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Gone With the Wind: Denmark’s Stalled Energy Transition

Johan Sollid

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Chris Keefer  0:00  

Welcome back to decouple. Today I'm joined by Johan solid, who is the founder and chairperson of Flanagan, Atom craft Yak, which, in Danish, I'm told means nuclear power. Yes, please. He's also the Head of Public Relations and Marketing at carnival energy. DK. And you know, for those of you wondering, well, my pronunciation in Danish The reason I put you through that painful exercise was actually because one of the iconic anti nuclear movements images that that smiling son logo with autumn craft make attack is I think, what, what my friend Johann is is riffing off of so Yohanna a warm welcome to decouple thanks for making the time.

Johan Sollid  0:43  

Thank you so much. Pleasure joining area, and thank you for the invitation. And following you a long time. Actually, since I started nuclear This was back in startup COVID 2020. We launched our position and and of course, the call will also launch so been falling since the start. So it's a great pleasure to be

Chris Keefer  1:02  

amazing. So yeah, our mutual friend Mark Nelson said that I had to have you on we had to revisit Scandinavia, I did have an episode actually very early on with John Ahlberg of control energy, Sweden, I guess. And we have people interested in checking out that episode, it was called Sweden, Sweden, social democratic nuclear climate fix. And it was basically pointing out that not all but most deployments of nuclear energy have occurred within the context, I guess, like large hydro projects of public spending, public planning public ownership. And that kind of flies in the, in the face of a lot of people's Simpsons based assumptions of, you know, an evil Mr. Burns running everything. So that was interesting episode, people should check the archives for that. But yes, today we're looking at Vikings with Adams, looking at what what the new developments are. And I understand there are many, I think a good place to start, Johan, before we jump into the nuclear thing is, you're coming to us from Denmark, where I understand people are starting to reconsider nuclear, I think the interesting to explore the reasons why. And of course, we do want to explore the context of Denmark as a first mover on wind with I think the highest deployment of wind in the world, really, really interested in understanding that context of Denmark, particularly, in terms of how it leads into a country reconsidering nuclear, because, you know, it's interesting people talk a lot about, you know, the need to obviously engage with the public and, you know, convince them and share, you know, good data points and whatnot, you know, but I always say, you know, the context of, say, the UK where great British nuclear was recently launched, it wasn't that the public all of a sudden changed their mind and vast droves. It was the imperatives of of energy security, after the Russian invasion that I think really queued the Boris Johnson government into making a move on nuclear. So I'm interested in in both, you know, the communication side of things, but also in terms of what the underlying factors are leading to a reconsidering of nuclear, within Scandinavia. So enough of of my voice, Johan, feel free to jump in there and riff off of anything.

Johan Sollid  3:09  

Yeah, thank you. Let's start with like the organization that we that we created. So as I said before, it's four years old now, three to four years old, and it's 100%, volunteer based, members supported organization. So everything that we do is, you know, our free time, and we actually do this as much as our our pay it paid job. So we are working full time x two. And what we have experienced that when we went into nuclear in the in the area around COVID, it was that there was a big there was a big knowledge gap in between what the public thought and what the scientific consensus actually was on the on this topic. And if you look at the opinion polls in 2016, only six 16% of the Danish population actually supported nuclear energy. And if you look at the latest population polls from Denmark, opinion polls in 2000, march 2023, it's 49%. And it's, and the engineers it was like 66% of people were against nuclear power back in 2016. And today is only 32. So it shifted like, immensely. So we are in a position today where we have a lot more supporters than people against nuclear power in Denmark. And this is I always say that the three factors three main factors in this explanation, of course, the first one is that of we have the climate crisis and a lot of climate is a is a very big topic in Denmark because as we are such a welfare state, and we have such good living standards, so if you look at the Marshall of behavioral pyramid, you can see that we in the top, so we actually use most of our time as young people to focus on climate. So there's been a big, big, big focus on how to solve climate change. And for the last 30 years, we have invested lot of money in wind especially. And what we see today is that the numbers start, start showing now that we only have 10% of our total energy demand comes from wind and solar. So the last 90% of our energy usage is still from burning stuff. So that's from biomass, coal, gas and oil. And this combined with the climate change made the to two of the factors for getting nuclear more support in the Danish context. And lastly, the energy crisis that started in the summer of 2021, half year before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we saw electricity prices, rocket, and then to the icing on the cake. Then Putin, he opposing him, he invaded Ukraine. So these three bullets, they were the ones to, to actually, to remove this barrier, because I think like in Sweden, they had a law back in the 80s, after the Chernobyl accident, the Tonga, fall boots, love. And so vine is it was a law again, thinking about nuclear, you couldn't do anything nuclear. And in the same thing has been in Denmark since 1985, that nuclear power has just been abandoned. It cannot by law, be deployed in Denmark. So it's illegal. And that automatically, of course, makes it it's not favorable for investors, universities, or the public to just think about nuclear. So but now it shifts we have a different external events, climate crisis, we have the Danish green light being exposed, and then we have the energy crisis. And that makes a very good foundation for a a nuclear debate in Denmark,

Chris Keefer  6:41  

for sure. There's there's a lot to unpack there. You know, first off, I understand, you know, this this nuclear ban. I'm curious, were there plans to deploy nuclear in Denmark, where the shelves I mean, we have an example of Austria of a nuclear plant that was essentially finished and and abandoned, I think, as a result of a referendum. Yeah, let's walk into that period. First answering that question. And then, you know, I guess response to the opioid crisis, the previous crisis and how Denmark responded if they didn't use nuclear in the ways that say France did, we'll take

