Energy Plans, Energy Markets, and Energy Policies in the European Union:
The positive environmental impacts of renewable energy systems are high, especially in regardings to mitigating climate change. However, some critique the variability of renewable energy sources, such as wind energy which is only widely available during certain seasons of the year or solar energy which is not available at night. A district energy system, much like the one in Denmark, is a potential solution to this issue.
To build resilience, Denmark has established multiple connections, which are spread throughout the country, to ensure that if access to one energy source is low, there is another available to fulfill the country’s energy demands. Every type of renewable energy technology can be connected to the district energy system. District energy is a large investment financially, and it requires much planning, but it builds resilience and can last over the long-term.
In 1973, Denmark was heavily reliant on fossil fuels for electricity. According to Bryan Walsh of TIME Magazine, oil was responsible for 90% of Denmark’s electricity consumption. When oil prices skyrocketed during the oil crisis of 1973, Denmark suffered.
Following the incident, Denmark began to diversify its energy supply. The Danish government has since announced its intention to become a fossil-free economy and instead, rely solely on renewables by 2050.
Outside of Denmark, the European Commission has ambitious, environmentally-friendly energy goals, but its potential to meet these goals are limited by the detached and incohesive energy systems of the European Union’s constituents. Every year, the European Union must pay 350 billion Euros (roughly 430 billion U.S. dollars) to import energy (European Commission, 2012). This dependence is exacerbated by the fact that population and demand for energy are rapidly rising. According to the Commission,
“Europe depends on the rest of the world for its energy. The European Union, the world’s second largest economy, consumes one fifth of the world’s energy but has very few reserves of its own. Fortunately, here in Europe, our portfolio — known as the ‘energy mix’ — is very diverse: from Austria’s many dams, Poland’s coal mines or France’s nuclear power stations to the oil rigs of the North Sea and the gas fields of the Netherlands and Denmark, none of Europe’s countries are alike, and that is no bad thing. Provided, of course, that those countries work together to make the most of their diversity.”
We can see how Europe has already begun to take advantage of this diversity. Nordlink, a subsea cable, will allow Norway and Germany to collaborate across the energy sector. Norway has abundant infrastructure for hydropower, whereas Germany has more access to wind and solar energy. At times or seasons when Norway lacks hydropower, Germany can use Nordlink to trade energy to Norway, and when Germany lacks solar or wind power, Norway can do the same. The project is already in progress and on track to be completed by 2020, according to Nordlink’s website. Other plans and infrastructure for trans-European networks for energy are also being developed, including the North Seas offshore grid (NSOG), NSI West Electricity, NSI East Electricity, and Baltic Energy Market Interconnection Plan in Electricity (BEMIP Electricity).
The international energy system could look completely different if we allowed energy to flow more freely across national borders. If energy is a commodity that we can trade and transfer to meet public demands and needs, why don’t it we always treat it as one?
For more information:
This article from The Guardian explains the possible benefits of following a district energy model such as Denmark’s.
The European Commission produced this video to provide further information about Europe’s Energy Security Strategy: