its development.

Wind Power The Danish Way: From Poul la Cour to Modern Wind Turbines, The Poul la Cour Foundation, 88 pages, paper, A4, 35 Euros includes VAT and shipping, Denmark, phone: +45 2763 7036, email:, ISBN: 978-87-993188-0-3.