Johan Sollid  7:15  

a deep dive back in history back to to the End of the World War Two, we had our famous most famous physician, nuclear physicist called NIF sport. He, he participated in the Manhattan Project, which made the Americans actually muscle him in the way that he was put under some kind of MDNA. So he couldn't participate in any peaceful use of nuclear energy. And that was because then sport had this very altruistic idea of nuclear technology has to be shared around the world. And of course, after the Manhattan Project, the most secret project in the world, the Americans didn't want board to actually give information, confidential information to the Russians and so on the Soviets. So the Danish nuclear program after the second world war wasn't wasn't actually I think, until the atoms of peace in 1953, where both Norway Sweden and Denmark started doing a reactor programs. And in Denmark, it was mostly based on research reactors. So we put on we deployed three reactors in Denmark, near a little city, close to the capital, Columbus, Coulomb. And also Norway that applied research reactors and in Sweden, but when this program was deployed, of course, then it was still Sports Time to shine his his muzzle was gone, and he could speak, but he died, not that many years later. So the pace was a little bit removed from the from the project, because he was like the, the guy behind nuclear inventions in Denmark. And if he said, No, the politic politician said no, so he was like the, the plane was molten. And what happened there was that nuclear back then, of course, didn't compete with other green energy sources. It was climate change wasn't even a thing that we we knew of we didn't know about global warming. James hasn't hadn't made his confession to the to the US Congress. So So nuclear power was to replace fossil fuels. And mainly we have used coal in Denmark. So it was a great, great replacement. But but then oil came, and oil just removed our focus from nuclear power completely, because this was achieved some kind of abundant energy source, and then we use that. And then you said before jumping to 1973, with the OPEC crisis, we see that a lot of European countries is put in the situation where they have to think of a new energy source, you have France doing with the Mesbah plans and the deployment of 56 reactors in 10 years or something like that. And you have Sweden also going nuclear Switzerland, all these countries, but Denmark, they are put in the situation where we don't have that much knowledge at this point, because we abandoned our research program a lot several years before. And in the time after the opioid crisis. The anti nuclear movement was Korea. aidid and this movement, as we saw in America, it was created on on, on the, on the basis of anti nuclear weapons. And it was very, very strong, it got a lot of popular people, musicians, artists, to be in this movement. And then against the the not to offend anyone, but like boring engineers and physicians that had the experience with nuclear power, they couldn't compete. So they lost listen to this fight of the narrative against the new anti nuclear movement. And then that led to it through the 90s, we actually had programs to develop nuclear power plants, we were had locations, were actually going to do it political support, but the anti nuclear movement by themselves because we weren't ready to combat them with with science and knowledge, one. So in 1985, we put in a parliamentary decision actually banning nuclear from the Danish energy mix. And since then, it was just with Chernobyl the year after it was the last nail in the coffin and, and then it was like, like in Sweden illegal to think about. And then we had the great idea to invent the wheel again and try to build windmills and burn coal for 30 more years and killed 1000s of people in Denmark from air pollution. So that's the that's what we did in Denmark. The green leaders

Chris Keefer  11:25  

are right, there's so much I'd love to bookmark from that last summary of yours. But I'm curious in terms of the the anti nuclear movement in Denmark and understanding that better you mentioned these these cultural figures, in some places, I'm thinking of Australia, I think in Long Island, New York as well. There was certainly an interest in the coal industry, for instance, of suppressing the nuclear industry. I think we see that in Germany as well, some of the German coal unions having been integral to the anti nuclear movement was there anything like that in Denmark, or just the nuclear industry hadn't hadn't gotten off the ground. By the time of the nuclear ban in 1985,

Johan Sollid  11:59  

it was just like you had this. Of course, you had this very strong, as I said, before, a grassroots movement, have antinuclear and it wasn't supported by any corporations or anything, it was actually just them against the publicly owned electricity company called El Sam at that point, which were the ones that should build the nuclear plants. But the problem was that the politicians, they just they were just too late to the party and the scientists. So when they started and wanting to build nuclear in Denmark, the anti movement has built too strong too, too, and too big. And, and to have captured so much so many people in Denmark, and they own the narrative. And that's the thing, like if if a country goes nuclear, it's about who owns the narrative. And it would be nice if science and information and an academia on the narrative, but they were just too late to the party, because for example, Sweden, they they actually had their first reactors online in the, in the early 70s. And that was before the anti nuclear movement was actually a thing, we started actually wanting to build these reactors after the anti nuclear movement was the thing. So they could follow along and do all of their fear mongering and spread Fudd. And all of this, making it very hard for politicians in this space. To to, to to to move around because they in Denmark is a small country, we only have right now five to 6 million people back then they could gather 50,000 to 100,000 people and marched through the country and be like, we don't want nuclear power. So it was it was immense for such a small country to do this. And they got a lot of help from the Americans and the Germans to support the anti nuclear movement. And it was way harder without a person as Niels Bohr because he passed away too early, that if he had been there, and he had could add at carried on the legacy. I would say that it was a possibility that we will have nuclear power in Denmark.

Chris Keefer  13:55  

Interesting. Interesting. Well, I mean, as you're mentioning, recently, the narrative is starting to slip from the anti nuclear to the pro nuclear side. Let's let's explore back to your initial framing some more about why that is. So the energy crisis since the opiate crisis, Denmark is doing a lot of electricity production, power generation with oil, what happens what's the fuel substitution that occurs?

Johan Sollid  14:16  

Mostly coal, the substitution effect after the OPEC crisis, mostly cold, so we keep on burning coal, mainly as we go back to the energy source that we use before we went to oil and and we also accepted the high prices. So we actually also in Denmark, in the in the in the oil crisis, every Sunday we had a car free Sunday, because we didn't want so you could just walk on the road. My parents told me about like, every Sunday, you could just run on the highway and play like with small kids. So so that's that's we shifted back to coal and opened a lot of coal power plants and that's why we were still in Denmark has these big, big, big cogeneration thermal power plants around the country. We have 10s of them Big units owe 300 to 800 megawatts of electric electrical power output. A lot of them has been now retrofitted into being a biomass furnace, most of them. And but we can also get back to that later why biomass is said and your listeners also know that that is not even better than coal. It's sometimes worse in in, in case of co2 emissions. So so we, we, after the OPEC crisis, the way Denmark went, it was like, we're going to invent the wheel windmills. And we're going to keep on burning coal. That was the way that we did it. And you had you had Sweden and France that went nuclear. And

