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On November 24, 2009, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and the Embassy of Denmark held a briefing on how Denmark has transitioned to a low carbon economy and emerged as a global clean energy technology leader. Much of the debate over climate policy in the United States has focused on costs, job losses, and concern about international competitiveness. However, multiple analyses and case studies show that addressing climate change can actually bring multiple benefits. This briefing explained how Denmark has reduced its carbon footprint by investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy, and how this strategy has translated into a thriving economy and a high quality of life for its residents.

  • Denmark is hosting the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 15) negotiations in Copenhagen beginning December 7, 2009. The Danish government hopes that the conference will produce a binding political agreement to limit global warming to a 2°C increase.
  • When the energy crisis hit in the 1970s, Denmark was 99 percent dependent on foreign energy. Today Denmark has achieved energy independence.
  • Since 1990, Denmark has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 14 percent. Over the same timeframe, Danish energy consumption has stayed constant and Denmark’s gross domestic product has grown by more than 40 percent.
  • Denmark is the most energy efficient country in the EU, due to carbon pricing (through energy taxes, carbon taxes, and the “cap and trade” system known as the EU Emissions Trading Scheme), strict building codes, energy labeling programs, and other policy measures. Denmark has spurred renewable energy development by establishing feed-in tariffs and modernizing the electric grid.
  • Renewable resources supply 17 percent of Denmark’s total energy and the government plans to reach 30 percent by 2030.
  • Renewable resources currently supply almost 30 percent of Denmark’s electricity, despite having no hydropower resources. Wind power is the largest source of renewable electricity, followed by biomass.
  • Denmark has radically changed its waste management strategies in recent decades. Today, Copenhagen puts only three percent of its waste into landfills and incinerates 39 percent to generate electricity for thousands of households.
  • Denmark’s investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy has driven rapid growth in its clean energy industries, with Danish companies such as Vestas, Novozymes, Dansico, Grundfos, and Danfos emerging as world leaders. Clean energy technologies account for about 10 percent of total Danish exports and Denmark’s unemployment rate is 4.2 percent.
  • Novozymes is the world leader in enzymes for biofuel production. One kilogram of enzymes takes 1-10 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2) to produce, but can reduce CO2 emissions further along the process by 30-3,800 kilograms. A World Wildlife Federation study commissioned by Novozymes found that biotechnology can reduce up to 2.5 billion tons of CO2 emissions while creating 800,000 jobs in the sector by 2022.
  • COWI is a Danish consultancy that focuses on district energy and combined heat and power (CHP). CHP systems can reach 90 percent energy efficiency, compared to 40 percent for electricity-only production, because the “waste” heat is used to heat and cool surrounding buildings.
  • Denmark still relies on coal for 52 percent of its electricity, but the efficiency gained through CHP has allowed the country to reduce its emissions substantially. More than half of Danish electricity is produced in CHP plants, compared to a global average of only nine percent.
  • District energy, which uses a network of pipes to provide space and water heating for multiple buildings, is the “best hidden secret” in energy because it is a proven technology that can use any fuel, is quiet and invisible, and is a cost-effective form of energy storage. Sixty percent of buildings in Denmark and 98 percent of buildings in Copenhagen are connected to district energy systems.
  • Grundfos is a Danish company with 17,000 employees worldwide that creates the pumps used for district energy systems. The company attributes Danish energy government policies and workforce training programs for its success because they allow systems-thinking on a city-wide scale, instead of only considering specific buildings.

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