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Nuclear Energy in Denmark

(Updated June 2014)

  • Denmark gets one-third of its electricity from coal, and a similar amount from wind.
  • The country is part of two major electrical grids which depend on nuclear power for much of the base-load supply.
  • About ten percent of domestic consumption is from nuclear power.

Denmark was once at the forefront of nuclear research and had planned on building nuclear power plants. However, in 1985, the Danish parliament passed a resolution that nuclear power plants would not be built in the country and there is currently no move to reverse this situation.

In 2012, Denmark generated 30.4 billion kWh of electricity gross, 10.6 billion kWh of this from coal, 4.2 billion kWh from gas, 4.9 billion kWh from biofuels/waste and 10.3 billion kWh from wind. These figures however are misleading since Denmark is neither unified electrically nor isolated – East Denmark (Zeeland) and West Denmark (Jutland & Funen) are connecteda only by a 500 MWe link and each is part of a major grid system. In 2011, about 10.4 billion kWh was exported and 11.7 billion kWh imported. In 2011 about 2.3 billion kWh (net) was exported to Germany, and net imports from Norway and Sweden were about 1.2 billion kWh and 2.4 billion kWh, respectively.

Per capita electricity use is about 5600 kWh/yr and has been largely unchanged since 1990. In 2007, electricity prices in the country were the highest in the worldb.

Energinet.dk is the transmission system operator and owner of the main electrical infrastructure in Denmark. It took over in 2005 from Elkraft in East Denmark, and Eltra in West Denmark.  DONG Energy is the main power producer, 60% government-owned from late 2013, and with much offshore wind capacity.

New offshore wind capacity projects include DONG’s Borkum Riffgrund 1 (320 MWe), Gode Wind (582 MWe) Duddon Sands (389 MWe – 50% with UK), and Krieger Flak (600 MWe) by 2020. Onshore wind is subsidized up to DKK 0.58/kWh (EUR 78/MWh), offshore varies: Horns Rev 2 gets DKK 0.518/kWh on top of market price, Rodsand 2 gets DKK 0.629 above market and Anholt DKK 1.051/kWh above market. 

Denmark's electricity mix

Robust connection between Norway's hydro turbines and West Denmark's wind turbines holds the key to successful exploitation of wind for Denmark, and the German and Swedish connections are nearly as importantc. The power imported from Sweden (5.2 TWh in 2011, 2.7 TWh in 2010, 3.8 TWh in 2009, 6.6 TWh in 2008, 5.0 TWh in 2007, 1.7 TWh in 2006, 7.6 TWh in 2005) is almost half nuclear and half hydro. The power imported from Germany (2.9 TWh in 2011, 6.4 TWh in 2010, 3.6 TWh in 2009, 1.4 TWh in 2008, 1.5 TWh in 2007, 4.0 TWh in 2006, 0.6 TWh in 2005) is largely generated by brown coal and nuclear power. (Germany itself imports 9 to 20 TWh/yr from France, which is 75% nuclear.) Norway is almost all hydro.

Hence nuclear power provides an essential part of Denmark's electricity.  In 2011, with imports of 2.9 TWh from Germany and 5.2 TWh from Sweden, it would seem that about 3.5TWh used was nuclear – nearly 11% of total final consumption, and one third of the domestic consumption from wind. This fluctuates year to year, mainly due to NordPool prices, and Energinet.dk analysis showed 1% nuclear in 2010, 7% in 2011 and 14% in 2012.

At the end of 2011, total installed capacity in Denmark was 12.9 GWe, of which 9.0 GWe was thermal generation (mainly fossil fuel-fired) and 3.95 GWe wind turbinesd, the majority in West Denmark (mostly onshore). Wind capacity rose to 4.16 GWe at the end of 2012. West Denmark (the main peninsula part) is the most intensely wind-turbined part of the planet, with about 2400 MWe of capacity by the end of 2008 – about 0.9 kWe per inhabitant. (East Denmark had 760 MWe of wind capacity at the end of 2008.) When it is producing, this power must be taken by the grid. In 2008, the capacity factor for Denmark's wind capacity was 25%.

The wind turbines depend heavily for their effective utilization on 29 GWe of hydro capacity in Norway, over 1 GWe of which can be dispatched promptly when wind power is unavailable in West Denmark. This will rise by 700 MW in 2014.Hence, there is a natural and felicitous interdependence between West Denmark's wind and Norway's hydro. With good winds, power can be exported back to Norway and there conserve hydro potentiale. This explains why the net import-export balance of electricity with Norway is very variablef.

Although about one third of electricity is produced by wind, the country's use of this electricity is much lower. A 2009 report by Danish policy think tank CEPOS estimates that Denmark consumes around half of its wind-generated electricity on averageg,1. Wind power is heavily subsidized by Denmark but, because this power is exported at the spot price, the subsidies are effectively exported. Moreover, the countries that the wind-generated power is exported to – mainly Norway and Sweden – are largely carbon neutral with regards to power generation, so Denmark's exported wind power does not save carbon dioxide emissions, instead displacing carbon neutral generation. On the other hand, wind power consumed within Denmark lowers fossil generation in the country.