Chris Keefer  15:39  

so two questions. Where did the coal come from? Was this all imported? Or does Denmark have any of its own reserves? And we'll we will get to biomass later. But just quickly, what where does the biomass come from? I don't I don't think of Denmark has been particularly, you know, filled with forests, but I could be wrong,

Johan Sollid  15:53  

and mostly of our fuel is important. And if we talk about coal, yeah, it's mostly important back then, as well as now we still burn coal in Denmark, it's a part of our grid, we still have it in our grid. And our our consumption of coal actually, actually rising the last couple of years, because we didn't get we couldn't get the amount of biomass that we were actually using. So in Denmark, we import most of our biomass from from abroad, and over 50% of all biomass in Denmark use. So that is not only wood and pellets, but that's also like, waste from agriculture. And we have a big, we have a lot of agriculture in Denmark, of course, but most of it over 50% of it is trees that we burn like wood pellets. And most of this comes from the Baltics. So that's from the Baltic countries where you have a lot of protected areas, natura 2000 Woods, where companies clean cuts these areas and make either they make the wood pellets in, in Baltic, the Baltic countries, or they ship the goods directly to Denmark, where we where we make the the wood pellets ourself. And as I said in the start 30% of all Danish energy usage, not electricity, but energy usage comes from biomass. So because we have a lot of district heating in Denmark, we only only have 22% electrified in Denmark, all of our heating comes from come from district heating and the district heating plant that is only biomass. So our whole heating system is is is made up of burning other countries wood, and of course, because of the Kyoto Protocol from 1997. If you import biomass from another country, the one that gets the bill, the co2 emissions, it's a country where you imported it from so all of the biomass that we're going to Denmark, not a single gram of co2 is put on the Danish co2 emission. So when Danish politician we have the most ambitious climate goal in the world which 70% reduction since 1990. It's just one one big fat green light because we have so much biomass that if we put that into our emissions, oh my god, it would be skyrocket us around 80 million tons of co2 in we would add on to the Danish emissions if we count the biomass and without them it's only 3033 So 50% increase increase nearly if we put the biomass in so in an Excel arc it's it's great but for the climate is it's it's a it's a climate hazard. It's just a lie is a green light.

Chris Keefer  18:37  

And just briefly the call is that coming from Germany from Russia, where's the coal coming from?

Johan Sollid  18:41  

Mostly like we had we had coal imports from Russia before but of course of the sanctions the it will become from from the closest country we also have from Yeah, from Germany, for example. But but most we don't import that much from family because most of the export is of course lignite. We try to we try to burn cleaner coal in Denmark, we try to be less of an evil but but we don't use that much anymore. We have around six to 10% of our electricity production comes from coal, I would say. But but mostly from from Russia before and also Australia and other big coal exporters. Yeah.

Chris Keefer  19:16  

Well, I mean, let's let's shift to talking about reinventing the wheel as you put it. As I was mentioning, I think Denmark is a real first mover Vestas very renowned wind turbine company, based out of there, a lot of government subsidies and supports. So tell us a little bit about we had an episode recently with Angelica Wong on the offshore wind industry and some of the challenges they're facing scaling right now and supply chain localization. But I'm very curious to if we can deep dive this a little bit. The history of wind and Denmark, okay, history of

Johan Sollid  19:47  

wind and Denmark. It started around the 70s and 80s. In Denmark where we had some we had some projects with something called spin a windmill, which was the first big one megawatt windmill I think for deuced electricity to the grid. And after that the Danish Napoleon Complex came into to order because we have such a small contribution, we want to have such a big impact on the world. So we'd see oh my god, we have this energy source that nobody else is using, let's be the pioneers of it. So we pumped in 30 years, we pumped a free figure, a billion, like, I think it's 300 billion Danish crowns, it's like 50 billion euros into actually inventing wind in Denmark. And in this whole period, we're still burning coal. And we're still burning biomass. So in the time that we invent trying to invent the wheel, we're still doing the same old climate. Pollution is as coal and gas. But through the through the years, we'll also get the great idea of doing offshore wind as Angelica as you talk, mostly with her on the later episode. And the problem there is that, when in Denmark for the last 30 years has been subsidized, it hasn't it couldn't handle the free market. So we had to subsidize it through the electricity bills and through taxes. Now, we are in a position in Denmark where we are not subsidizing anymore. That is what we are saying. But of course, we also can get into that the externalities like the system calls the grid calls, the curtailment calls, the proof, low cost of having wind in a system is still being subsidized. So we still have to pay for the transmission cables, we still have to pay for the concealment, and so on and so on. So the subsidies hasn't disappeared in and like they're just being they're just being hidden inside integration costs. But back to to to reinvest us like the pioneer of wind and deploying wind all over the world. What we have seen now when they don't get the same kind of subsidies, we see all of the all of these companies, like nearly going bankrupt, we are seeing the latest numbers from these companies showing that company all of the also in the supply chain, the smaller companies that it sends the small different parts to investors to build the mills. They cannot like it's negative, the economy's negative, they don't see any profit or

Chris Keefer  22:17  

they're not. They're nonprofit organizations now. They actually haven't voluntarily nonprofits,

Johan Sollid  22:23  

and voluntary nonprofit negative capital, actually. So you have bigger investors coming in to save them right now. And all of the people in them like this, and yeah, it's it's, it's going only downwards. And that's because, of course, we have tried to make wind this competitive, pushing subsidies into it for 30 years. And it's like, it's like, it's like, when you started to ride a bike, when you're a child, and you never took off the wheels on the side, the baby wheels, you just kept on writing 30 years in advance. And then a day, somebody's told you that you cannot ride a three wheel animal, you have to take off the wheels, and then you will crash. Of course, if the nobody helps you. And that's what's happening in Denmark, we had this idea that this industry could do it by their own. But as we see now, not only by inflation, and COVID, and all of that all industries is impacted by that. But these companies are in red numbers, and they're not going bankrupt because I think personally that the state will will come in and support them in the end. But this will be a very big gap. We can say a very big problem for them, of course, because they have promised for so many years that that after we have subsidized them, they will they will be beyond market terms, of course. So it's a it's a big problem in Denmark for wind companies.

