"The world needs more wind energy," Morten Albaek explained when he stopped by The Daily Green's office the other day. In town from Copenhagen, Denmark, Albaek has been on a whirlwind mission to promote renewable energy and the forthcoming WindMade global consumer label, which he says was his idea.
Albaek is senior vice president for global marketing of Denmark's Vestas, the largest wind turbine manufacturer in the world. Youthful, stylish and good-looking, Albaek makes a memorable ambassador for wind power. He was trained as a philosopher, so he's accustomed to thinking big.
Albaek told us that, with improvements in the grid and the right incentives, wind energy could provide 20% of the world's needs in the foreseeable future. "To protect the planet we live on, we need that," he explained.
The WindMade label is a bold attempt to spur along his industry. It's a kind of global "trustmark," similar to Fair Trade or Organic, and not unlike the iconic "chasing arrows" recycling symbol. Products that are made with a significant amount of wind energy can be certified to carry the seal. Eventually, whole businesses, organizations and even countries may qualify.
The WindMade program is being administered by an independent foundation (WindMade.org), which Vestas helped establish with starter funding. The Danish turbine maker controls one seat on the board, and other stakeholders include Lego (yes, the toy block maker), Bloomberg media, the World Wildlife Fund, the UN Global Compact and the Global Wind Energy Council. PricewaterhouseCoopers will serve as the auditor.
How Will It Work?
The WindMade.org team is currently hammering out the details for the program, and soon there will be a public comment period, with a final projected rollout estimated for mid-year. Specifically, Albaek said the working group is considering a baseline minimum of 12.5% of a product's energy footprint coming from wind, at least for initial certification. They hope to ramp the requirement up over time, and also to be able to state the precise amount for each product. For companies looking to get a seal for their whole operation, Albaek said they may start with a baseline of 5% wind energy, "with a commitment to a fairly ambitious target to increase the amount of renewables used."
Albaek stressed that WindMade will require a significant percentage of wind energy to come from new installations (probably turbines placed in service within two years). "This ensures we have more going into the grid," he said. Of course, this also ensures a steady supply of new business for Vestas, meaning WindMade could turn out to be a smart win-win for its co-founders.
Interestingly, Albaek also said he hopes some of the money raised through fees collected on the label will be used to install new wind farms in the developing world, "so they can avoid the same mistakes as us."
Will It Work?
WindMade is an ambitious idea, and so far signs point to broad-based and transparent implementation. Of course, it's not surprising the wind industry is behind it. When Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute and big agribusiness tried to launch an "Earth Friendly, Farm Friendly" label a few years ago, which would require farmers to use industrial pesticides and production methods, the scheme was roundly criticized as blatantly self-serving and inauthentic. So far at least, WindMade seems to be avoiding the same mistakes.
Still, the question remains, will consumers embrace a WindMade label? USDA Organic has enjoyed rigorous growth, although it's also true people care a lot about their own health and what they put in their bodies. Fair Trade has gradually built traction around the world, but it hasn't become as powerful as organic. Let's face it, consumers tend to be most concerned with their immediate selves. American consumers, in particular, have not been quick to count carbon, although it's also true wind turbines make powerful symbols. (Albaek calls them "huge sculptures.")
The Guardian recently suggested that WindMade could draw the ire of those opposed to wind power, or at least opposed to it in their own backyards. Albaek said he isn't worried about that. "There will always be critics, and every type of energy has a downside," he said. "We have to engage in conversations, and explain how we are working on things."
"I came from a philosophical background, and I believe that if you create transparency, people can make enlightened choices," Albaek said. He calls people "citisumers," arguing that there is now little difference between consumers and citizens of political entities. A philosopher, he is confident of the rational and "sensible" qualities of these citisumers, and he believes enough of us are sufficiently worried about global warming to drive a big shift to clean technology.
Albaek hopes WindMade will stimulate the market, and that it will benefit and serve as an example for other renewable energy labels, such as a SunMade or a GeothermalMade. He stressed that what WindMade.org learns will be "open source" and freely available for others to emulate. However, according to Albaek, "There's also a reason why wind is first; it's the most mature, developed and organized clean energy."
Check out this video made by the team behind WindMade:
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