Danish fossil fuel generation is also lowered during 'wet' years in Scandinavia, since the greater hydropower capacity in the north (particularly Norway) becomes more economic than Denmark's thermal generation. In 'dry' years, when Norway and Sweden need to import more electricity, thermal generation in Denmark is higher. For example, the Table below shows that total Danish electricity generation was 42.9 billion kWh in 2006 – a dry year – and dropped in subsequent wetter years. This accounts for thermal generation in Denmark being higher in 2006 (33.6 billion kWh) than subsequently, and net exports being higher in 2006 than in following years.

Electricity generation in Denmark in 2006-2012 (TWh)  3 

Year 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Total generation 42.9 37.0 36.6 36.4 38.8 35.2 30.4
Thermal generation 33.6 29.8 24.6 29.6 31.1 25.4 20.1
Wind generation 6.1 7.2 6.9 6.7 7.8 9.8 10.3
Net exports (imports) 6.9 0.96 (1.5) (0.3) 1.1 (1.3) (5.2)
2012 figures from IEA Electricity Information 2013

The year 2007 also happened to be a particularly 'windy' year, driving the price of electricity down; in that year there were even 83 hours when the spot price was zero and the exported power was given away. Early in 2009, Nord Pool announced that from October the spot floor price for surplus power would drop from zero to minus 20 Euro cents/kWh. In other words, wind generators producing power in periods of low demand will have to pay the network to take it. Nord Pool stated: "A negative price floor has been in demand for some time – especially from participants trading Elspot in the Danish bidding areas. In situations with high wind feed in Denmark there have been incidents where sales bids have been curtailed at price €0. Curtailment of sales may give an imbalance cost for the affected seller and thus creates a willingness to pay in order to deliver power in the market."4 This has increased the negative effect on the economics of wind power in Denmark, since a significant amount of its wind power production is affected.

Government policy

Denmark has had a wide range of incentives for renewables and particularly wind energy, accounting for nearly one-third of total wholesale electricity prices. Apart from the Purchase Obligation (PO) for renewables providing an effective subsidy, there is a further economic cost borne by power utilities' customers. When there is a drop in wind, back-up power is bought from the Nordic power pool at the going rate. Similarly, any surplus electricity is sold to the pool, though it is deemed to be non-PO power. The net effect of this has been increased costs as wind capacity expanded.

There is broad agreement on energy policy across the main political parties. In 1999, Parliament overwhelmingly agreed to electricity reform, which aimed to introduce competition to the sector, and promote renewable sources of generation and carbon dioxide reduction measures5. Electricity policy has been updated since then, always with large parliamentary majorities. Early in 2008, the main political parties concluded an agreement on Danish energy policy for 2008-2011. The policy set a 20% renewable energy target with respect to gross energy consumption by 2011 and energy savings measures, as well as increased subsidies for new wind turbines6. Beyond this, the government planned in 2007 to have renewables accounting for at least 30% of energy consumption by 2020.7 The current target is 50% of electricity from wind in 2020. This level was achieved over one month in December 2013.

Nuclear research and development

The nuclear power industry owes much to Denmark, in particular to the physicist Niels Bohr (1885-1962), who received the 1922 Nobel Prize for Physics "for his services in the investigation of the structure of atoms and of the radiation emanating from them." In 1921, Bohr established the Institute for theoretical Physics (renamed the Niels Bohr Institute in 1965), where nuclear fission was verified experimentally for the first time in early 1939.

Denmark had three nuclear research reactors, which started up between 1957 and 1960, at the Risø National Laboratory north of Roskilde on the island of Zeeland. DR-1, a 2kWt homogeneous unit from 1957, stopped operating in 2001 and was fully decommissioned in 2006. A 5 MWt pool reactor (DR-2) closed in 1975, and a 10 MWt heavy water reactor (DR-3) closed in 2000. Fuel fabrication facilities for DR-2 and DR-3 were closed in 2002.

The Risø National Laboratory was incorporated into the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) and is now known as the Risø National Laboratory for Sustainable Energy. Although fission research at Risø has stopped, nuclear research (including fusion) still continues and its Hevesy Laboratory houses a cyclotron, which is used for radioactive isotope production.

Radioactive waste management

Used fuel from the DR-2 and DR-3 research reactors has been returned to the USAh, but the country still has some low- and intermediate-level (LILW) radioactive waste that will require disposal8. This waste is stored at Risø pending the selection and construction of a LILW final repository.

With decommissioning of the three research reactors set to be completed in 2018, the government has been seeking to identify a final repository site for the 5000 cubic metres of low-level radioactive waste and the 233 kg of spent uranium fuel.