Chris Keefer  23:41  

Yeah, I mean, it sounds like there's a lot of path dependency and a lot of politicians and policymakers that would have to eat humble pie to acknowledge this or those cracks starting to emerge. In terms of public discussion within Denmark, is it just that, you know, electricity prices are high and there's kind of a popular revolt around that that's leading people to reconsider wind and maybe open up to nuclear? Or I'm just wondering what the media landscape is like, for instance, right now is it freely talked about?

Johan Sollid  24:05  

Yeah, it's, it's it's changed a lot the last four years when we have been into it when I started this, it was like, and it sounds very cruel and sounds out of proportions, but like saying that you were pro nuclear 10 years ago, was saying like nearly that you were pedophile. Like that is the same order of magnitude of the word, the semantic value of it. So so now it's much more open and journalists are actually speaking about it in and actually not quoting Greenpeace for facts, but actually going through professors and, and quoting IPCC of the IEA, the JRC, the EU Commission and so on. So the it's more fact based now but still a lot of journalists because most Danish journalists of course it's on the left wing. They have the from from the milk of the mothers that there antinuclear so there is a bias also in the media and and but it's getting better because in the end, you cannot run from facts and you cannot run from the science and that is what It's been shown now. And also with with wind, it's a hard pill to swallow. It's a very hard pill to swallow from for Danes to actually say, we were wrong. We were wrong. 30 years ago, we should have built nuclear power plants back then we kept burning coal and now we have to like do something and we cannot. And it's so hard for them to actually admit that they were wrong and we have to think about nuclear because our organization we're not saying like we only have to have nuclear we have to have a mix of wind solar, nuclear, hydro Norway and Sweden and so on have a ever mix of all energy sources, but the other camp of renewables they're just no nuclear no nuclear only wind and solar and and then we can have to rely on the other countries so so right now it's it's it's starting to emerge. We under tip it's like we on the point of no return in Denmark. But it's going to be a long and it's going to be a hard way until we get nuclear and of course an energy crisis help it makes people see the realities but but but now that the heartbreak comes is to to to actually get the politicians on board. And we have some parties in Denmark that are pro nuclear, we have some of the on the right wing parties, but of course, right wing parties and Denmark is totally left wing compared to American or other countries politics. Yeah, it's like we're all one big left wing country, if you look at from outside, but the public is supporting the some politicians are joining. And also the businesses are going out now and saying that we have to, we just have to, can we think about it? Not we should have it, but maybe is it okay to think about it? Is? Am I going to be called a pedophile? Like, we want to get out of the shell? And is it okay to think about nuclear? Yeah.

Chris Keefer  26:51  

Right. Right. Right. I'm also curious about, I guess, the academic establishment, you know, we have our Mark Z Jacobson, in the US, there's a number of Canadian academics I could point to, um, who are sort of ideologues of, of this, you know, green vision, is that something that carries weight in Denmark, as well as that another sort of pole with power to push against?

Johan Sollid  27:11  

Yeah, like the most of the academic space about energy systems in Denmark is, is grounded in 100% renewable energy system. So a lot of these people were part of the anti nuclear movement back in the 70s, and 80s. And then they they transferred from the activist point of view back then into academia. And then they like got the rubber stamp of the ideas through publishing energy system analysis only on renewable energy system. So in Denmark, we have these Danish Maxi Jacobson types that are actually also working with moxie Jacobs, and then publishing studies with moxie Jacobson. So it's a big part of the identity in academic. And that's like the academic has been captured by 100% renewable in Denmark, because a lot of these people, they their mindset is 100% renewable energy system. So aplio, their thought is that nuclear is not a part of the mix. So, of course, all of their analysis system analyses will show that nuclear is not a part of it, because they have already made a decision to exclude nuclear from their energy system models. So and this is a big not fight, but a discussion we are having in Denmark, right now, we are an organization like ours, we are going in and actually running the same models from these academics and changing the parameters and changing the info that is put into the models and showing that if you actually have a reasonable capital, coal is a reasonable capacity factor, reasonable interest rate, then there is a place for nuclear and Denmark, but of course, they will say like, they will use the price of Okaloosa. And the build time of the finished reactor or the threat of flamanville or Hinkley Point and say, This is how nuclear in Europe has been billed. And this is also the price that we will have in Denmark. So nuclear is not an option. And of course, we all know that first off a Cayenne and Ultra and stuff are kind, it has a lot of reduction on a nuclear power plant. So so the Danish academia has been captured by 100% renewables and that is starting to change because a lot of people from the physics departments are coming out and being like, Okay, what is happening? Like, they slept for 30 years, and they forgot it. And now that like, you have a lot of people that are engineers doing mathematics that should not be done by engineers that should be done by social scientists or economists or calculations that you do by physicists. So it's starting to revolt. Yeah.

Chris Keefer  29:38  

Well, I mean, let's, let's, let's engage, I guess, with some of the mythology or the claims made by these academics. And this is just, you know, from my 10,000 meter view here, some of the things I've heard is, I mean, Denmark is a small country. It is next to you know, Europe's hydroelectric battery. You know, yes, there's problems intermittency, but Denmark has, you know, a huge shallow continental shelf around it, it can deploy lots of offshore wind cheaply. And you know, when there's lols, or droughts and wind, we can keep it decarbonize by just, you know, again, using Norway as as a great big battery. Deconstruct that, for me.

