Fossil Free Energy – Lessons from Danish Initiatives and Outcomes!

Pakistani media is abuzz with a cacophony of energy related investments and projects initiated by the government or sponsored by its allies like China, Russia, Turkey and the U.S to tackle the energy crisis. Understandably Pakistani government’s most of steps are geared towards generating energy from conventional sources, e.g., oil and coal, fossil free sources of energy are also making headway in the mix of energy sources. Solar, wind, small hydro power projects have been initiated. However, it is going to be an uphill journey for building competency in not only harnessing fossil free sources of generating energy to a significant level but also in influencing our nation’s perception and attitude towards renewable energy sources. One way to accelerate the process of building capacities and changing the mindset is learning from those who are considered thought leaders and innovators in this area. And no doubt Denmark is one of the World leaders in the area of energy efficiency and green growth.

It is hard not to get inspired by what Denmark has achieved in the field of energy efficiency, given the fact that it has also learned its lessons hard way. Following the Arab Israel war of 1973, that led to an oil embargo in many countries, Denmark which was 99% dependant on imported oil found itself in hot waters. What followed was a sustained, systematic and focused approach to ward off such oil shocks with considerable attention given to renewable energy. Forty years on, today, the country ‘s target is to have fossil free energy by 2050. As of 2012, wind power accounted for 30% of the generated electricity. hence, no doubt that for Pakistan as for the rest of the world, this country of a relatively small population holds lessons that I can call “green pearls of wisdom”.

People power

The main lesson to learn from Denmark is how strongly the civil society felt connected with the environment and energy. They have been pioneers in conceiving a model where the relationship between people and energy was reconstituted.  Research promoting alternative energy plans and being discussed in public for a debate have led to a responsive, reflexive and active society aiming for sustainable energy. During the first energy plan in 1976, where nuclear energy was the favored option of policy makers and electricity industry, a strong civil society opposed it and supported wind power instead.   The early energy policies, were then built around championing community energy. Today, community wind projects not only plan to add 1800MW of wind power but also turn many into wind entrepreneurs. “Under the Buy Legal System, developers of on and off shore wind farms must offer shares atleast 20% of the total project to the local residents.” The Danish community has owned, controlled and benefited from wind turbine projects which gave both economic and social benefits.

Pakistan can also harvest the sun’s energy by running community/cooperative solar projects to officially generate clean, affordable energy on the same model as Denmark.  When practiced ,  it will result in improved energy awareness, increased acceptance of renewable energy, and  a revitalized society with budding renewable energy entrepreneurs.  A solar fund can be created where individuals paying income tax can be exempted for the investment made. For this, the government needs to formulate regulation supporting local cooperative ownership of renewable energy projects.

Political Context

The constant interaction between the parliament and the public has shaped the overall political context of the Danish energy policy. The political environment remained supportive of a “green policy” until 2001 when the new government slashed funding for renewable energy programs in favor of deregulating energy markets . The same government reversed its decision in 2004 in response to public pressure. Energy and environment remained an important political agenda in the elections of 2011 where the government linked the clean energy, technology and environmental issues to economic growth of the country.

Henrik Lund, a professor at Aalborg University Denmark has introduced the concept of Choice Awareness Theory in his book  “Renewable Energy Systems: the choice and modeling of 100% renewable solutions”. According to this theory, there is a true and a false choice. The Danish society opted for a true choice i.e breaking the oil import dependency by energy security through a radical technological energy setup, emphasis on job creation, innovation and balance of payment and merging environment and development. All this needed a political infrastructure to bring the stakeholders together and come up with the best possible solutions. Denmark’s strong democratic foundations made it possible.

Pakistan’s democratic infrastructure can learn from Denmark to advocate green growth policies. Pakistan needs to align the goals of the energy, economy and environment. An alignment of the goals will lead to optimum actions serving not only socio- benefits, economic benefits but environmental benefits aswell. This will lead the organizations and institutions make a  radical technological change to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy and thus opt for a true choice as per Lund. Our political setup needs to address governance and management issues, rise above the petty differences and bring all stakeholders on board. It is unfortunate that environment and sustainable development remain “abstract” and its association with the economic development a philosophical concept for our leaders. The present government has given a cold shoulder to implement the National Climate Change Policy which was launched earlier this year.  Considering Pakistan’s vulnerability to climate chaos, we  must link our energy security, environmental protection and economic growth with sustainable development. Political resistance to green growth policies must end.

Another important lesson is that Danish politicians have taught is that “there is a cost to invest in the future but there is also a cost not to do it.” The policy makers have been savvy enough to maintain a balance between economic growth and achieving clean energy targets. They introduced carbon tax by putting up a framework that makes it more attractive for the businesses to make the transition to clean energy. It was levied with the aim of returning the tax to the business industry through subsidies for research and investment in renewable energy and related clean energy solutions.

The goal was not maximizing the tax revenue but “earmarking much of it to subsidize environmental innovation.” Today, Denmark stands as the lead exporter in clean energy technology. Thus they have controlled the carbon emissions while maintaining their competitive position in the clean energy market. This behavior has pushed many firms to innovate knowing it is a win-win situation for both the firm and the government . Our policy makers and the business sector really need to open their eyes to see that taxes can be introduced to our own competitive advantage. In the past, politicians have always been faint hearted to introduce painful yet practical measures of curtailing the subsidies and introducing tariffs and energy tax.The Danish model quite conveniently teaches us that no pains no gains.

Unearthing the pearls of wisdom through research

The ongoing journey that started almost 40 years has made Denmark one of the leading countries in the World in terms of generating a significant proportion of energy from “renewable resources” as well as a leader of technological innovation and social engineering for “fossil free energy”. It was a combination of developing and leveraging the cutting edge know-how in fossil -free energy, intense collaboration between the industry and research institutes, and social actors that has led them to become a nation that is not only  self sufficient, but also able to export energy, expertise, and technologies. I believe that the policy makers, industrialists, scientists, and general public in Pakistan can learn a lot about the “less energy, more growth” style of Danish prosperity through active multi-tier engagements. Any kind of collaboration between Denmark and Pakistan in general and energy related knowledge sharing initiatives in particular will help set a positive vibe among people and governments in these countries which have not had great friendly links because of misunderstanding and mistrust caused by some unfortunate controversial issues. While strategic initiatives and policies at the government level are important, we should not underestimate the potential usefulness and value of individual and organizational connections for encouraging research, education and training in energy related technologies and solutions that have led Danish people and companies to develop and use smart energy solutions. Pakistani officials or general public interested in gaining the expertise and know-how about solving their acute energy crisis can look for the “Pearls of green energy wisdom” in the state-of-the-art clean tech companies, interdisciplinary research and innovation centres across many Danish universities like Aalborg University, Technical University of Denmark (DTU), Aarhus University, and many other ;research centres and institutes focused on devising new ways of generating renewable energy, education and training.

One can easily think of huge number of different types and scope of mutually beneficial Pak-Danish collaborations in the green energy sector; collaborative ties can be started and nurtured in different sectors, ranging from the households, the businesses, the agriculture, the transportation, the education, the research, and the public agencies. Such activities will also help open up the minds of Pakistani society through social networking and social actions to the notion that green energy along with economic growth is the most viable, and sustainable solution to the energy system and to life in general.

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