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Danish tradition of collaboration a strength in energy transition

image credit: Glenda Napier, the head of the new Energy Cluster Denmark body

The head of the new Energy Cluster Denmark body, Glenda Napier, discusses the next steps for the country’s energy transition and how innovation and collaboration will remain crucial to its success


At the start of July, three of Denmark’s innovation cluster organisations merged to form a single entity that covers the full energy spectrum. The newly formed Energy Cluster Denmark combines the Energy Innovation Cluster (EIC), Clean Energy and the House of Energy. It will be headed by the former EIC chief Glenda Napier.

Napier says the combination of the three bodies follows the natural evolution of the energy sector, where silos are breaking down as each part of the system becomes more aware of the other and they all work more closely together.

Speaking with FORESIGHT Climate & Energy on the eve of the new organisation’s official launch on July 1, Napier offered her insights into the energy transition in Denmark and why the country is so committed to reducing emissions.


FORESIGHT: Can you explain the benefits of merging the three organisations into a single cluster?

Glenda Napier: The rationale is simple. Joining forces will generate more innovative power. By merging the three Danish energy clusters, we can concentrate and focus the collective innovation efforts across the entire energy sector into one, strong, national cluster.

Secondly, the merger is the next natural step in the transition of the energy sector. We are seeing a transformation from separate energy industries (heating, transport, electricity) to a mutual dependent and supporting energy system, where all sectors combine in building one strong integrated system with wind energy as the cornerstone.

The new cluster organisation realises a shared vision from the energy industry and sector. In Energy Cluster Denmark, every major company, innovative start-up, university, public entity, and small- and medium-sized enterprise will have one point of contact for all the innovative collaborations happening. This will further enhance the collective innovation strength and bring more innovation “bang for the buck”.

Adding to that, the new organisation scope is fully aligned with the transformation trend in the energy sectors towards one system. The ambition is to develop an integrated, coherent energy system, where production, storage, infrastructure, and efficiency are closely linked areas. We will be able to aid that transformation through better innovation projects.

The new national cluster organisation comes with a strong mandate in the full backing of the entire energy industry and sector as well as the Danish Ministry for Climate, Energy and Utilities and all other relevant public entities. That is a solid platform. Energy Cluster Denmark will be the one point of contact for all the innovative collaborations.


F: Where did your interest in energy innovation come from? What attracted you to this role?

GN: I am driven by getting things done, making a difference, and changing the world for the better – working with innovation in the energy sector ticks every box. To be trusted with the opportunity to head the facilitators of the public innovation support in a field of national and international interest is highly motivating.


F: Is a 70% reduction in Denmark’s emissions by 2030 achievable?

GN: The national ambition of a 70% reduction is a shared goal and inspiration for all of us in Denmark, not least for us working in the energy system. Getting there will require new technologies and an innovative approach across industries and sectors and I am delighted to see the full commitment from the entire sector.

[The 70% emissions reduction] is achievable. The government established teams for contributions to reach the goal. The food industry is contributing, the building industry, the energy industry. Everyone was invited in and provided action plans. It will be a lot of work and coordination but our bigger organisation will prepare for the whole energy sector to collaborate. We will be linking energy sectors in a new way.

There will be a lot of regulation that needs to be implemented and that is being implemented. Infrastructure is still needed. There is a strong ambition to go fully electric but we need some political decisions so that infrastructure can be added to support the higher influx of renewable energy.


F: What makes Denmark the leader in the clean energy transition? Why has it achieved so much?

GN: Historically, we learned the hard way in the 1970s what being a country short on natural resources means to the economy. The oil crises led to a transformation of the energy sector through the establishment of a multi-string energy supply system making us less dependent on oil imports from the Middle East. At the same time, it created a focus on securing our own steady source of energy and on energy consumption and efficiency.

It is important to emphasise that Denmark was the first nation to invest heavily in wind power as part of a national ambition to develop a green alternative to fossil fuels. That is a big part of the explanation of Denmark’s leading position today. This has been further strengthened by the surge in climate awareness over the last few years.

Add to that the Danish tradition of collaboration in getting to a common goal. We are largely built on companies that have needed to collaborate and we have a unique tradition of showing confidence in each other. The openness, cooperation and curiosity has driven the development of our energy sector and continues to do so. Denmark has the potential to become the worlds green valley – an energy incubator comparable to Silicon Valley.


F: How will the remaining 30% reduction be achieved? How long will oil and gas continue playing a role in Denmark’s energy mix?

GN: During the decade between 2006 and 2016, we managed to transform the Danish electricity supply from being 70% fossil fuels based to being 70% renewable energy based. Innovation was key to getting there.

How long the oil and gas sector will play a role is a question for the politicians. The technology to complete a transition towards entirely renewable sources is not there yet. Right now, the world is still very much dependent on oil and gas, as we have yet to develop alternatives.

The Danish oil and gas production remains one of the lowest in terms of carbon footprint anywhere in the world, and the operators in the Danish sector of the North Sea all share an ambition to further reduce the emissions. Right now, we have projects looking into supplying the operations offshore with electricity from wind farms, for instance.


F: How important is storage to achieving net zero? Are there other ways to balance or reinforce the grid?

GN: The Danish wind pioneer Henrik Stiesdal sums it up like this: If we solve the storage problem, we solve the climate crisis. It is stretching it a bit, but in reality, it is as simple as that if you factor all sorts of storage in. There could be other ways of balancing the grid to enable it to absorb more renewable energy but getting to zero without getting answers to the question of storage seems unlikely.

Storage has to be solved to move forward. Battery storage has helped us some of the way. It helps storing energy over shorter periods of time. For efficient sector coupling we need longer term storage. New technologies like Power-to-X will be vital. Stiesdal is working with us on thermal storage projects which are looking into storage issues over a different time span.


F: Is hydrogen the silver bullet? Why is Denmark investing so much time in the technology?

GN: While I do not see hydrogen as being the silver bullet solving everything, it remains very interesting for several reasons as it is one way of getting more wind power into the energy mix. We already work with Power-to-X technologies and expect to expand our project portfolio within the field. I see hydrogen as one of several interesting technologies, [like] for tomorrow’s transport sector. An innovative approach to all aspects of energy innovation will get us over the line.


F: How big is Denmark’s export potential for green technology? Which areas have the most export potential?

GN: If we can solve sector coupling, linking the green energy produced by offshore wind and onshore wind with the likes of heat or transport, the potential is endless. Imagine eliminating fossil fuels from heavy transport, shipping, air transport and heating by effectively developing green fuels based on wind energy. If we can come full circle with an interconnected, green, consistent, and efficient energy system, the potential to deliver these innovative solutions and technologies to the entire planet is mindboggling!


F: What technologies / projects within the cluster are you most excited about?

GN: There’s a lot of projects that I would not prioritise over the others. One area that is really important is Power-to-X. We are looking at how oil and gas operators can use hydrogen in their offshore production. It pushes one area of the energy sector that needs to become greener. Power-to-X is in demand with wind companies like Vestas and Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy.

Now we have got a bigger cluster organisation we have to look at energy efficiency. Addressing that will also take a lot of focus.


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