Hans Jørgen Koch, Deputy State Secretary, Danish Energy Agency


In this interview, Mr Hans Jørgen Koch is in buoyant mood about the increased investment being given to Danish Energy sector, a policy that, he explains, is already reaping rewards for the industry

Could you explain the founding principles, and overall aims and objectives of your work at the Danish Energy Agency?

We aim to represent Denmark in international organisations dealing with energy, such as the EU, IEA and IRENA, securing optimal Danish infl uence on European and global energy policy.

What innovations in sustainable energy provision are you focusing on at the Danish Energy Agency? How substantial are the environmental benefi ts of PEMFC and hydrogen technology, for example, and how close are these techniques to fi nding application amongst Danish companies?

We are not focusing on one particular technology as we believe that we’ll need several technologies to provide a proper solution. Hence we’re investing heavily in innovation in various kinds of renewable energy sources and energy effi ciency where we already have a competitive advantage by knowledge or geography, such as wind energy and biomass or where we can develop an advantage by getting in early, such as wave energy or deep offshore wind energy.

Concerning hydrogen and fuel cells there are a number of Danish companies that are at the forefront globally. They tend to focus primarily on auxiliary power units, power back-up units, forklifts and not the least micro CHP where large scale tests are already on-going. These niches are good entry points to test and demonstrate the applications for wider use in other types of application in the future. In order for hydrogen and fuel cell technologies to become a substantial contributor to storage and transport applications the technology needs to become more mature and cost effective for more and more areas of use. The environmental benefi ts are obvious as the only exhaust from, for instance, a forklift is water vapour.

Can the rest of the world learn from Europe in terms of the advances made in the green energy sector? Are the Nordic countries, and Denmark in particular, instrumental in spearheading this approach?

Denmark has a long history in developing renewable energy sources, especially wind energy, and in grid integration. Denmark is therefore in a unique position with its vast experience in adapting policy, technologies and industry to achieve the climate objectives within the energy sector.

Public private partnerships have a long history in Denmark and its importance is growing all the time. Having a constant dialogue with industry and
research institutions on what they need to perform and how it lines up with government objectives is essential, This means you can develop the right measures and policies to help new products and innovations on to the market. We do this by using both push and pull measures, such as feed-in tariffs in combination with regulatory steps to create demand for the products. It’s also about creating the facilities and instruments research institutions and industry need to fulfi l the policy objectives.  Creating partnerships, such as the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen partnership, is helping industry coordinate themselves and make full use of any synergies.

Europe has made substantial progress in the organisation and planning of energy technology development through the SET plan. The SET plan is an integral framework to fulfi l the European climate and energy 2020 objectives. This is the fi rst time the member states are working together in parallel to the regular agenda in order to speed up development and deployment of climate and energy technologies. We’re currently looking forward to the concrete implementation of the plan.

Have you received substantial support and collaborative input from industry, and what has been the impact of this? As a result of this shared expertise, is it your aim to develop an example of best practice that can be adopted on a widespread commercial basis?

The Danish example shows what can be achieved when industry, universities and government work together. The direct impact of this collaborative work has been the development of new global industry leaders, for instance Vestas in wind and Haldor Topsoe in fuel cells, creating thousands of jobs.

What are the main barriers and risks to successful implementation you have encountered in your fi ndings? In your viability studies, have you had diffi culties balancing safety, effi ciency, cost, and reliability?

There’s always a diffi culty in getting the policy measures just right. Finding the balance with what industry can deliver and at the same time push development in the right direction. We have done this through dialogue and a shared understanding of the vision for the future. A broad political consensus has created a strong foundation for industry to grow on as the future and security is less uncertain, the future is more visible.

One key barrier is the so called “valley of death” where research institutions and industry can’t get their products from the research phase through development and demonstration and fi nally on to the market. Denmark has addressed this by creating a specifi c program, the EUDP program, to assist the development and demonstration of the technologies. Furthermore a new initiative, GreenLab DK, will assist in the establishment of new and necessary test and demonstration facilities. Vækstfonden is a government owned venture capital fund that can further move the products after demonstration to successful market deployment. Also a new initiative is about to be implemented that will help creating small markets and fi rst real orders for new and still not completely competitive technologies.

How far has the recent global economic situation put a strain on research budgets, and how do you strike a balance between technological development and fi nancial viability concerns?

Denmark will double its energy R&D budget from 2007-2010. The government is making a serious long term effort to support universities and industry. And so far we haven’t seen any reduction in the commitment of the industry to invest in further development and apply for additional funding/ subsidies in our programs.

How has your experience in the energy sector over the last 30 years, including your directorship at the International Energy Agency, infl uenced your perspective?

My experience has convinced me that security of sustainable energy supply to affordable prices is of decisive and increasing importance for global economic prosperity.

What are the main criteria by which you evaluate the success of your work? Is it contingent upon the uptake of your suggestions, or feedback from governments and the commercial sector?

I think the statistics provide the proof of success. The gross energy consumption has remained at a relatively constant level for the past 40 years, yet wind energy supplies almost 20 % of the electricity consumption. The growth in export of Danish energy technologies is almost double the average of all other goods, so there has been a tremendous growth in this sector.

What is your vision for the future of research and development the energy sector in the EU, and what kind of strategies would you like to see implemented over the next decade?

We would like to see a fully implemented SET plan and the European Industrial Initiatives extended to embrace more than the current seven technology areas. We would also like to see more innovative fi nancial and regulatory solutions that can support technology development better and more effi ciently.

At the forthcoming Copenhagen summit, countries will be obligated to sign up to binding targets in a bid to reduce CO2 emissions by a meaningful level. How far can energy effi cient technologies assist in this task? Is it not incumbent upon the highest emitting nations to think about our energy consumption?

We need to use energy more effi cient and we need to look for other sources of energy to replace fossil fuels. For both purposes new technologies are essential. CO2 reductions from reduced energy consumption can only be realised with new technology making it possible to maintain high standards of living in developed countries and increase standard of living in developing countries.

How far have we come in the past half century in terms of revolutionising energy policy, at a strategic level? Are there particular countries where more work needs to be done in this regard?

Energy policy has gone from a security of supply focus only to a more holistic view. New industries and new global climate objectives have developed.

Fortunately in many aspects the agendas are not mutually exclusive or in contradiction to each other, but can go hand in hand. It serves as well the security of supply and the climate to reduce our energy consumption through energy effi ciency measures and to further diversify our use of energy sources by using more and more local renewables such as wind, solar, biomass and geothermal energy.

And even so, policy making in the energy and climate sector is not only built on security of supply and climate objectives. As president Obama has said: “We need to develop green energy technologies not in spice of economic recession but because of it”. The effects of global dialogue are wider than the subject itself. It’s an example of global collaboration on a scale never seen before where all countries must work towards a common goal.