Danish people understand this very well.
With walkable and bikeable cities, awe-inspiring natural beauty, and pastries you’ll want to eat all day long, this country is like a fantasy world.
I traveled there in August to see up close the implementation of ambitious climate change policies. The result was an article published earlier this week. In this country, people generally agree on big things, such as the need to take aggressive action to reduce emissions, but they often disagree on how and how quickly.
Here are some observations that didn’t make it into my talk.
Walking through the maze of Ørsted
I visited their headquarters in Ørsted, just outside Copenhagen, to learn more about this global wind energy company.
Orsted is one of Denmark’s most successful exporters, with offshore and onshore wind farms in Europe, the United States and Taiwan. The company evolved from a partially state-owned oil and gas company with the unfortunate name DONG, which stands for Dansk Olie og Naturgas, or Danish oil and natural gas.
The Ørsted complex showcased the warmth of Danish design with its wood tones and natural light.
What caught my eye was an exhibit written in white letters on a maze-like atrium with blue walls and an atrium.
“Find your way forward like this,” the words written near the entrance.
An Orsted spokesperson guided me to the display. It took about 1 minute. The document describes some of the steps to build a clean energy economy, including how governments can set up a system to subsidize specific amounts of electricity capacity.
The piece itself contains shortcuts and doors to move toward the end faster, a conceit that emphasizes the stakes of the company’s work. For example, there is a point where you can turn left and continue the tightly controlled government process, or you can swing open his door with the text “Pushing forward to enable industry-led green energy build-out.”
Orsted is not advocating for governments to remove themselves from the process, but he does advocate for them to be flexible and act quickly to avoid projects getting bogged down in bureaucracy.
I was reminded of this labyrinth a few months later when Orsted canceled plans for two offshore wind projects in New Jersey, citing rising costs. These projects suffered long delays in the U.S. government’s approval process, and while they waited, costs soared due to inflation and rising interest rates.
I don’t think this indication specifically refers to the problem in the US, as this type of delay occurs in many places. But what was clear was that the transition to clean energy could be made more efficient if the key players stayed out of the loop.
The rise of electric taxis
Whenever I called for a taxi or ride-share service during my stay, an electric car always came. I thought there was a government directive, but later realized it was indicative of the country’s widespread transition to EVs.
In practical terms, this means you’ll have to test drive, or at least be a “test passenger” in, some EVs that aren’t available in the U.S., such as the spacious, smooth-handling Volkswagen ID.5 crossover. did.
Those working on climate change and energy policy say they consider the country’s transition to electric vehicles a success, but they have concerns. Denmark was slow to adopt EVs until 2021, when market share increased dramatically.
This differs from other aspects of tackling climate change, where Denmark has been years ahead of most other countries.
Denmark also struggles with comparisons with neighboring Norway, which is ahead of other countries in the transition to EVs. 91% of new cars and light trucks sold in Norway in October were plug-in vehicles. This was about twice Denmark’s share of 44%.
For comparison, the US share in the most recent quarter was less than 10%.
People who buy EVs in Denmark can enjoy significant discounts on vehicle registration fees, and there are other policies to encourage people to buy EVs. There are often deep discounts.
However, government policy does not fully explain the speed of Denmark’s transition to EVs.
When I walked on the sidewalk or rode in a car, I saw EVs running everywhere, and the noise of gasoline-powered cars was noticeable. Rather than seeing gasoline as the default, people here will see EVs as the normal and preferred option.
What do you need to sacrifice?
Denmark is a small and wealthy country, ranking among the top 10 in the world in terms of per capita income. (Denmark ranks her 9th, and the US ranks her 7th.)
High income allows for high levels of consumption. Some Danes argue that any serious effort to reduce emissions must include some reduction in consumption. That could mean households owning fewer cars, flying less and eating less meat.
“I want everyone in the world to live like Danes,” said Dr. Thiem van der Duerre. He is a student at the University of Copenhagen and an activist with Extinction Rebellion and Scientist Rebellion. “But that’s not possible. There’s not enough out there.”