Initially, 22 areas were identified as possible final repositories for the waste generated over the past 50 years. This narrowed down to six sites based on a geological assessment in a 300-year perspective, and a final selection was due about 2012, but has been deferred indefinitely, while the prospects of exporting the waste are explored. The cost of establishing a permanent depository is expected to be somewhere between 180 and 500 million kroner, in addition to the estimated one billion kroner expenses for the decommissioning the reactors.

Intermediate-level waste will be put in a two-layered metallic cylinder, the two layers separated by 5 cm layer of concrete. The cylinder itself is wrapped into a concrete container and placed some 30 metres underground.

Non-proliferation

Denmark has a safeguards agreement with the IAEA in force, and an Additional Protocol in force since 2004. It has also signed and ratified an Additional Protocol for Greenland, in force since March 2013.


Further Information

Notes

a. East Denmark's power system is synchronized with the Nordic system, and that of West Denmark's is synchronized with the continental European system. East and West Denmark are connected only through a 500 MW DC cable completed in 2010. [Back]

b. Electricity prices for Danish household consumers in 2008 were 39.6 US cents per kWh, according to the International Energy Agency (see for example, Key World Energy Statistics 2009 published by the International Energy Agency) [Back]

c. Trade from West Denmark is through the 1700 MW Skagerrak HVDC connector to Norway, a 740 MW DC link to Sweden, and a 1780 MW AC connection to Germany (in the southbound direction; northbound, the transmission capacity is about 1500 MW, depending on congestion in the surrounding grids). This may rise to 3 GWe in each direction from 2021. From East Denmark there is a 600 MW DC connector to Germany and a 1900 MW AC link to Sweden. A 700 MWe, 500 kV HVDC Light link is being built to supplement the Norway connection, and a 700 MWe link to Netherlands is planned. [Back]

d. Installed wind capacity in 2007 was 3.124 GWe, a very slight decrease (11 MWe) compared with 2006. However, wind capacity is growing rapidly and increased by 39 MWe in 2008 and a further 249 MWe in 2009. Total installed wind capacity in 2009 was 3.436 GWe, approximately double the capacity in 1999. [Back]

e. There is some controversy over the question as to how much of Denmark's wind is consumed within its borders. However, rises and falls in wind generated electricity appear to be accompanied by corresponding rises and falls in exports. But this is not the complete picture: there are also corresponding falls and rises in Denmark's thermal generation. [Back]

f. Net imports/exports between Denmark and Norway vary considerably. In 2003, Denmark exported 3.82 billion kWh net to Norway; in 2004, 2.30 billion kWh net export; in 2005, 4.25 billion kWh net import; 2006, 1.19 billion kWh net export; 2007, 2.82 billion kWh net import. [Back]

g. Criticism of Danish wind power always attracts controversy, and the CEPOS report (see Reference 1 below) is no exception. Soon after its publication, the findings were countered by a report by the CEESA (Coherent Energy and Environmental System Analysis) Research Project2 (see www.ceesa.dk).

It should be noted that the CEPOS report was funded by American Institute of Energy Research (see www.instituteforenergyresearch.org) and seems to be aimed at addressing the analogy made by President Barack Obama in his 22 April 2009 Earth Day speech, where he cited the example of Denmark and claimed that, by 2030, the USA could generate 20% of its electricity from wind. [Back]

h. Denmark has a small amount of used fuel from the DR-1 reactor. The government hopes to dispose of this in an international repository but, should such a solution not be found, this used fuel would be disposed of in a Danish low- and intermediate-level waste repository. [Back]

References

1. Wind Energy – The Case of Denmark, CEPOS (Center for Politiske Studier, Center for Political Studies), September 2009 [Back]

2. Danish Wind Power – Export and Cost, CEESA (Coherent Energy and Environmental System Analysis) Research Project (February 2010) [Back]

3. Environmental Report 2008, Energinet.dk (July 2008); Environmental Report 2007, Energinet.dk (July 2007); IEA data for 2008-11 [Back]

4. No.16/2009 Nord Pool Spot implements negative price floor in Elspot from October 2009, Nord Pool Spot AS market news (4 February 2009) [Back]

5. Web page on The five bills on the Danish electricity reform, as adopted by Folketinget on 28 May 1999 on the Danish Energy Agency website (www.ens.dk); Denmark - Regulatory Reform in Electricity: 1999, OECD Country Studies (December 2000) [Back]

6. Web page on Agreements on Danish energy policy on the Danish Energy Agency website (www.ens.dk) [Back]

7. A visionary Danish energy policy 2025, Ministry of Transport and Energy (January 2007) [Back]

8. National Report from Denmark, National Board of Health and National Institute of Radiation Protection, 7-307-40-8/1 (October 2008), presented at the Third Review Meeting of the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management held on 11-22 May 2009 [Back]

General sources

Danish Energy Agency website (www.ens.dk)

Energinet.dk website (www.energinet.dk)

Risø DTU website (www.risoe.dtu.dk)

Website of Paul-Frederik Bach, Consultant in Development of Energy Systems (www.pfbach.dk)