The Danish Wind Study Spin that Blows

From time to time a study comes out that is so bizarre, you just have to wonder "Did they really spend time working this out?" We come across plenty of studies that don't really make sense. Less often, we come across studies that rebut their own attacks. And less often than that (never before, really) you come across a study that doesn't make sense and rebuts its own attacks.  

As you might have guessed, I have come across such a study, and it's the "Danish" study, the newest rollout from the polluter-funded trend of "Bash the clean energy/jobs experience of other countries and try to relate the conclusions to the US." 

It will help if I just cut to the chase and let you know about the spin the study's promoters are putting on it. As the polluter-funded and run Institute for Energy Research explained in their press release about the study, it casts "serious doubt" on claims that "the Danes satisfy "20 percent of their electricity through wind power.""

The upshot, per long-time oil-industry lobbyist Thomas Pyle, is that "Less clear is the extent to which these people actually know what's taking place over there, and whether they're willing to level with the American people about the serious costs associated with following this dubious path."

Ah yes, the Danish wind question. Real hard-core stuff for Washington insiders. For those of you wondering where this un-missable debate has been taking place - um, it's the third alley to the left, just behind the fire escape.

Anyway, I'll just start with the study's first sentence, which is the first clue that this study makes no sense: "Denmark generates the equivalent of about 19% of its electricity demand with wind turbines, but wind power contributes far less than 19% of the Nation's electricity demand."

Sure, go ahead, read that a couple more times and see if you detect the point. Got it? Bam, slam, boom! You Danish Dawgs! You are generating 19% of the electricity you demand with wind, but wind only contributes 19% of the electricity you demand.

Wait, what?

Ok, I'm having a harder time understanding why these guys even wrote the first sentence of this paper, let alone the ones that fill all 39 pages of it. But hey, they are there, so here we go:

In reading further I discovered the point the authors wish to make is that while Denmark uses wind to generate an amount equal to 19% of the nation's electric consumption, they don't use all that electricity.

Bam, slam, boom! Ho, what a find! Stop the presses! OMG! Who is stealing all that wind power? Scandal, scandal!

Wait, a minute. No one is stealing it. The report goes on to say (complain is actually the tone they strike) that Danish wind-generated electricity is being sold to its neighbors Norway and Sweden. You see, there's no way to store electricity, so once it has been generated, well...use it or lose it. Or, sell it. So Denmark sells its surplus wind-generated electricity to its neighbors.

Now, this is where the "rebut our own attacks" bit comes in to play. Here's a sample, and these are direct quotes from the paper itself:

  • "Denmark is a prosperous, well-run and notably clean country of about 5.5 million people. For the time being, it is self sufficient for all its energy requirements and is a net energy exporter." (p.6) Well, I guess that explains why it sells surplus power to neighbors.
  • "Denmark is widely regarded as a model for other countries to emulate in these times when energy security and purported anthropogenic global warming are so high on the political agenda." (p. 9) Whoops, did you catch the "tell"? Purported anthropogenic warming? Methinks there be climate science deniers in Denmark
  • "It is true that Denmark generates the equivalent of about 19% of its demand by wind turbines; the figure in West Denmark for 2007 was almost 26%." (p. 9) I'm sorry, I lost you, is this paper complaining that Denmark generates less than 19% of its power or more?

Kinda weird things for a study that attempting to trash wind. Now the Danish study does get into complaints about taxes and whether wind does or does not reduce CO2 in Denmark, but happily my colleague Succar Samir has addressed these and more issues raised in the paper.

And, many of these issues are also discussed in this study of the Danish wind experience called "Wind Power to Combat Climate Change: How to Integrate Wind Energy into the Power System," which interestingly enough lays out a vision for how Danes will use all that wind power of theirs as they transform their entire energy system to one that is much more efficient and clean. I would say that the guys at IER and CEPOS should read this study, but I have the feeling that they already have - and that's why they wrote theirs.

One last point: the CEPOS paper neglects to explore the value of the wind industry to the country's overall economic health. One of the key benefits of Denmark's penchant for wind is that the nation is now the world's leader in wind technology. Which is why the world's leading supplier of wind power is the Danish company Vestas, with 20% market share. And why Denmark exported $8.31billion dollars worth of wind equipment last year.

Which might have something to do with this assessment from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development:

"Strong growth in recent years has brought the economy to its capacity constraints. A strong positive output gap has emerged; unemployment reached a 30 year low already by mid 2006, and it has fallen further since then. Avoiding overheating is an urgent challenge."

Ahh, so there's a reason Denmark might want to back off on some of its wind enthusiasm.