Why can’t wind and solar be part of the mix that feeds the grid, asks Mandi Smallhorne.
At the end of February, I spent a week in Denmark, a country where the streets are clean, cyclists are a traffic priority (Copenhagen has more than 40 km of cycle lanes and about a third of all trips to work and school are done by bike), and most things work (I say most things – I am very aware that Denmark is not the perfect little country it would like to be seen as, but on the other hand, far more things work than in South Africa).
I was with two other South African journalists, as well as journalists from Ghana and Kenya, all of us guests of International Media Support, an organisation begun in 2001 to support local media in countries “affected by armed conflict, human insecurity and political transition”, according to the website.
We were there to look at how Denmark combines environmental goals with economic growth, as well as Danish organisations and companies working on similar goals in Africa – after all, environmental degradation is a huge and growing contributor to ‘human insecurity’ on this continent.
Denmark is never likely to see the kind of load-shedding havoc we’re experiencing. In the early 1970s, during the Opec oil crisis, the country embarked on a renewable energy policy to make it relatively independent of imported fossil fuels and which has not wavered since, whatever the ideologies of the government at any time.
This early start has made it an example of how wind power can be introduced into the power mix and fill a significant part of the country’s needs. Everywhere you go outside the big cities you see turbines, some of them already 20 years old and due for replacement. Their blades tumble slowly in the breeze as they feed into the national grid – by the end of 2012, a third of the power consumed by Danes came from these turbines.
Denmark’s goal is to be completely fossil fuel-free by 2050. To this end, they’ve embarked on a number of other strategies which encourage small and medium-sized enterprises to generate energy they can feed back into the grid.
We visited a pig farmer, Erik Broholm Andersen, in the Jutland region, whose 20 000 pigs yield bio-materials (he said discreetly) which are converted into biogas which powers a generator that feeds energy back into the grid. (Since the farm’s name is Boel, I couldn’t help saying it was all Boel s**t!)
We also – and very relevantly – visited a company called SystemTeknik, where the regiona