In a press release this week, the Danish Energy Agency reported a bit of bad news from the land of wind. Denmark as a whole had total energy consumption last year that was higher than the year before, which could just as well have been lower given that total consumption has been relatively stable in a few decades, so no surprise there. The surprise is that, despite the ever-growing amount of renewables in the mix, carbon emissions rose too. What happened? And why would you care how the energy mix in Denmark develops?
Well, this small country has had a reputation of being a renewable model country for others to admire. And remember, Denmark has pledged to be a carbon-emission-free nation by 2050. Below is a translated and simplified rundown of how the numbers are reported in the press release.
Increase in Energy Consumption
“Actual energy consumption in Denmark increased by 0.2% in 2018 to 748 PJ. The increase is seen in virtually all fuels. The consumption of coal, which fell 25.5% from 2016 to 2017, increased by 1.9% in 2018, while consumption of oil and renewable energy increased by 0.9% and 0.3%, respectively. Consumption of natural gas, on the other hand, fell by 4.9%, which is partly due to less natural gas consumption on the North Sea platforms as a consequence of lower production of oil and natural gas, and partly that a larger proportion of the pipeline gas used on land now consists of bio-gas. Consumption of pipeline gas has increased by 0.5%.
“The Danish Energy Agency also calculates adjusted gross energy consumption, which is energy consumption corrected for fuel consumption related to foreign trade in electricity and climate fluctuations. The adjusted gross energy consumption rose by 0.8% in 2018 to 778 PJ on the basis of an increase in coal, oil and renewable energy, of 5.1%, 1.0% and 1.3%, respectively, while consumption of natural gas fell by 4.0%. The increase in coal consumption is probably due to less wind in 2018 and thus lower wind power production.”
Ironic, isn’t it? Denmark had a very long and dry summer last year, and wind energy generation was low, so we burned a lot of coal to compensate. Ouch. More solar PV would have come in handy in this situation. The graph I made below from the Danish Energy Agency data shows the stagnation in renewable energy’s share from 2015 onward.
What about emissions? In 2017, Denmark had a record year in wind energy generation, and I for one was certain 2018 would be just another record, but that didn’t happen. There are a lot of new wind farms in the pipeline, but this news is a blow when you consider how quickly emissions cuts have to get rolling soon. Carbon emissions have to decline soon, and stable consumption of oil and coal is not helping. Below is what the press release has to say on emissions.
Increase in CO2 Emissions
“The rising consumption of fossil fuels in 2018 has resulted in actual emissions of CO2 from energy consumption increasing by 0.3% compared to 2017. When adjusting for fuel consumption related to foreign trade in electricity and climate fluctuations, CO2 emissions rose by 1.3% in 2018.
“Looking at the period from 1990 to 2018, CO2 emissions have actually decreased by 34.4%, and the adjusted emissions reduction is calculated at 37.5%.
“Based on the preliminary energy statistics, Denmark’s total actual emissions of greenhouse gases are estimated to have increased by 0.2% in 2018, while emissions adjusted for climate and fuel consumption related to foreign trade in electricity are estimated to have increased by 1.0%.
“A final statement of Denmark’s emissions of greenhouse gases will be published later by DCE — National Center for Environment and Energy.”
Okay, so keeping in mind that the 2018 numbers are not absolutely certain yet, here’s a graph with the emissions data from the Danish Energy Agency:
Looking at the whole period, there is nothing to be ashamed of, but since 2015, it seems like something has stopped working. In a word: politics. Imho.
For instance, domestic PV solar was booming in the years 2010 to 2012, but changes in the feed-in tariff law killed it instantly. Nothing to see here, carry on. Sigh…
Unchanged Use of Renewable Energy
“Renewable energy’s share of actual energy consumption was 32.7% in 2018. This is unchanged compared to 2017. Renewable energy covered 32.8% in 2018 of the adjusted gross energy consumption compared to 32.6% in 2017.”
Again, it seems development stagnated from the year 2015. Pity.
A Note on Self-Sufficiency
“The degree of self-sufficiency is a measure of the relationship between the production of primary energy and the consumption of oil, natural gas, coal, renewable energy and waste in Denmark.
“The self-sufficiency rate for energy was to 85% in 2017 and 76% in 2018. This means that Denmark’s total energy production in the form of oil, natural gas and renewable energy corresponded to 76% of the adjusted gross energy consumption in 2018.”
Self-sufficiency isn’t that important in my opinion, at least not in regard to renewables. Trading solar, wind, and hydro energy between Denmark’s neighboring countries — Norway, Sweden, and Germany — is beneficial to all parties, first and foremost because one single country does not have to install excess capacity to supply its own market, but can buy excess energy from its neighbours. Everybody wins.
Energy Intensity as a Measure of Efficiency
“Energy intensity in relation to the adjusted gross energy consumption decreased by 0.4 % in 2018 compared to 2017. A decrease in intensity means that gross domestic product has increased more than energy consumption.
“Over the period from 2000 to 2018, the energy intensity has decreased 24%.”
I do not have enough details to evaluate the meaning of the decrease in energy intensity, but it seems to me that despite the overall rise in activity in the country, reflected in the GDP, efficiency measures apparently keep energy consumption rise in control.
Fast Problems and Slow Solutions
Seeing these numbers now, I must admit I had not noticed the recent years of stagnation in the energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables in Denmark. I assumed this small country was way ahead by a comfortable margin, but it goes to show that we cannot rest on our laurels. The problem is that we rely on politicians to keep score of this, and we trust they realize the urgency of the transition to a global zero-carbon-emission energy system. They obviously don’t. Why? I have no idea. Speculating on government interest in Big Oil is not my game, but something does seem rotten in the state of Denmark. What are we waiting for?