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A Municipality’s Road to an Energy-Efficient Economy

23. July 2014

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Do something about the energy resources
As the world’s population grows and emerging economies expands rapidly, global demand and competition for energy are set to intensify in the decades to come. This will probably drive up prices of the world’s finite oil and other fossil fuel resources. Our energy resources are concentrated largely in a handful of politically unstable countries. EU in 2014 imports oil and gas worth 1 billion € every day, primarily from Russia and Saudi Arabia. Ringkoebing Skjern Municipality, have decided not to participate in the world's energy race. We want to insulate ourselves from future peaks in energy prices and supply disruptions, and to invest our money in green, long-term, sustainable sources of energy. Our government has announced that Denmark should become fully independent of fossil fuels by 2050, and instead meet its energy needs with renewable energy. Ringkoebing-Skjern developed a detailed, municipal strategy for how to get there, “Energy2020”, and when it was launched in 2008 was the first of its kind in the world.

Necessity is the mother of invention
Our energy awareness was created and started decades ago, during the oil crises in the 1970s. We went into the 1973 oil crisis almost 95 percent dependent on foreign oil imports for meeting our energy needs. Since those days, we have been focusing heavily on energy efficiency and energy savings (in industry as well as households). We have explored in domestic oil and gas and we have been investing in renewable energy sources. As a result, Denmark and Ringkoebing Skjern Municipality is now one of the most energy-efficient parts of Europe and a net exporter of energy. Our many wind farms in the Municipality now produces 50% more energy than we consume.

Example for others
Importantly, and with influence on the current debate in the United States, we did this while at the same time securing our economic growth. From 1980 until now, the Danish economy has grown by almost 80% while our energy consumption has stayed on the same level and our CO2 emissions have decreased. We participated in the development of a strong and globally competitive wind power industry. At the end of the twentieth century, Danish companies possessed more than 30% of the world market for wind turbines.

A recent report commissioned by WWF shows that Denmark earns the world’s largest share of its national revenue from the renewable energy industry, at 3.4 percent of GDP. This is far ahead of China, in second place at 1.4 percent. The renewable energy industry now accounts for more than 13 percent of our exports. Denmark is a world leader in wind power, and Vestas Wind Systems alone holds a 12 percent share of the global wind power market.

What do we do about it?
On the consumer side, we focus heavily on strict building and appliance efficiency standards, public awareness campaigns regarding savings in households and industry processes, including the environmental costs of production, material consumption, and disposal.

On the energy production side, combined heat and electricity power plants and 4th generation of district heating have been further developed. Combined heat and electricity power plants, uses approximately 30 percent less fuel than conventional power plants producing the same amount of heat and power. Almost 53 percent of Danish electricity is cogenerated with district heating.

Local efforts
As in other places in Europe i.e. Austria, individual communities have helped drive this development. One Danish example is the island of Samsoe, home to 3765 inhabitants. Samsoe has cut its carbon footprint by 140%. Samsoe is selling renewable energy to other local communities. Energy focused municipalities in Denmark owes much of its success to a model of strong public participation, local involvement and ownership. It now attracts thousands of visitors each year from around the world and has become a worldwide showcase for renewable energy. There is still work to do, a transition fully to a renewable energy model. With our government’s new energy strategy to phase out fossil fuels, Denmark is continuing, speeding ahead of Europe, so to speak. Obviously, 2050 is a way down the road, and policies will need to be adjusted along the way. 2020 will be the first benchmark. Ringkoebing Skjern is moving ahead according to our Energy2020 strategy and at the end of 2020 we are producing more renewable energy than we consume.

Ringkoebing Skjern Municipality will use a range of tools and policies to enhance the use of renewable energy sources. Wind power, biomass, and biogas, while at the same time allowing new sources of renewable energy to develop. For example, large 4-th generation district heating and combined heat and power plants are developed together with Aalborg University.

Our transportation sector is almost fully dependent on fossils fuels, accounting for almost 30% of our fossil fuel use. It will therefore need to see a radical transition in the decades to come. Garbage trucks, in Ringkoebing Skjern Municipality are already running on biogas. Download the Smartphone app “Energy Tour” from App Store (iOS) or Google Play (Android) for further readings.

We are aiming for a win-win situation.
In Denmark, we see the renewable energy transition, as a win-win situation. We are representatives of and demonstrate a responsible and sustainable approach to global resources and climate change. At the same time, expanding the domestic market for innovative technologies, creates export opportunities for Danish companies in a growing global market for smart energy solutions. Inhabitants in Denmark will likely see moderate increases in their heating and power bills. We see it, as paying an insurance premium, to protect us from, environmental aspects and future rising fossil energy costs. Renewable energy ensures our unspoiled innocent descendants a clean future. In other words, "The future belongs to your children and they can't help it!"