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Point of view: We have to get used to renewable energy structures in the landscape

Glenda Napier, CEO of Energy Cluster Denmark, is Ingeniøren’s new blogger. Illustration: Freepik

The green transition is a shift that affects and challenges all aspects of society. Technology, economy, infrastructure, consumption. It is also a change that places new demands on the cooperation between stakeholders from all over the world. A large number of them—universities, companies, municipalities—are gathered in the cluster organisation Energy Cluster Denmark.

Glenda Napier is the organisation’s CEO, and she will be writing a blog on about challenges and solutions in the green transition. As a part of her introduction, she answers three current questions in the field of energy.

What do you see as the biggest obstacles to the green transition?

There are three areas that challenge our national ambition of a 70 percent reduction in 2030 and full climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest.

First, we may run the risk of starting too late to implement both existing and new technology to the extent required to achieve our goals. For example, it takes time to prepare, offer, and build new energy farms, which are necessary to achieve the goals. We do not have that time, and in the worst case, it could take too long to get started.

Second, we may face scarcity of funding and venture capital, which are critical to developing and upscaling new energy technologies. This applies to the entire TRL (Technology Readiness Level) scale. On the low TRL levels, it is essential to sufficiently support research to develop new knowledge about future solutions. And on the medium and high levels, investments in e.g. full-scale demonstration and upscaling of PtX facilities or building coherent value chains for CCUS (carbon capture, utilisation and storage, ed.) are necessary.

Thirdly, the green transition is very complex. It is about the ability and the will to break new paths and make them passable. Sector coupling is technologically difficult enough in itself. But we also have to break down regulatory obstacles, for example, and the procedures and the approval processes for renewable energy must be reviewed and improved across different spheres of responsibility in Denmark.

There is a lot of untapped potential in the spread of solar panels in Denmark. In your eyes, what would be needed to speed up the spread?

An important part of the green transition is accepting that we can occasionally hear and see it. Wind turbines and solar panels are more visible than greenhouse gases, but are far preferable. So part of the task is to ensure greater public acceptance of renewable energy being visible to the naked eye.

I think an important way to accept and reduce NIMBY (“Not In My Back Yard”, ed.) is to look to the cooperative movement, where co-ownership and communities have always been good at securing support for solutions for the common good. Solar panels benefit us all, but solar panels that are approved on one side of the country and spoil the view on the other side will always cause issues.

Finally, here too, we must ensure that the procedures and the approval processes are de-bureaucratized and simplified. Both investors and the local population need that.

One of the current discussions about energy is related to the production of hydrogen. Many warn that there is far too much energy loss with hydrogen compared to directly using the electricity. What are your thoughts on this issue?

The challenge with the green transition is that we have to wave goodbye to quite fantastic energy products. Fossil energy is cheap, energy dense, abundant; it is easy to store and distribute; and we have built our society around having an excellent, efficient source of energy for everything from district heating and power distribution to jet fuel.

There is no silver bullet that can deal with it all equally well. It is e.g. unrealistic to believe in a scenario where one type of renewable energy can replace all types of fossil energy. For example, natural gas will be replaced by several solutions. Households with natural gas must, if possible, switch to district heating or individual heating solutions (such as direct electric heat pumps) or local district heating, also known as the heat network, or to biogas.

But there is no doubt that the future is electric. Either directly or indirectly. The direct form of electricity is clearly the most efficient and clearly preferable. This means that the power from wind turbines or solar panels ends up in our power sockets, e.g. heating via heat pumps in our private homes. But not all processes can be directly electrified. For example, large vessels or industrial heating processes.

The green transition encompasses a number of different efforts which together make it possible, and which together present a practical and sustainable alternative. Brian Vad Mathiesen, professor at Aalborg University, has formulated it as “many small streams”, and I agree with that. The green transition requires us to use a range of renewable energy solutions in the places where they make the most sense and to constantly improve in the areas where we are not yet on target.

Hydrogen is not a stand-alone product, but an important element among several others in expanding and utilizing renewable energy production and a part of the green transition. Hydrogen increases the value of wind, and combined with energy efficiency improvements, we can reduce the consequence of the conversion loss. It is easier to ensure a 100% renewable energy supply if we consume less energy, and the cheapest energy is the one we do not use.

Yes, there are large conversion losses in electrolysis, just as there are in the synthesis processes when hydrogen is refined into green fuels. Therefore, we must electrify what can be directly electrified without conversion.

The rest, the so-called hard-to-abate sectors such as aviation, must undergo indirect electrification, which can be via hydrogen or its derivatives. The world needs hydrogen, but hydrogen alone is not enough.

Glenda Napier is the CEO of the cluster organisation Energy Cluster Denmark. Read and comment on her blog at