Early Rejser: The answer is blowing in the wind

Before I moved to Denmark I knew a single Dane, and he was crazy. I use ‘single’ here in the numerical sense, but he was, as it happens, romantically unattached – a fact only interesting in how unsurprising it will soon appear. I use ‘crazy’ literally.

Invisible after all
One of his saner habits was to rise at 5am every weekday and cycle over 40 kilometres from his Helsingør home to his Copenhagen office. I once asked him what those rides were like in winter and he enigmatically replied: “So dark you can’t see the hand that slaps you.”

It wasn’t until the start of this month, a year and a half since I moved to Copenhagen and many more since this exchange, that I suddenly recalled it and fully understood for the first time.

Halfway up Amager Strandvej, having risen before the sun so I could run to work, his words jumped out of the darkness to slap their sense into me. I was so used to his expressions being impenetrable that it wasn’t until I found myself in Copenhagen, athletically commuting in the chilly morning dark – the pale arms of a wind-farm spinning in my periphery while my face was buffeted by harsh coastal gusts – that I realised the unseen hand was the wind.

It comes naturally
Denmark’s celebrated status as a world leader in wind energy was one of the few things I knew about the place before I came. Yet somehow, it was only after moving here that I really understood that lots of wind power means lots of wind.

As I bowed my head and ploughed forwards that morning, I recalled a string of recent events – being almost blown off my bike, having a book torn from my hands as I read in the park, watching a man in a tuxedo run the length of a road chasing a banknote – and thought: there’s only so much credit you can take for producing wind power here. It’s akin to being given lemons and making lemonade.

True praise should be reserved for achievements made when the elements are against you. After a summer in which I could count the sunny days on one gloved hand, I would be willing to extend endless credit to Denmark should it establish itself as a world leader in solar energy.

Somewhat flat-footed
Wind power represented 71.8 percent of renewable electricity generated here last year, solar just 4.2 percent. While to me this seems an accurate reflection of the climate, analysts have argued this disparity is at least partly due to unfair subsidy schemes. A deal struck last month will put this to the test, with solar projects now able to compete on an equal footing with wind projects for government subsidies.

But these changes may have come too late for some. The crazy Dane quit his job last summer in order to develop the planet’s most efficient solar panel. While boasting neither scientific nor engineering credentials, he felt his status as a Flat Earther qualified him for the job.

By considering such factors as the actual size of the sun (a modest 32 miles in diameter) and the true, flat nature of its orbit (its apparent rising and setting is an optical illusion), he believed he could create a more efficient panel than those shaped by NASA’s endless lies.

Sadly, his efforts have yet to yield results, and he cites a shortage of funds as the major obstacle. The last I heard he was considering reapplying for his old job. But perhaps the promise of a fair shot at subsidies will change his mind.