Johan Sollid  30:15  

The problem around like Denmark, as of now, of course, it's it's good for them to build OSHA when the problem is that when the wind doesn't blow, and the sun doesn't shine, we are reliant on the countries connected to us. And that's Germany, Norway and Sweden. And we have approximately around eight gigawatts of capacity interconnectors to these countries. And our maximum use of electricity is six gigawatts. So we have more capacity that we can import to Denmark, then we can actually use and still in these situations that sometimes when the wind doesn't blow, and that total flower is not only a German thing, it's also a Danish thing. And the wind speeds in Germany, and in South in Sweden and South Norway and in the Netherlands, and Belgium and Denmark are correlated. So when you get these rent, droughts, all countries drop in wind production and solar in the winter, you cannot count on that. And then we are reliant on coal from Germany, we rely on nuclear from Sweden, and we are reliant on hydro from Norway and also hydro from Sweden. And the problem is, as of now, it's barely working, we are actually experiencing episodes in the Danish grid where we are having very close to not croute. Good to to to follow the demand of the usage so we don't have enough electricity. But if you ask Norway and Sweden, do you have enough power for your industries? Do you have enough power for the next 30 years of electrification, they say we we are in a pickle, we don't know how to actually make enough power for ourselves. And if Denmark should should actually like have the expectation is that law when momentum doesn't blow like we just get some power from no in Norwegian hydro or Swedish, nuclear, it's not realistic. And these these assumptions is what we are actually presenting to these these 100% renewable professors and so on Maxie Jacobson types of people, and they don't have this in their models, they don't calculate if there is the the the right amount of production capacity on the other end of the the transmission lines, they just assume if we build more transmission lines, then there will magically be the generation power on the other end. And that is not the real reality that we're looking into. Now with Norwegian having not enough rainwater in the reservoirs, Sweden, going to have 70 gigawatts of in the next 20 years and actually saying, we're not going to export in the next maybe 10 years, because we don't have enough power for ourselves. They have a deficit of around eight to 10 gigawatts in some some years, we've heard, we don't have the capacity. And then the only thing that Denmark can do in these situations, get back to coal, get back to biomass. And we saw this once we saw it back in the 70s. And we can make this mistake again because we have capacities installed 10 gigawatts of thermal capacity I think installed in Denmark, so we can easily get our electricity and heat from fossil fuels and biomass. And maybe history will repeat itself in this manner. Like we go back to colon and biomass.

Chris Keefer  33:18  

Well, if if we ended up following ROBERT BRYCE iron law of electricity, I think that's that's quite likely to happen. Yeah. I mean, it's interesting. There's there's a big focus on on climate induced or weather catastrophes and the kind of damages they're doing and much as made of that in the news, I think what's what's ignored is blackout damages. And I'm thinking here of the Texas blackouts and freeze which are rumored to have cost over 200 billion in economic damages. I mean, the cost to the UK of the electricity crisis dwarf even what a nuclear built out of reactors costing into Hinkley, point wood, wood, wood, wood, costly, that also seems to not factor into into the modelers work. You know, that this incredible amount of economic damages and you know, the relative low cost of even high price nuclear to avoid that and build a more more resilient system. Something that caught my eye and doing a little bit of research for this episode. was the idea of wind power to district heating. It just seemed comical to me, but again, can you help me understand make the case if there's one to be made, and just help us understand what what exactly that is? It seems it seems a little bit illogical to me.

Johan Sollid  34:28  

Yeah. Okay. So in Denmark, we have some maybe the most the best connected district heating network in the world like we have. So millions of houses and millions of Danish people being supplied for district heating from Central thermal units. And the idea is that instead of removing the furnace of a biomass plant or a coal furnace, you'll just build a big heat pump. Instead of a like a small residential heat pump. You'll just scale it up 1000 times and then you use this to heat water And then send it out in the district heating network. And of course, and again, this is the reason also with Danish solutions. We haven't seen this in big scale being used, again, the same problems. What do we do when we don't have electricity to power these heat pumps? What are the losses of energy from from electricity to thermal to water, and so on. So we are looking into a future where Denmark is scambling with the solution. So we're just saying, we have this district heating, we also have some batteries, we have some interconnections. We don't know if it works. We haven't seen 100% renewable energy systems anywhere but grab it, let's do it. Like it's going it's going into the, into the casino with with our climate, politics. And and, and so and that's also why we see all of the thermal power plants not being shut down. Actually. They are, I think, like they're, they're on standby if it if if it all just goes to two to two, I'm not going to swear on the podcast, but but if it goes to hell, and so that's so but heat pumps is a thing that we're pursuing in Denmark right now. And I'm just asking the same questions. What do we do when the wind doesn't blow to supply these heat pumps? What do we do in winter when we don't have solid solar power? So and these questions they seem so basic, like it's it's repeated so many times, what do you do when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine? But it's it's still valid. It's still so valid questions.

Chris Keefer  36:31  

You know, and it's obviously we've we've harped on this before that there actually is a word in the German vocabulary for these sunless windless periods that can go on for weeks that dunkel flower day. But we also had a great episode with I believe Hannah Rosenbloom. It was my favorite titled episode, we do put some thoughts into trying to create entertaining titles and it was what is the winter out Europe's lust for the gust? And of course, that was pre Russian invasion. When wind speeds I believe throughout the North Sea dropped off pretty dramatically. Yeah, actually led to very low outputs. Denmark, I presume was affected during that

Johan Sollid  37:02  

kind of grade 10% of all generation was was affected in that period. Okay,

Chris Keefer  37:07  

one last energy, surprise, the energy islands or the renewable islands you can just I probably mispronouncing or not not describing them by the term that's been used is that what's going to save Denmark from from blackouts and make this whole rubric Rube Goldberg machine, you know, how's it going cards balance itself out.

