Great Green Danes

Nordic Horizons held their latest event, Great Green Danes, in the Scottish Parliament last night, hosted by Jenny Marra MSP. The subject was renewable energy in Denmark. The main speaker was Soren Hermansen from Samso, a small island with a 4000 population, but a big reputation for renewable energy. Samso energy academy attracts 6,000 visitors a year, many out of season boosting tourism as well. 

While Samso is rightly hailed as a community initiative, its origins are actually more top down. It was a Danish Government energy island competition that started the project before it was picked up by Soren. He had a big job to win over his fellow islanders to the concept of a 100% renewable island. He started with the windmill tradition on the island, but the focus was on jobs, the economy and the simple survival of the island that was suffering from de-population.

 In 2003 they built what was biggest offshore wind farm in world. Much of the output is exported to compensate for transport fuel emissions. Half the investment came from the local authority and the rest from individual local investors and a small co-op.

Onshore renewables include a district heating system, solar panels and 11 onshore wind turbines. Energy efficiency is also a big part of the mix. They buy hydro power from Norway on the fairly rare low wind days. They have achieved a 140% Co2 emission reduction allowing for mainland export. You can read more at

 The next speaker was Drew Ratter from Viking Energy on Shetland. He highlighted the differences between Scotland and Denmark including low community ownership, grid access, regulatory and other barriers. They are building 103 large (3mw) turbines in a 50/50 joint venture with SSE and the charitable trust. The project is at this scale because of the costs of the 200 mile sub-sea cable needed to connect Shetland to the grid.

 The last speaker was Martin Mathers from ScottishPower Renewables (personal capacity) who had undertaken a comparative study of the  Danish experience with a proposed project on Colonsay that didn’t get off the ground. Denmark was putting up wind turbines in the 1980’s and he highlighted many of the differences between the two countries over the past 30 years. He pointed out that ScottishPower had tried community joint ventures, but found reluctance by communities to take risk.

 In the discussion there was a predictable attack on planners from one MSP. A bit rich given that as an MSP he is responsible for the laws and regulations that planners have to enforce. Other speakers also highlighted the local political pressures placed on planners as well as having to balance national and local objections to many schemes.  The anti-wind farm lobby is not exactly slow in coming forward, whatever we might think of their arguments.

 The strength of Nordic Horizons is that the aim is not just to hear fine presentations, but to consider what we might learn from our Scandinavian cousins. Some of the lessons from Denmark’s energy policy include:

  • Strong political vision over the long term with commensurate policy and planning provisions.
  • Feed in tariffs to create the incentive.
  • A state owned grid that will usually connect up communities. The cost is repaid through a public service obligation payment in energy bills.
  • A clear focus on energy efficiency. 
  • Ability and willingness of local government to get involved. A utilities culture largely lost in the UK.
  • Smaller local authorities to support real communities of place might help.

 As Drew Ratter put it, we could do with some Tom Johnston style state direction!

 There will be a full recording of the session and the presentations on the Nordic Horizons website. Well worth a look.

1 Comment

  1. Danny Gillespie

    Good piece Dave.

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