Danish owners of wind turbines in front of a light projection showing the Danish roadmap to 100 % renewable energy. Renewable energy is a key solution to climate change, says the IPCC, currently meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark  © Greenpeace / Christian Aslund

Back in the 1970s dedicated and resourceful Danes made a choice to take control of their energy, turning their backs on nuclear and embracing a renewable energy by building their own wind turbines. It started a true revolution. Now the country is on its way to power all it's heat and power with 100% renewable energy in just 20 years from now – and transport too by 2050.

This week, the city of Copenhagen, Denmark's capital, plays host to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as it finalises its 5th Assessment Report, AR5. Earlier in the year the solutions part of the report already showed that renewable energies are bigger and cheaper than ever and ready to start replacing fossil fuels.

And they are more needed than ever. As the IPCC outlined: "a fundamental transformation of the energy system" is needed, including a "long - term phase - out of unabated fossil fuel conversion technologies".

Sounds like we need a plan!

We contacted some energy experts around the world to hear their thoughts about Denmark's commitment to 100% renewable energy; on 100% renewables as a solution for others too, and on the choices outlined by the IPCC report in general. The responses were truly encouraging.

Paul Gipe, Renewable energy industry analyst and Principal at wind-works.org, US sums it up:

"Making the transition to 100% renewable energy is a political – not technical – decision. The technologies and the knowledge necessary exist today. The choice is simple: Do we make the transition or not? Denmark has made that decision."

Denmark's example inspires energy experts

Denmark's 100% renewable goal has clearly inspired world's energy experts.

"I full heartedly welcome Denmark's bold and inspiring commitment for their 100% energy supply – electricity, heating, industry and transport – is to be covered by renewable energy by 2050", says Dipal Barua from Bangladesh, a Chairman of Bright Green Energy Foundation and advisor to the Green Climate Fund.

The commitment is considered as transformational and unique.

"As the first OECD country, the Nordic country goes beyond the power sector and teaches us that a holistic and integrated approach is the cheapest, fastest and most sustainable strategy", said Harry Lehmann, General Director of the Federal Environmental Agency, Germany.

Denmark's climate targets also include a phase out of coal by 2030, followed by a complete phase-out of fossil fuels by 2050; a 40% reduction on domestic greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 by 2020; and an electricity mix made up 50% from wind by 2020. 

"Denmark remains the only major national government in the world to have acknowledged the increasingly unavoidable fact that others continue to ignore: namely, that it will be impossible to ensure a stable climate for future generations without phasing out the use of coal in the electricity sector", says Toby D. Couture, a Canadian Founder and Director of E3 Analytics.

Power to the people

Today Denmark is a world leader in wind power – both in terms of use and manufacturing, but it all started from regular people wanting to make a difference. Despite the rise of larger turbines and increasing industrialisation, three-quarters of Denmark's wind turbines are still owned by ordinary citizens.

"Denmark is the show-case of energy transition not only towards 100% renewables, but also in the transition from large, centralised monopoly to small distributed community power, in other words, they are democratising energy for the people", commends Tetsunari Iida, Executive Director & Founder of the Institution for Sustainable Energy Policies (ISEP).

Spreading the Danish revolution globally

Denmark may still be the leader but experts believe that 100% renewables can be made a reality across the world:

"If 100% renewables is possible in Denmark, why not in sunny South Africa?", asks Professor Harald Winkler, Director of the Energy Research Centre, University of Cape Town, South Africa.

"As AR5 makes clear, many renewable energy technologies have substantially advanced in terms of performance and cost. For South Africa, concentrating solar power with storage is a key technology", he continues.

"By attesting its comprehensive leadership in harnessing wind-electricity within broader energy systems, Denmark's example will likely inspire other Governments. This includes that of my home country, Morocco, who could meet similar objectives," says Khalid Benhamou, Managing Director from Sahara Wind in Morocco.

Professor S.C. Bhattacharya (India) from the World Bioenergy Association believes 100% can work for all countries:

"A global move towards 100%RE is vital for addressing the twin problems of depleting conventional fossil fuel reserves and climate change as well as associated problems such as urban air pollution. Few will disagree that 100%RE is feasible and likely for practically all countries by 2100. With enough political will and concerted efforts, this can be achieved as early as 2050."

Christine Lins, Executive Director of REN21, Germany, agrees, especially on power sector:

"Progress during the last decade has shown tremendous advancements of renewable energy use in the electricity sector. Many scenarios outline possible pathways towards 100% electricity from renewables by mid-century."

No compromising of development and well-being

David de Jager, Managing Consultant on Ecofys and an operating agent for the IEA-RETD, has studied the 100% renewable future in detail.

"There is no doubt that a fully sustainable and largely renewable global energy system is technically and economically possible by 2050. Ecofys did the calculations for The Energy Report (TER) with the following clear message: by utilising today's technologies alone, 95% of all energy can be renewable by 2050, comfortable lifestyles can be developed and sustained, and long-term benefits can outweigh short-term costs."

Other experts, too, agreed that development and well-being will not be compromised.

"Such a conversion [to 100% renewables] will eliminate most all air pollution and global warming, create jobs, and provide energy stability and energy price stability. It will benefit our children and grandchildren and many generations beyond", said Professor Mark Z. Jacobson of Stanford University

"Fossil fuel consumption reduction without compromising development and human well-being IS possible if a strong energy policy is promoted towards sustainable production and consumption of energy, which implies a strong promotion of energy efficiency and renewable energy sources", says Professor Ana María Cetto, from the Institute of Physics, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Alarming science calls for urgent action

The importance of taking ambitious action will be further emphasised this week, as the IPCC will outline the urgent need to head for zero carbon emissions.

"We know the very simple fact, that we have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the energy system to zero within two to four decades. Our global civilization is at highest risk in case we fail. The energy system needs to be transformed under the constraints of sustainability and least total societal cost. The only solution is a 100% renewable energy system", sums professor Christian Breyer of the University of Lappeenranta, Finland.

Fortunately, the transition has already started, big time, and Denmark is not the only example of the renewable energy technologies have proven scale. Scotland has a target to supply 100% of the country's electricity demand from renewable sources by 2020, while similar aims are taking root in Cape Verde, Africa as well as Latin America where Costa Rica is one of the leading nations.

Meanwhile big cities around the world have set a 100% renewables target including the German cities Frankfurt and Munich, Sydney in Australia and San Francisco in the US.

Professor Peter Lund explains why this idea is taking root:

"Climate change is a result of an unsustainable economy. Denmark has shown that through investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency, countries can simultaneously improve their economy, create new jobs, and mitigate the climate change," he says.

"Energy efficiency and renewable energies are the largest energy sources that we have, and together they are often the least-cost clean energy option as well. The technology and economy aspects clearly speak for a renewable energy turnabout. But these words sound empty unless the politicians all round the world have the courage and vision to decide in favour of a renewable energy future, in the same way as Denmark did. Carpe diem decision-makers."

The 100% RE campaign urges political and business leaders to act on science, and to start phasing in a 100% renewable energy future today, with sustainable energy access for all as by early as possible, but no later than 2050. As the expert statements from around the world underline, this future is fully within our reach, if we decide so.

For full answers from the experts cited, see here.

Anna Leidreiter is the Policy Officer Climate and Energy for the World Future Council and Kaisa Kosonen is a Climate Policy Advisor with Greenpeace Nordic.