Johan Sollid  37:27  

It's like, it's like a fairy tale. It's like a dissonance movie, like a Peter Pan and the mystery island like we're going in Denmark to build these artificial islands in the middle of the sea, where we will have power to x units like pyrolysis and electrolyzers. During making synthetic fuels, like mostly hydrogen and making ammonia and methanol. And around these islands, there will be big wind parks, and they will supply these islands with TriCity and then we will create thin fuels, and we will send some of the electricity to the grid or and use the same fuels to to power ships and planes. The problem here is that, again, we haven't seen this before. It's it's totally new. And it's that what we've seen the last couple of months is that a lot of documents has been released from the climate ministry showing that these projects were promised to not have any subsidies, they were promised to not being you tax money from from from the citizens of Denmark. But what we see now is like up to 10 billion euros in subsidies for every single Island, nearly around five to 10 billion in subsidies for these islands. So and in Denmark, that five to 10 billion is a lot. It's quite an a staggering amount of money. So these projects were being sold and promised to be nearly free, as they call them. We have companies coming here and building wind for free. But now it shows that that the cost overruns even before the project has started being built is so immensely high that they are going now they're saying we will be pausing. So we have post these energy islands in Denmark for now. And now we have we are now taking half a years 10 to 12 months to rethink the whole idea of energy islands. And I made a bet with one of my friends like 100 $100 Like, I don't think it's going to happen. Like now the amount of capital overruns before the project has started is so staggering. That this is the Danish population is not going to accept this. And this is a great opening of course for nuclear because as you call it a Rube Goldberg machine these energy islands it's it's like you're trying to invent invent the wheel again and trying to make a new electricity system in the middle of the goddamn ocean. Like it's why don't you just put energy sources on land being centralized or decentralized with SMR producing power close to to the consumer and being cheaper in the long run and be more cost efficient and actually actually doing things that we we know work like we have done nuclear for 60 to 70 years we know this works. So why should we try to invent an energy island like it sounds even in Denmark we all think it's a joke so it's not like people from abroad like thinking about an Italy light energy Island Danish people also see this as like bogus it's it's just for Ghazi for Casey fairy tale,

Chris Keefer  40:31  

an energy absurdity. I mean, it is interesting this question of, you know, how long can these subsidies last form? I think you know, money. The words of former guests need Hagen's it's a monetary claim on biophysical reality. And, you know, so much of that sort of surplus wealth that we lean upon, and that Europe has accumulated through a number of historical adventures, colonialism, but also through, you know, energy extraction. It's based upon cheap fossil fuels in my mind and the kind of infrastructure that's been created and the societal wealth that's been created. But, you know, at what point does the ability to subsidize unviable forms of energy start to start to reach its limits? Do you feel like that's, that's beginning to happen in terms of I'm not asking you, you know, to give? You know, you're not an economist, I don't think but I'm just curious about this question myself. I mean, is that what we're starting to see is that was driving a lot of of inflationary pressures? You know, can you how much longer can Europe subsidize its way through a an unviable energy transition, in your opinion,

Johan Sollid  41:33  

I studied political science, I will try to use my my small amount of economic knowledge and macro economics to decipher this. The thing is that subsidies, of course, they they are doing a lot of path dependency. So when you subsidize a field, then you get stuck in subsidies mostly. So it just keeps on going for years and years, as we talked about before. And when you remove the wheels of the bicycle, people will fall. But you reach a limit as you say, you reach a limit, where you have your went so long down the wrong path, that the externalities of keep on doing it is worse than changing path. And we were heading that way right now, as we've seen with the energy islands, because before it was like we have a limited amount, unlimited amount of money and windmills is just going to get billions of billions of Danish crowns. But now seeing the parliament actually stopping projects before they began, because they are going to be too expensive show that they have put themselves in a pickle because they promised us that this shouldn't be subsidized after 2020. So So now they're saying like, okay, no, no impacts can be subsidized. No energy islands can be subsidized. And when we run the analysis and run the calculations, we see billions of dollars in subsidies needed to make these projects. And that's also why we see the companies going nearly bankrupt, because the price has been dumped so much on these energy technologies to to make a false belief of them being price competitive to other technologies, that now when they have to work on the on their own, they cannot survive. So the real price of wind and solar, maybe it's higher, most in Denmark than then we are seeing now because this is made made possible by subsidies mostly and a security. So the risk of a company building out 10 new 10 new industry halls to make windmills, they could easily do that before because there's an unlimited amount of subsidies. But now they cannot do this, they cannot scale their production in the same manner. And that shows in the in the numbers of their of their latest Latest reports that these these companies are hurting, they're in the red.

Chris Keefer  43:48  

So I mean, the European solar industry cratered, I believe in the early 2000s and packed its bags and move to China where you know, polysilicon production was cheaper. manufacturing costs are cheaper. I understand seven of the 10 largest winter by manufacturers are now based in China. And even with the European companies, a lot of their manufacturing, particularly of simpler components. Like you know, rolling steel for the towers is saying Vietnam, for instance, with with the status of becoming involuntary nonprofit organizations, is there a crisis, you know, with Siemens, Gamesa or Vestas, and, you know, more production moving to China or Europe potentially losing its foot in in the wind game? Or is there still enough sort of high technology within the nacelles that's that this can still be an economic driver, like, you know, a big question of this and the big promise I think of, of, of, you know, the green energy movement is that you know, we can have supply chain localization that Denmark will see its its subsidies pay off in terms of the local economic opportunity from having been a first mover in wind. To what degree is, you know, how much does the wind history in Denmark employ Danes, to what degree is wealth kind of recycled within the system?

