Canadian Biomass Magazine

Danish Renewable Energy

April 1, 2011
By Gordon Murray

While promoting Canadian wood pellets, I recently visited two of Denmark’s largest power generators—Dong Energy and Vattenfall—and toured their power plants near Copenhagen.

While promoting Canadian wood pellets, I recently visited two of Denmark’s largest power generators—Dong Energy and Vattenfall—and toured their power plants near Copenhagen.  The contrast between Denmark and Canada is remarkable when considering each country’s approach to energy policy and greenhouse gas reduction.

Photo: Dong Energy

Canada is highly reliant on energy intensive fossil-fuel-based industries.  Not only has the fossil industries’ powerful lobby prevented any meaningful federal government action on global warming, it’s estimated that they receive $1.4 billion a year in government subsidies. 

Consequently, Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions have risen by 24% between 1990 and 2008, the result of economic and population growth in the absence of adequate government efforts to clean up the country’s energy systems. And without new government policies, emissions are projected to continue growing even more quickly.

The Canadian government has now adopted a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 17% from 2005 levels (equivalent to 2% above 1990 levels) by 2020.  But the government has produced no plan or legislation to meet this target, and experts agree that the government’s current policies have no chance of reaching it.  It is therefore difficult to avoid the conclusion that Canada’s greenhouse gas target is for the government’s public relations purposes only.  This is bad news for Canadian pellet producers who eventually hope to sell their product into a domestic industrial market.


Denmark has taken a different approach.  Danish government policy aims for Denmark to be a green, sustainable society by 2020 and among the three most energy efficient countries in the OECD (note: the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development is an organization of 34 countries, including Canada, whose goal is to stimulate economic progress and world trade). 

The government’s long-term vision is that Denmark will become independent of fossil fuels by 2050 while reducing greenhouse gases by 80–95% compared to 1990.  This will require a total conversion of the Danish energy system, away from oil, coal, and gas, which today account for more than 80% of energy consumption, to green energy, with wind turbines and bioenergy as the most important elements.

The European Union presently has a goal of reducing GHG emissions by 20% by 2020 from the 1990 level.  Denmark is urging the EU to adopt an even stricter goal of 30%.

In the short term, Denmark has adopted a plan to cut national coal consumption by one-quarter by forcing power producers to switch from coal to biomass.  The idea is that the country’s five largest cities will be declared coal-free areas.  The government intends for this plan to be operational by 2011.

Because Danish biomass resources are limited, this is great news for Canadian wood pellet producers, who already have a small share of the Danish pellet market along with Sweden, Finland, and Russia.

Danish coal power plants are already remarkably efficient.  Any coal plant makes just two things: electricity and heat.  Most coal plants, including those in Canada, use only the electricity, sending the heat up the chimney as waste.  Thus, most coal power plants are only about 30% fuel efficient.  In Danish power plants, both electricity and heat are used (known as combined heat and power, CHP).  The heat is captured and used to heat hot water, which is pumped through a vast network of super-insulated pipes to heat homes throughout the country (called district heating).  Denmark’s best power plants are more than 90% fuel efficient.  Today, more than 70% of Denmark’s homes are heated by district heating, which is extremely rare in Canada.

One of the power plants I visited was Dong Energy’s Avedøre Power Station near Copenhagen, which provides electricity for 1.3 million homes in northern Europe and district heating for 200,000 homes in Greater Copenhagen.  Total electricity production is 825 MW and heat production is 575 MJ (megaJoules).  The facility has two units.  Unit 1 is coal- and oil-fired.  Unit 2 uses several types of fuel, including natural gas, oil, and biofuels (straw and wood pellets).  It is one of the world’s most efficient CHP facilities, using up to 94% of the energy in the fuel.  The two 55-MW gas turbines operate as peak load facilities when electricity and heat demand are high.  The plant consumes 600,000 tonnes/year of wood pellets.

I also visited Vattenfall’s Amager Power Station near Copenhagen, which has a total electricity capacity of 438 MW and thermal power capacity of 747 MW, which corresponds to the heating required by about 115,000 households.  It has three units.  Unit 1 was originally commissioned in 1971 and burned exclusively coal.  It was recently renovated and recommissioned in May 2010 and is now capable of burning oil, coal, and biomass.  The new capacity is 80 MW of electricity and 331 MW of district heating.  The renovated unit will save more than 600,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually compared to emissions created from the same amount of electricity generation and heat production based on coal. 

Unit 2 was originally commissioned in 1972.  It was converted to burn biomass in 2003 and now uses mainly wood pellets as fuel.  It has a capacity of 95 MW of electricity and 166 MW of district heating.  Unit 3 was commissioned in 1989 and has a capacity of 263 MW of electricity and 370 MW of district heating.

The station burns about 700,000 tonnes/year of coal. Oil is used only for start-up, and consumption is slightly more than 3,000 tonnes/year.  The station also burns about 70,000 tonnes/year of biomass in the form of straw pellets and wood pellets.  Biomass consumption will increase to around 150,000 tonnes annually when unit 1 is back at full production.

Denmark presently imports 85% of its annual wood pellet consumption.  This figure will increase as the country implements it coal reduction plans.  This presents a great opportunity for Canadian wood pellet producers. 

The unfortunate news is that we are still unable to sell any pellets to power producers in our own country.  We need to hope that the Canadian government will learn from Denmark and become serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions here at home.

Gordon Murray is executive director of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada ( and can be reached at 250-837-8821 or

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