We met at a coffee shop in Copenhagen, Café Melemlmet.
His criticism of Denmark’s consumption contradicts some of the fundamentals on which the country’s people agreed to work together to reduce emissions.
Much of Denmark’s climate success has resulted from close relationships between business and government. If governments start asking people to spend and consume less, many businesses will find this to be against their interests.
My sense from the interviews is that the idea of cutting consumption is gaining traction, and some in political and business circles are seeing this and are concerned that it will lead to even more discord. ing.
As an outsider to Denmark, I can see how the criticism of consumption is hurting some vulnerable groups. Whether it’s a delicious pork roast, Tuborg beer or a wide variety of delicious pastries, consumption is part of Danish culture and that’s just food and drink.
That’s why van der Doule and others in his movement are working hard to get people to support the idea of consuming less.
“It’s up to us to make the impossible seem possible, right?” he said.
Other articles on the energy transition to watch this week:
The numbers don’t support persistent fears about EV fires: Despite concerns that lithium-ion batteries in EVs pose a serious fire risk, EVs are more susceptible to fire than vehicles with internal combustion engines, as Willie Jones reports in IEEE Spectrum. is much lower. According to a 2023 study by the National Transportation Safety Board, EVs have about 25 fires per 100,000 sold, while internal combustion engine vehicles have about 1,530 fires per 100,000 sold. It has occurred. EV fires receive disproportionate attention because these vehicles are new and different, said Paul A. Cole, a professor in the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. He said EV fires are a “huge problem” because we already know they can catch fire. It’s not an event. ”
New York City lifts zoning restrictions for rooftop solar, energy storage, and power equipment: As Joe Burns reports on Utility Dive, the New York City Council approves a “Carbon Neutral City” plan that includes zoning changes to make it easier to install rooftop solar and other clean energy technologies. did. This is the first of several proposals by Mayor Eric Adams aimed at reducing the city’s emissions by 80 percent by 2050 compared to 2005 levels. The new rules ease restrictions on rooftop solar and solar parking canopies, as well as energy storage and electrification equipment.
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Heat pumps are poised to accelerate Minnesota’s transition to green energy: As Dan Craker reports on Minnesota Public Radio, Minnesotans are switching to electric heating to benefit the climate. I love this story because it focuses on the thought process of a hardware store owner who switched to electric heat and uses this as an entry point to talk about the broader issues of electrification. This kind of story is especially important in northern states like Minnesota. This is because there is a perception that electric heating systems such as heat pumps will not work there, and that view differs from the heat pump options that currently exist.
Massachusetts has taken a big step away from natural gas. The Massachusetts Department of Public Works announced a decision strongly supporting electrification as the future for homes and businesses that currently use natural gas as a heat source. With this ruling, which I wrote for ICN, Massachusetts becomes the first state to send a strong signal to gas companies that they need to use less fuel. The ministry rejected the gas industry’s argument that hydrogen and renewable natural gas should be considered viable alternatives to natural gas. This is a landmark decision that could affect 11 other states and parts of Washington, D.C., which are grappling with regulatory litigation over the future of natural gas.
Meet the first EV charging station funded by federal infrastructure law. There are complaints about how slowly the federal government is disbursing the $5 billion it allocated for EV charging stations under the 2021 Infrastructure Act. But now, a major program that pays for chargers can promote the first completed installation as a truck stop in Ohio, as David Shepardson reports for Reuters. On Tuesday, I visited this station, which is a short drive from where I live, and reported what I saw to ICN. “We’re very happy to have found steel in the ground,” Samantha Houston, an analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an interview. She said, “I think this is a huge milestone. What I want to see and expect is an acceleration of on-the-go infrastructure.”
Inside clean energy is ICN’s weekly bulletin featuring news and analysis on the energy transition.Send your news tips and questions to [email protected].