Johan Sollid  44:59  

Of course, When you have an industry that has been gone for 30 years, you have a lot of on site. national production of these a lot of the components in the supply chain for windmills, of course, you have a lot of the more advanced technology and a smaller components that is put into the, to the windmills and so on, and also in the towers and in the electricity grid that is produced inside Denmark. But this, as I say, again, has been possible because there have been a unlimited money tank supporting this. And what we see in other countries as China or or Asia in particular, that when they get the opportunity to get handled the technology, then they will just do it even cheaper than we do, they will do it much cheaper. And they'll do much better, because they don't have the same regulations as we do. And and, and that's a bad thing, of course, because they have an environmental regulations that is not as strict as ours, because but putting that aside, China is getting into the game and the set net, the same level as Vestas with solar wind turbines, as well as solar panels with other manufacturers. And that we're seeing with Siemens Gamesa dropping like 35%, in a couple of days in the stock market, their stocks just plummeted. And we also see this with, with, as I said, Before, the the smaller, the smaller companies in the production chain that the supply chain, they're just going bankrupt in Denmark, because they cannot compete anymore, because the materials are too expensive. And they come from China and China. The Of course, the a lot of the rare earth that has to be put into two windmill magnets, or just minerals in particular, the price of those has skyrocketed. So the business model of being cheap, cheap, cheap, and being nationalized, production chain is starting to disappear. And, for example, with solar panels, and Denmark, just just a brief example, one fifths of all solar panels in Denmark has their origin from the shinjang province and China was slavery work and and work in camps, and the oppressed minority group of Turkish Muslims in I think in, in Xinjiang province in China, once this of the solar panels are from there. And that is, that is not going to stop now, we are still building solar parks in Denmark, from supply chain from China from the shinjang province. And this is just also going to happen with wind, because we cannot compete anymore in Denmark, on the prices that we've seen from Asia, and particularly China. So if the state is not going to save these companies, they will go bankrupt and the production will move to China. And then China has a grid lock, a very firm grip on the Danish and the European Green transition if we are going to be reliant on them and minerals. And as we have seen the last couple of months that China is saying that we have the opportunity to just artificially pumped the prices up. And if you invade Taiwan, we will just close it off. So they are having a lot of leverage in geopolitics, as well, with having all of the minerals and metals being produced in China and being shipped to Europe. So maybe we built the windmills in Denmark, but we are solely dependent on Chinese minerals, and, and other metals to to work. And if they want, they can just pump the price up and we will go bankrupt.

Chris Keefer  48:27  

No, I mean, I'm thinking about the differences between you and I, in terms of our challenges with nuclear advocacy. I don't want to say that it's easy here in Ontario. But you know, the kind of path dependency here of, you know, being 60%, nuclear powered of having a highly localized supply chain because of our national reactor technology. I mean, that does have an impact on political decision making. And despite a number of challenges, I think that's why we're seeing such successes hear. Politicians simply know that a good chunk of their voters, their bread is buttered by nuclear. And I imagine there's a similar dynamic in Denmark with with the wind industry and a path dependency and a political patronage in that regard. So, so interesting, interesting differences that I do want to, we've been talking a lot about the context and talking a lot about the challenges for particularly wind in Denmark. Very, very useful for me to understand. But let's let's spend our last 15 minutes or so chatting about some of the exciting opportunities for nuclear in Denmark. Understand there's two kind of SMR companies taking a crack at things Copenhagen, atomics and Seeborg. What else is new in the nuclear sector?

Johan Sollid  49:35  

As soon as you start out that we have the two companies see both technologies and Copenhagen atomics trying to manufacture first generation MSR reactors Molten Salt Reactors coming atomics you saw room and Seaborg uses uranium and lately there have actually done a some kind of some big deals like combing atomics they had the four gigawatts in thing it's four gigawatts in Indonesia and Seaborg has partnered with the A k h and p Korean hydro nuclear power and also Samsung Heavy Industries. So they're like up with the big big boys up in the up in the ranks. But other than that we are seeing that the actual the first ESG compliant investment was into nuclear power after nuclear being adopted in the EU taxonomy, officially first of January 2023. It was done by a Danish climate fund called Clements from capital and they were actually investing in the company that I'm not working in but in the same company group called cancel. So we had a Danish green energy fund investing 2 million euros in cancelled in Sweden, and that's the first time a ESG Article Nine fund has invested in nuclear power in this regard, as far as we know, I haven't heard any other any other companies doing this or funds and also we have the third largest fund in the world called Novo Nordisk foundation. It's the foundation of the diabetes company called Novo Nordisk making all the insulin for for the obese Americans. Not to you, sorry, but it's not going great. And their font They have invested, I think it's 120 20 million euros into education and science exploration concerning nuclear in Denmark. So we see private funds doing investment in private companies, we see also private funds doing more like broad educational orientated investments. And then we also see we also see different businesses now saying, I could see an SMR in my backyard or politicians in their local municipalities saying, why shouldn't we have a SMR in our backyard? And, and not the and they're not talking about mainly about the fourth gen. They're talking about the Hitachi BW or x new scale, they're talking about a pl 300 The Rolls Royces. Some are they're talking about Light Water Reactors SMRs and having interested in them, and also with the public as I said, it's it's it's we have many more pro nuclear advocate not advocates, but in the population than than anti nuclear with 49% of the population are pro nuclear, and 32% are anti nuclear and the last 90 to 20% are in the I don't know, category. So so the the public has started. So it's from bottom up, like in Denmark, mostly, most of the things happening in Denmark comes from from from the people and goes up to the top. And we see that the public is now pronuclear. The funds that actually fund in the light, like gives money to education in Denmark and private companies are going nuclear. And then we see companies being interested in going nuclear. And this is this is a big shift in a couple of years in Denmark. And if we also look at Norway, they are actually a little bit ahead of us in Denmark because they have actually made their own company. It's called the North Canada, some activist and some billionaires has had come together and some PhDs and physics Suniva also love the listeners that may we heard about her. They have made a company where they will now do feasibility studies and make memorandums of understanding with with companies like Rolls Royce and GE Hitachi do feasibility studies in municipalities in Norway, where there is an actually need for a lot of power, like 10s of gigawatts in need. So they are doing a lot they're doing a lot of investments. They're also in Sweden, of course, they have nuclear but but it's being revived. Now you have the council, the company group that I'm working in doing a lot of SMR projects and and doing feasibility studies and actually being a big part of the utilization of new naltrexone, nuclear in these countries. So, Denmark is the country that is far behind. We are also the most anti country, but we are getting we are getting up to speed in some kind of sense. And I think the most the most exciting thing that is happening right now is that in September we are having a so called parliamentary hearing in the Parliament of Denmark Christians ball, which where the politicians will invite different organization professors and so on to talk of the case of nuclear like the hearing that you had in the Canadian Parliament. I think it's two years ago you had the famous speech and and that is the same thing that we're doing now is that we are actually going into parliament, talking to the politicians being respected and actually being used as a source of information instead of just being activists that are shouting, and nucleus please. So there's a lot of momentum. And and the really, really Important thing is that Denmark. That's the last question is that if Denmark falls, then everyone can fall like, if we go nuclear they wind pioneering country, the country where we have so much wind that we don't need anything else and windmills if we remove the laws and we actually go into nucleus we see now that will show that this 100% renewable dream that we are selling this pinnacle of the Global Green leader that we are, that cannot even function in our own country. So if you cannot function here, it cannot function, it can function nowhere. And it's not for me saying that windmills should be abandoned. It's having a more holistic approach and putting all energy sources in. And And also, we haven't talked so much about it. But we touched upon it in the start, like with biomass and Denmark, and that that is the green lie in Denmark, if we're going to talk about a green lie, it's not the windmills, it's the biomass. It's the is the is to replace a replacement of coal after the Kyoto Protocol in the 90s. To biomass. That is the green lie. That is the climate catastrophe that we are selling to other countries. We are selling windmills and solar panels and look at us we can do it. But the one that thing that we don't mention is that you also have to burn insanely amount of acres of land to actually make this function. And that is the green, the green light, if you should call that of Denmark, because the countries that actually decarbonize that is of course, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Ontario, the province of Ontario, countries where they deployed nuclear power, and of course, hydro, but you cannot have that in Denmark because we flat as a pancake. 100 meters is the tallest.

