By Anders Lorenzen
DONG Energy Denmark’s largest energy company is to be the first major European energy utility to move completely away from coal.
The company, which is also the world’s leading developer of offshore wind energy, has announced that by 2023 coal will no longer be used in their operations.
Their ability to be able to make such a pledge is a result of their efforts to become a globally leading green energy company by transitioning towards clean energy technologies. They have already made some progress as since 2006 they have reduced their coal consumption by 73%. This effort has been a combination of switching from coal to biomass, as well as continuing to expand their offshore wind portfolio. According to the company, in just a decade they have gone from being one of the most coal-intensive utilities to one of the greenest energy companies in the world.
Sustainable biomass to drive coal out of Denmark
However, some environmentalists might be less enthusiastic about what will be replacing the coal at their power stations. When DONG phases out coal in 2023, it will not be done by using offshore wind, which has made them a global name but, controversially, by using biomass. Controversial because depending who you are listening too and what projects we are talking about, some studies have found that biomass could in some instances have a higher carbon footprint than coal and lead to deforestation. But DONG insist that they will only be using sustainable biomass. Last year a sustainable biomass certification from the Danish Energy Association came into force. The agreement sets out that the wood burned in Danish power plants must come from well-managed and sustainable forestry, and that the by-products would include residue and waste wood.
In addition, DONG has set out the following pledge: “we only want to use certified sustainable biomass at our heat and power plants. We have therefore asked our suppliers to obtain certification in accordance with the Danish industry agreement on sustainable biomass which was introduced in August 2016. Our target is for all the wood-based biomass sourced by DONG Energy to be certified by 2020. We work closely with our suppliers to reach this target..”
Denmark’s future is clean energy
CEO of DONG, Henrik Poulsen, said the reason for the move was that the company believes the future of energy is clean: “we’ve decided to take the final step and phase out the use of coal at all our power stations. The future belongs to renewable energy sources, and therefore we’re now converting the last of our coal-fired power stations to sustainable biomass. The decision is in line with our vision to lead the way in the transformation to a sustainable energy system, and create a leading green energy company.”
In 2002, DONG Energy started using wood pellets and wood chips as fuel at two of their power stations: Herning Power Station and Avedoere Power Station. This strategy has intensified over the years as the company has increased the share of biomass at the two power stations, and in 2016, the latter and Studstrup Power Station followed suit to run 100% on wood pellets and straw, and during the spring of 2017 Skaerbaek Power Station also converted to run 100 per cent on wood chips.
However, this is a challenge to the remaining two power stations still using coal, Asnaes Power Station and Esbjerg Power Station. They now have to move away from coal and are looking to be converted to running on wood chips by 2017 and 2019 respectively. Those power stations supply both electricity and district heating through combined heat and power plants (CCHP), a commonplace practice in Denmark.
DONG leading Denmark’s CO2 emissions reduction efforts
Denmark’s two largest cities, Copenhagen and Aarhus, are welcoming the move from DONG. Kristian Würtz, Alderman for the Department of Technology and Environment in Aarhus, stated: “we have an ambition to make Aarhus CO2-neutral by 2030.With the decision to stop all use of coal at Studstrup Power Station in the future, our transformation to green energy is taking a big step in the right direction.” Morten Kabell, Mayor of Technical and Environmental Affairs of Copenhagen and Chairman of Metropolitan Copenhagen Heating Transmission company (CTR), says: “I’m pleased that DONG Energy is now removing the last coal from Copenhagen. It’s a huge contribution to our efforts to make Copenhagen the world’s first CO2-neutral capital. Through our heating contracts, CTR has contributed to making the district heating from Avedoere Power Station green, and now coal is disappearing altogether. It is an important element in our strategy that all heating must be CO2-neutral by 2025.”
The DONG announcement has given the Danish government’s wish to phase out coal by 2025 a huge boost. Over 50% of Denmark’s emission reductions since 2006 are due to DONG`s transition away from coal.
A couple of years ago there was a significant worry among Danish environmentalists when the government sold a large share in DONG to Goldman Sachs. They were concerned that the company would be less ambitious in their green agenda. However, with the coal phase-out announcement, this appears to not be the case, at least not yet.