Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Praise for the Energy Smart Danes

My regular readers are familiar with my renewable energy advocacy. In fact, for a whole bucketful of articles on Scotland's efforts to become energy independent, you can check my blog A Scottish Habit.

Here is
Jimmy Carter's address to the nation on the subject of energy conservation, and a blog I wrote a while back concerning that speech. Below is an editorial that appeared in August 13th's Wichita Eagle by columnist Thomas Friedman. He describes the experience and provides the statistics of the accomplishment of the Danes, world leaders in renewables.

If you have ever visited one of these European cities, you immediately noticed that everyone rides a bicycle or a tram. Friedman notes they even ride in the rain. It's no exaggeration. Many people only own a bike, and it's the only way to get to work and the market. They take their kids to school on bikes. They ride when it's cold, and they ride in the rain. In Amsterdam, where the vast majority of people ride, the bicycle parking lots are acres and acres and completely packed. Also in Amsterdam, bicycles have the right of way. Pedestrians and cars beware!
Bikes and the electric tram in Amsterdam.

Bikes, bikes and more bikes in Amsterdam. Everyone owns a bike.


I was riding in a car back to my hotel in Copenhagen, Denmark, at the 6 p.m. rush hour. And, boy, you knew it was rush hour because 50 percent of the traffic in every intersection was bicycles. That is roughly the percentage of Danes who use two-wheelers to go to and from work or school every day.

What was most impressive about this day, though, was that it was raining. No matter. The Danes simply donned rain jackets and pants for biking. If only we could be as energy smart as Denmark.

Unlike America, Denmark, which was so badly hammered by the 1973 Arab oil embargo that it banned all Sunday driving for a while, responded to that crisis in such a sustained, focused and systematic way that today it is energy independent. (And it didn't happen by Danish politicians making their people stupid by telling them the solution was simply more offshore drilling.)

What was the trick? To be sure, Denmark is much smaller than the United States and was lucky to discover some oil in the North Sea. But despite that, Danes imposed on themselves a set of gasoline taxes, carbon-dioxide taxes and building-and-appliance efficiency standards that allowed them to grow their economy -- while barely growing their energy consumption -- and gave birth to a Danish clean-power industry that is one of the most competitive in the world today.

Denmark today gets nearly 20 percent of its electricity from wind. America? About 1 percent.

And did Danes suffer from their government shaping the market with energy taxes to stimulate innovations in clean power? In one word, said Connie Hedegaard, Denmark's minister of climate and energy, "no." It just forced them to innovate more -- like the way Danes recycle waste heat from their coal-fired power plants and use it for home heating and hot water, or the way they incinerate their trash in central stations to provide home heating. (There are virtually no landfills in Denmark.)

There is little whining about Denmark having $10-a-gallon gasoline because of high energy taxes. The shaping of the market with high energy standards and taxes on fossil fuels by the Danish government has actually had "a positive impact on job creation," added Hedegaard. "For example, the wind industry -- it was nothing in the 1970s. Today, one-third of all terrestrial wind turbines in the world come from Denmark." In the past 10 years, Denmark's exports of energy efficiency products have tripled. Energy technology exports rose 8 percent in 2007 to more than $10.5 billion in 2006, compared with a 2 percent rise in 2007 for Danish exports as a whole.

"It is one of our fastest-growing export areas," said Hedegaard. It is one reason that unemployment in Denmark today is 1.6 percent. In 1973, said Hedegaard, "we got 99 percent of our energy from the Middle East. Today it is zero."

Frankly, when you compare how America has responded to the 1973 oil shock with how Denmark has responded, we look pathetic.

Because smart taxes and incentives spurred Danish energy companies to innovate, Ditlev Engel, the president of Vestas -- Denmark's and the world's biggest wind turbine company -- told me that he simply can't understand how the U.S. Congress could have just failed to extend the production tax credits for wind development in America.

Why should you care?

"We've had 35 new competitors coming out of China in the last 18 months," Engel said, "and not one out of the U.S."

Thomas Friedman is a columnist with the New York Times News Service and author of the best-seller "The World Is Flat."

Comments: 8/13/2008
#1 I agree, if St. Ronnie didn't kill all of President Carter's energy programs we would be free of these middle eastern nuts.
#2 And who was spearheading the idiotic effort to portray Carter's attempt at energy self-sufficiency as misguided and un-American? Why, it was none other than Ronald Reagan himself! Sadly, the GOP kept on doing that, instead of admitting that perhaps Carter was on to something...

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