As the world begins to engage with the intractable problem of reducing greenhouse gas emissions without curbing economic growth, it's likely that more than a few countries have cast envious glances at Denmark. For official statistics show that while the Danish economy has grown by around 70% since 1980, overall energy consumption for the last 25 years has remained largely unchanged.
But note that phrase 'overall energy consumption'. Because impressive though the statistic is, it conceals the fact that while energy use in many sectors has declined, it has risen inexorably in one particular sector – transport. Like every other country, Denmark has yet to develop a viable alternative to the internal combustion engine for keeping the wheels of transport turning.
The winds of change are blowing however, and in recent months a number of electric car projects from manufacturers far and wide have breezed into the country in rapid succession: Shai Agassi's Project Better Place with Renault/Nissan, Saab and Volvo from Sweden, Aixam from France and Tesla Motors from the USA. All of them with serious plans to take a slice of Denmark's coming electric car market.
That market will not simply spring into being, however. Denmark's transport infrastructure is set up to dispense gasoline, not volts and amps, and creating a suitable power supply infrastructure for electric cars will take a lot of thinking about. Much practical research will need to be done to find out how it is best achieved.
Naturally, research needs funding, and so the Danish government has written into its 2008-2011 energy policy a commitment to supply DKK 35m (USD 7.5m) in funding for a test scheme for electric cars. The project will aim to provide answers to practical questions such as how, when and for how long charging of batteries is best done, and how systems can be arranged so that the electricity used to charge batteries comes as far as possible from renewable energy sources such as wind power.
Denmark has been targeted by the electric car manufacturers mentioned above, because it has all the right characteristics for developing an electric car society: a well developed and maintained road network, short average journey lengths, a population with a reputation for early adoption of new technologies and ways of doing things, an abundance of wind-powered electricity generation and last but not least, a tax exemption on electric cars until at least 2012.