Wind Energy in Denmark

For a period of nearly 6 years I called Melbourne home. Melbourne is based in the state of Victoria. In 2011 the Victorian state government implemented a new law making it effectively impossible to develop new wind turbines in the state. The conservative Liberal-National government enacted a new planning law allowing anyone within 2km of a proposed development to decide whether or not the wind project should proceed. It did this in order to “restore fairness and certainty to the planning process for wind farms.”

It is pretty certain now! The government has scared off virtually all prospective renewable energy development in the state. Since the law came into effect there have been only a handful of turbines erected in Victoria. Many existing wind developers who had permits that predated the new law also had trouble with making any amendments to their projects (including installing more efficient technology).

Australia is in desperate need of renewable energy developments. Electricity production in Victoria is widely regarded to be among the most polluting and carbon intensive in the world. This is thanks to the use of brown coal or lignite in the East of the State.

Hazelwood Coal Power Station. Sadly still in operation and pumping out plenty of nasty things into the atmosphere.

So to make a comparison to happier countries I’ve chosen Denmark. Denmark is fairly well known to have quite high rates of wind energy production. And I’ve travelled through most of the country by train on two occasions, most recently for Christmas in 2013.

It was during my last trip up the length of Denmark that I thought to investigate more about Denmark’s wind energy. It felt as though at any one point in time during my journey there was always a wind turbine somewhere on the horizon. So my project was to try and figure out how much of Denmark you COULDN’T see a wind mill from. I planned of course to make some fairly major assumptions about all trees being the same height and the countryside being very flat…

What I’ve found so far is that the raw data I need exists! That took quite a while. But it is available in a couple of forms:

Click on the image to see an interactive map of Danish wind mills
Click on the image to see an interactive map of Danish wind mills
Denmark wind 2
Data from the Danish Ministry of Environment. An online GIS platform of sorts that allows you to choose characteristics to view on the map

In total, I found out that there are 5272 wind turbines in Denmark, with an installed capacity of 4906MW (as at January 2015). That’s enough to cover 28% of the electricity needs of the country.

Danish wind sector sea and land


I met a PhD student who is working in my university with a large Danish energy company (DONG) in developing floating offshore wind turbines, which could increase the percentage of wind generation even further. Interesting stuff, and that way you get around the NIMBYs. Not that Denmark has so many of those.

But why’s that? Are they immune to (the discredited) wind turbine syndrome? Yes. It’s discredited. Are they more tolerant to noise? Maybe…

And a big part of it comes down to this stipulation in Danish wind farm planning regulations:

Erectors of wind turbines with a total height of at least 25 metres, including offshore wind turbines erected without a governmental tender, shall offer for sale at least 20% of the wind turbine project to the local population. 

Now naturally this gives the neighbours a financial reason to be interested in the wind energy near their house. Additionally, the process for planning relies on sound logic, not NIMBYism (as in Victoria). There are various sound limits for both regular frequency and infrasound (very low frequency). Both of which are lower than the sound limits allowed for roads, interestingly enough.

Noise limits Denmark windturbines

So really all those who complain about sound from windmills should perhaps focus on highway noise instead, like the Dutch. I discovered the remarkable quietness of Dutch highways when cycling around Assen, in the east of the country. The secret is apparently related to having a porous top bitumen layer… who knew?

2014 Cycling study tour 013
Cycling in Assen alongside quiet roads makes life much more pleasant. Separate infrastructure helps considerably too.

As for my wind project, well you can see for now that there’s lots of turbines. I’m hoping to relearn some of the basics of using GIS mapping tools in the meantime. Hopefully I’ll be able to produce a map showing where you cannot see a windmill from in Denmark. Hoping it’ll act as a bit of an eye opener to the dumb planning restrictions in Victoria!

And here’s one last note for the bird lovers out there. Specifically those who use their obsession with these fluffy friends to hate on wind turbines:


A figure from Mackay's excellent book 'Sustainable Energy' which you can read for free (in a slightly clunky website) by clicking on this image.
A extract from Mackay’s excellent book ‘Sustainable Energy’ which you can read for free (in a slightly clunky website) by clicking on this image.

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