Chris Keefer  56:46  

It strikes me that the opportunities for district heating in particular are massive. I mean, I wish we had those kind of networks set up here, but everyone has their own boiler in their house or their own forced air system. Very little of that. I guess there's some condos and things like that. But that seems like an extraordinary advantage if you're serious about decarbonisation, and a great drop in for thermal from from nuclear. Is that something that's being looked at in terms of feasibility studies? I think the Chinese are the furthest along, although actually not already in Eastern Europe. There's a number of nuclear plants that already been used for district heating. Maybe just you know, in our last couple minutes I'm I'm interested in if that's something that's being actively explored, or will be part of the hearings in September, kind of feasibility studies around nuclear for district heating.

Johan Sollid  57:30  

Yeah, like district heating from nuclear has has has been a thing for 10s of years, like in Switzerland and Russia in Eastern Europe. In China, you have nuclear power plants that do cogeneration, where they both produce water district heating and electricity. And we have a legacy in Denmark for being some of the best people to actually utilize to cogeneration from thermal power plants because of our just district heating network. And in combination with the Department of Energy reports showing that 85% of American coal power plants can be retrofitted into two nuclear reactors. And as well as a rally pattern, these studies that he made about Helsinki, decarbonisation with district heating and the company Terra practices also making district heating and retrofitting coal power plants. There's a immense possibility of actually saying we have these thermal power plants in Denmark all over the country at the coast that supplies a lot of energy for biomass, we can retrofit these plants, we already have the infrastructure that is cables, electricity cables and district heating pipes. We have a harbor deepsea a deep harbor where we can ship materials in. So we actually have the fundament of doing retrofitting of our biomass plants into SMR reactors doing district heating and an electricity production. So this is going to be a big topic on the the hearing in September, of course, where we will push the case for for actually doing a cogeneration with nuclear power plants because we have this opportunity because we have this remarkable district heating network in Denmark, that shouldn't be wasted. Because the 100% renewable as we talked about before, like big heat pumps, in district heating, it's fairytale for gas, it's Rube Goldberg, like we're going to push more smaller heat pumps out in the countryside and out in the cities. And this will be Dave's will abandon the district heating network having tons of steel in the in the ground for no reason. So having a eco modernist fault, it

Chris Keefer  59:37  

wouldn't have been Yeah, would that be the equivalent of a smart grid like every there's all this idea is that our existing grid is is inadequate because it's unable to accommodate the whims of wind and solar and this seems like such a great parallel that you have, you can abandon this incredible district heating network and duplicate something with with decentralized heat pumps, just out of curiosity has has one of these scaled up massive heat pumps Ben Ben reIated yet or, or is this theoretically,

Johan Sollid  1:00:02  

you have some in the 10s of megawatts of electricity production. But the big ones are the hundreds of megawatts I don't get me like, I don't really am certain if it is, went into production, but there's a big thermal power plant and in Denmark, with SPR, that is actually going to turn into a big heat pump. But that has postponed for a year now. And maybe a year or more after that. And after that, so, so no big thermal unit has been converted into a big industrial heat pump, yet smaller ones has in the 10s of megawatts, but but but seeing bigger ones, grid scale ones haven't seen haven't seen them yet. No.

Chris Keefer  1:00:40  

Okay. Yeah. And we have to leave it somewhere. So I think that's as good a place as any, we meant to talk a bit more about Norway, I think we'll have to have you back for the broader Scandinavian discussion. But this was a fascinating grounder in a in a very interesting place. It's a small country. But you know, obviously, for good reasons, has attracted a lot of interest in terms of the great energy transition debate. So thank you for your contribution. And I'm looking forward to seeing some footage in September from from these government hearings. Probably it'll be in Danish, but we'll get some subtitles on it. No, no, go ahead. You're saying? Oh, okay, perfect,

Johan Sollid  1:01:14  

perfect. Okay, I'll do the M they're like, I'm actually half Norwegian. So it's perfect like having the Norwegian part of it as well. And I'll just also end out saying a big thanks to you Chris. And also the standard for nuclear organization which actually got me started and, and put us in this situation. And if I have to make my ROBERT BRYCE plug, it's not subtract that Robert Bryce that come then I make a lot of tweets on Twitter, mainly, we haven't got threats until Europe now it says solid, solid nuclear my ad is and go follow me there for the Danish perspective and covering the Danish lie of biomass and getting nuclear into you into Denmark. So there'll be great,

Chris Keefer  1:01:53  

beautiful, we'll get that in the show notes. Okay, you'll have a real goodbye now and I hope to meet you soon. Bye for now. See ya. Bye.

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