Blue Denmark has green wind in its sails

“Several commercial ports have previously been discontinued, and activities have been concentrated in fewer locations. But there is no need to come up with tall sea tales as an excuse, and Danish ports are by no means lagging behind. For today, the municipalities are maintaining even small ports, and Danish ports have prospects of high growth with many employees – not least because of the green transition,” says Tine Kirk Pedersen, CEO of Danske Havne, the trade association for Danish commercial ports.

“Our role as a trade association is to protect the areas and jobs that the ports comprise. The ports create lots of activity and jobs throughout Denmark.”

This is how CEO Tine Kirk Pedersen outlines the main task faced by the trade association Danske Havne, which has 51 members comprising 62 ports. And it is no secret that a number of ports have been under pressure – and several are being discontinued.

“Before 2011, we had 80 members, but some of them have discontinued their tasks of, for example, transporting rocks, stones, gravel, grain or feedstuffs,” says Tine Kirk Pedersen. Holbæk is an example of how the port’s commercial activities gradually disappeared and were replaced by housing. At the moment, Kerteminde and Sønderborg are facing similar challenges.

Construction projects on ports

Homes located in former port areas are often attractive because there are views of the sea – something that it is otherwise difficult to obtain in new housing construction due to coastal protection rules. But new construction projects or project development may also comprise offices, shops and cafés.

“In relation to the development, we’re of the opinion that even though many municipalities are particularly eager to have homes located in the port areas, they’re also trying to maintain commercial activities. In areas with new construction projects, maritime elements like slipways, railway tracks, harbour grills, ice cream houses and restaurants are increasingly being preserved,” says Tine Kirk Pedersen.

“Often, some of the small fishing boats are preserved, and a marina is established, or the existing one is expanded, so there is still a huge amount of activity at the ports in Denmark. We’re very well known as blue Denmark – and the many professional ports and our proud traditions as a seafaring nation greatly help maintain this development.”

The Danish merchant fleet overtook the US merchant fleet in 2019 and became the world’s fifth-largest, only surpassed by Greece, Singapore, China and Japan.

From road to sea

The ports remain large workplaces of great economic importance to the whole of Denmark, even though activities are being concentrated in fewer ports – which, in turn, are regularly expanding. All of blue Denmark – which, in addition to the ports, includes maritime transport, ferries and shipyards – employs nearly 100,000 persons, and the ports handle around 80% of the foreign trade.

And the ports are hoping that this share can increase as part of the green transition – for example, the EU aims to move large volumes of goods transport from road to sea. In fact, ships use less energy than trucks, and transport by sea can also reduce traffic on the often congested roads.

Wind provides growth

According to Tine Kirk Pedersen, the green transition is also the ports’ greatest growth area in other ways. For example, wind turbines today have a size making it difficult to transport them by land:

“Esbjerg has many assignments as a shipping port for wind turbines. About 50% of our activities now have something to do with renewable energy, and this share will continue to increase. Several ports are being used as bases for offshore wind farms, both during the construction phase and when the wind farms are up and running and need continuous servicing.”

As an example, she mentions the small Port of Klintholm on Møn. Last summer, it became the service port for the wind farm Kriegers Flak, which created about 35 jobs, according to Tine Kirk Pedersen. Several huge projects with offshore wind farms and even artificial energy islands are in the offing and will create additional activity at several ports.

Offshore solar energy

As of today, several ports have many jobs from another element of the green transition, namely the phasing out of oil and gas, most recently manifested by a broad political settlement in December to end all Danish oil extraction by 2050.

“For example, a large facility has just been established in Frederikshavn where end-of-life oil rigs are dismantled and then recycled. Recycling is precisely an area in which we are expecting great growth,” says the Director of Danske Havne.

In addition, solar energy is a budding area for Danish ports. The reason is the same as when we need to apply extra sunscreen when we are at sea. “The sun’s rays are reflected by the water, and offshore solar farms can therefore generate extra electricity. There is a facility at Hvide Sande, and it’s interesting for several ports to look into this,” says Tine Kirk Pedersen.

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