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AI interview with Connie Hedegaard, Denmark’s first Minister for Climate and Energy

Denmark will be hosting the 15th Conference of the Parties or COP to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change this December. The conference, known as COP 15, will be held in Copenhagen from the 7th to the 18th of December. Denmark has been at the forefront of the move to implement the swift action recommended by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The Danish government’s overarching goal is that COP15 will result in an ambitious global agreement that includes all the countries of the world and which sets ambitious targets for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

Denmark’s commitment to climate change is reflected in its Climate and Energy Ministry which was established in November 2007 as part of the Danish government’s initiative to promote a green, eco-sustainable society. “This objective means that the Climate and Energy Ministry must work towards the realization of a stable and secure energy supply and promote the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Denmark is similar to other countries in that it faces two major global challenges: to address global warming and create energy security. The answer to these challenges lies in the way we produce and consume energy and in our ability to adapt society to climate change. The government’s long-term vision is for Denmark to be 100 percent independent of reliance on fossil fuels. An independent climate commission is investigating how this vision can be achieved,” says the ministry.

As part of this effort, in February 2008, the Danish government entered into an energy agreement with most political parties to guarantee the best conditions for wind and other renewable forms of energy such as biomass and biogas. The political parties agreed that renewable energy in 2011 will account for 20 percent of Denmark’s energy consumption. In addition to raising the transfer price of power from the country’s wind turbines, biomass and biogas, parties agreed to construct 400 MW of new offshore wind turbines by 2012. The agreement also covered the creation of a compensation scheme for people living near wind turbines, a purchasing rights scheme, a green scheme and a guarantee fund. 

The agreement included energy conservation measures such as a targeted drop in energy consumption of four percent by 2020 compared to 2006. Hydrogen fuelled cars will be tax-free, as will electric cars, provisionally up until 2012, and a pool of DKK 35 million is to be set aside to cover research into electric cars. For research into solar and wave power etc., a further DKK 25 million is to be set aside each year for the next four years.

This February, project EDISON – short for Electric Vehicles in a Distributed and Integrated Market using Sustainable Energy and Open Networks – was kicked off in Denmark. The EDISON project is being run by a Denmark-based consortium which includes IBM, Siemens, Eurisco, DONG Energy, Østkraft, Risø/DTU (Technical University of Denmark) and the Danish Energy Association. The project will play a critical role in developing the smart infrastructure required for the large scale roll-out of electric cars in Denmark.

Automotive Industries spoke to Denmark’s first Minister for Climate and Energy, Connie Hedegaard 

AI: How critical will the EDISON project be to Denmark’s aim to become a greener, more sustainable society?

CH: The EDISON project will contribute with critical knowledge on how to integrate electric cars into the power grid. This is important, because electric cars provide a great opportunity for storing power from fluctuating renewable sources such as wind and solar energy. So if we succeed in integrating electric cars into our power structure it will help us become less dependant on fossil fuels and contribute to making Denmark a greener and more sustainable society. That is also why we have chosen to exempt electrical cars from taxation until 2012. And already now the government has announced that electrical cars will be given a comparativeadvantage taxwise at least until 2015.

AI: What are the other projects your government is undertaking to achieve this goal?

CH: For almost 30 years, shifting Danish governments together with a broad majority in Parliament have worked to rid Denmark of our past energy dependence and to sieze the many benefits of renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation. As a result, Denmark’s total energy consumption has remained almost stable since the early 1970s, while our Economy has grown substantially. At the same time we have experienced significant growth in our export of energy technology and we have created an abundance of energy related jobs in parts of the country that have fallen victim to outsourcing of other indutries.

We believe that we have chosen the right path and so we continue to build on our positive results end experience. We have chosen to focus on electric cars as one of many new initiatives. We have set aggresive renewable energy targets and measures aimed at improving energy efficiency. We have decided to investment heavily in renewable energy – with an additional 400 MW offshore windfarm as the most visible example on top of two other offshore windparks, each producing 200 MW . From 2012 this offshore windfarm will provide renewable energy enough to give electricity to 400.000 Danish households. This means three new offshore windfarms in just four years producing a total of 800 MW of renewable energy. And, we have increased the energy taxes and established a support scheme for renovation of residential buildings, as part of the recent tax reform. Shortly we will present initiaitives in the agriculturual sector that will create green growth as well as producing biofuels.

AI: Will Denmark be able to meet its targets of cutting energy consumption by 2020 and ensuring that 20 per cent of energy used will be from renewable sources by 2011?

CH: Yes. The latest forecast shows that we may well reach our goals with existing measures already. And we will continue to push new measures and strengthen our efforts. A new car tax scheme will be tabled in early 2010, introducing road pricing combined with tax incentives for buying energy efficient cars. The road pricing system will be differentiated according to CO2 emissions and environmental impact and congestion.

AI: How has the move to make electric and hydrogen-fuelled cars tax-free impacted their popularity? Would you advise other nations to offer these initiatives?

CH: With the tax exemption scheme it is possible to sell electric cars at prices close to conventional cars – including the price for the battery-package.

The interest in electric cars is growning significantly in Denmark right now. Not only because of the tax exemption, but also due to the private investment project “Better Place” and the introduction of a special test scheme for electric cars. In Parliament, there is now broad political support for the introduction of electric cars in Denmark. And people have begun to realise that electric cars are becoming competitive on speed, cruising range, size etc. while outperforming ordinary cars on CO2 emission and noise. But it is of course crucial for the further development to solve the battey-issue so cars will be able to drive longer on each charging.

AI: What role do state owned companies like EnergiNet play in Denmark’s aim to cut energy consumption?

CH: operates the power and natural gas systems and is responsible for maintaining a sufficient transmission network. In addition, runs a number of R&D programmes focusing both on energy supply and increasing also on how to adjust energy demand. The main challenge for right now is how to integrate the increasing amount of wind generated power into the electricity system.

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