Danes blowing a veritable fortune

  • 2003-04-10
  • Slim Allagui

Denmark, a pioneer of wind energy, is tightening its grip on the world's wind turbine market as the possibilities for industry expansion look as limitless as the horizon over the breezy sea.

Denmark's big three turbine makers - Vestas Wind System, NEG Micon and Bonus - export 90 percent of their production and already control about half the world's wind energy market.

In 2002, they sold turbines with a combined force of 2,880 megawatts, which compares with the world's total annual production of 6,868 MW.

Denmark was the first country to use wind energy for electricity production. As long ago as 1891, a Danish meteorologist named Poul La Cour experimented with a generator hooked up to a windmill which he used to keep the lights in his school going - a groundbreaking discovery which earned him the title "pioneer of modern aerodynamics."

Among Danish producers, Vestas is the flagship company, symbolizing by itself the country's success in wind energy both at home and worldwide.

The world's biggest wind turbine producer is highly visible and quoted on the stock exchange, where its shares surged by more than 40 percent one day in March, when an ambitious forecast of a 30 percent rise in turnover this year delighted the financial community.

And there is every reason to be optimistic: Wind energy is one of the few energy sources seeing a spectacular increase in capacity, around 25 percent annually over the past few years.

Of the tens of thousands of wind turbines in the world - totaling an output of 32,000 MW - some 75 percent to 80 percent are to be found in Europe, and 45 percent were supplied by Danish companies.

"Our sales have seen a strong increase in sales to 21 billion kroner (2.8 billion euros) in 2002, of which 18.5 billion kroner were outside Denmark," said Soeren Krohn, head of Denmark's wind turbine industry association.

His company is operating in a fertile environment, as Denmark holds the world record for use of wind energy.

In 2002, wind turbines met 13.9 percent of the country's total energy needs, up from 12.2 percent in 2001, even after 850 outdated turbines - of a total 6,300 - were dismantled.

This means Denmark is already way ahead of the government's own target of covering 10 percent of the country's energy needs with wind by 2005, 20 percent by 2015 and 50 percent by 2030.

Madsen said there are no technical problems to stop these targets from being met well before the deadline and that success is "a question of political will."

He added, however, that the current conservative-liberal government is in no hurry to accelerate the installation of wind turbines.

According to estimates by BTM Consult, a consultancy specializing in renewable energy, total wind turbine output is likely to double within the next five years, guaranteeing the Danish turbine makers strong demand - particularly if they focus on installations at sea, right where the greatest potential for wind energy lies.

"There is a potential to install turbines of 100,000 MW off the European coastline, where the sea is more than 20 meters deep, especially in the Baltic and the North Sea," said Birger Madsen, codirector at BTM Consult.

This represents four times the capacity currently available on land in Europe, and a solution for Europe's densely populated countries which have little land space for turbines, making the sea an obvious outlet.

However, because of the high costs of running an offshore park, this will become profitable only with the next generation of turbines, and so only 10 percent to 15 percent of turbines will be offshore in the next five years, Madsen said.