Weeks before a high-profile climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Danish officials are talking up an ambitious program to develop the world's largest offshore wind energy complex, with the potential to provide enough green energy to power not just Denmark, but some of its neighbors as well.
The complex, to sit on and around an artificial North Sea island about 80 km off Denmark's coast, would span an area up to the size of 64 soccer fields and support thermal storage facilities, HVDC converters, a heliport, and a research and visitor center.
Energy Island Envisioned by Denmark
"You can have hundreds of wind turbines around this island," said Dan Jorgensen, Denmark's climate and energy minister, during a visit to Washington this month. His government calculates that the energy island could yield up to 10 gigawatts of electricity — enough for 10 million households.
"Since we're only 5.8 million people in Denmark, that's far more electricity than we'll need for ourselves, so we want to find other countries to be part of this," Jorgensen said, adding that Denmark is in talks with other European countries.
The 10-gigawatt estimate is at the high end of what might finally be built. Current planning allows for a range of from three to 10 gigawatts, according to Jorgensen. But even at the low end, the energy island would dwarf the largest existing offshore wind farm — Britain's Walney Extension Offshore Wind Farm in the Irish Sea that has a capacity to generate 0.66 gigawatts and provide power to 600,000 homes.
The world's largest wind farm of any kind is a 10-gigawatt complex completed this summer and based in the northwestern Gansu province of China. The next largest of any kind is a 1.6-gigawatt wind farm in Jaisalmer, India.
"It's the biggest infrastructure investment in the history of my country, but we foresee it will be a good business model," Jorgensen told VOA.
"There will be some initial costs there, but we're willing to bear them because this will also mean that we will get the project itself, but also the development know-how, the skills, and the expertise that we want."
The project is remarkable not just for its size but also for its innovative approach to some of the most difficult obstacles to weaning the world off fossil fuels. These include finding an effective way to store energy generated from wind turbines, and a way to transform the electricity into fuels to power transportation systems.
Denmark's plan is to transform the electricity into hydrogen, which can be used directly as an energy source or turned into fuels for use "in ships, planes and trucks," as Jorgensen put it.
"This sounds a bit like science fiction, but actually it's just science; we know how to do it," he said.
While talks between the Danish government, industry, scientists and potential investors are still in the early stage, one decision has already been made, Jorgensen said.
"We want at least 50.1% of the island to be publicly owned," he said, calling the island "critical infrastructure because it'll be such a huge part of our energy supply." He added that the actual wind turbines will be owned by investors.
"So far we have seen interest from Danish companies and investment funds; we've also seen interest from the governments of several European countries. We expect, of course, this will also mean interest from companies from other countries, definitely European, but probably also others."
Jacob F. Kirkegaard, a Danish economist based in Brussels, says the ambitious plan is plausible in light of Denmark's track record in developing green energy.
"There are already many days in which Denmark gets all its electrical power from wind energy, so rapid electrification is coming as are further rapid expansions of offshore wind farms," he told VOA in an exchange of emails.
He said he has "no doubt" that Denmark will achieve full decarbonization by 2050, "probably even considerably before" that date, thanks to broad public support, especially from the young.
According to the Danish embassy in Washington, more than 50% of Denmark's electrical grid is already powered by wind and solar energy, and the government projects that renewables will meet 100% of the nation's electricity needs by 2028.