56.1 Emerging Governance Systems for Renewable Energy – The Case of Danish Municipalities

Karl Sperling , Department of Development and Planning, Aalborg University, Aalborg East, Denmark

Emerging Governance Systems for Renewable Energy – The Case of Danish Municipalities

Karl Sperling

Department of Development and Planning, Aalborg University

Fibigerstræde 13, 9220 Aalborg Ø, Denmark

Phone: +45 9940 7219, Email: karl@plan.aau.dk 

The Challenge of Sustainability

The establishment of sustainable ways of living is probably the most complex challenge that societies nowadays face. Not only can the term ‘sustainability' only be abstractly defined, but simultaneously are the issues that need to be dealt with in a sustainable way characterised in manners that have been described as wicked, unstructured or persistent. The main difficulties for such problems of ‘unsustainability' to be tackled are the dynamics in which they occur and/or are perceived both on different societal levels and time scales. This means that the nature of those problems is both highly uncertain and that appropriate solutions are not given a priori. This leads to a continuous flux between an abstract end point called sustainability and the various pathways developed over time and geared towards such an end point. Since no one can know for certain the best way to achieve sustainability, it could be argued that reaching consensus concerning sustainable solutions most obviously should be approached by a cooperation of a range of actors, including governments, industry, citizens, knowledge institutions, NGOs etc..  

Renewable Energy Systems

With regard to energy systems one pathway towards sustainability could be termed the development of renewable energy systems (RES). Although this seems to be a more tangible term it still is debatable and depending on contextual factors what RES actually will entail. It can therefore be expected that a number of RES will emerge, each having different ‘degrees of sustainability'.  In such a context of uncertainty and complexity it is necessary to support certain concrete solutions, while at the same time remaining flexible to new and potentially better solutions in order to prevent lock-in situations. Here the involvement of a number of (local) actors seems to be crucial for several reasons, for instance: i) new (technological) solutions require societal acceptance in order to be (economically) feasible; ii) behavioural changes and investments on the demand side (e.g. energy efficiency and savings) depend on the willingness of citizens; iii) the current small-scale character of a number of renewable energy technologies allows for potentially diverse, distributed system configurations and therefore requires local planning. From an energy political point of view the initiatives and engagement of local actors would therefore be welcome and should be supported in a flexible way.      

The Case of Denmark

In the particular case of Denmark distributed energy systems have had a comparably long history, and during the last 30 years experiences with especially locally produced combined heat and power (CHP), wind power and biogas have been gained. Furthered by national policy the bottom-up initiatives of farmers and cooperatives became feasible and popular. As certain technologies, especially wind power became more visible, conflicts of interest called for a better planning of (renewable) energy. Municipalities have in this regard traditionally played a more passive role of the approving authority. More recently, however, a number of municipalities are becoming more active and have developed rather ambitious future energy strategies that go beyond national targets for renewable energy, energy savings or reduction of CO2. In this regard Danish the role of municipalities is two-fold: i) all municipalities have to follow the national framework for energy (e.g. wind power planning, development of municipal heat plans) and ii) some municipalities are beginning to work in fields traditionally not part of their tasks (e.g. transport, energy savings).

Aim of the Paper

It is therefore interesting to investigate how new energy planning initiatives in the municipalities are supported by the national level. In this paper we examine the possibilities for municipalities to do energy planning in new fields (e.g. energy savings and transport), for which they seemingly lack institutional support. We pay particular attention to processes of co-evolution and communication between the national and local level in negotiating this support. The existing legal background for municipalities, recent cases of cooperation between the national and the local level, as well as case studies in a number of frontrunner municipalities form the empirical basis for this study. The paper concludes by discussing the possibilities of municipalities to support the emergence of renewable energy systems under the current framework.