At the GridWise Global Forum, Anders Eldrup told me in his strong accent that he's used to criticism. It comes with the job of being the Chief Executive officer of DONG Energy, the state-owned power company.

Denmark can take energy risks. The small country has Germany as its energy sugar daddy to back it up if all of the renewable energy doesn't supply the demand. Dong, turbine maker Vestas, and industrialist Danfoss have also been building a large renewable energy and energy efficiency business for decades. (Denmark in fact is part of a growing green industry in the Nordic region.)

"My generation was primarily powered on coal, but a lot has changed in the past 10 years," said Eldrup.

Denmark had a vision to switch the equation from 85 percent of production from coal and 15 percent from renewables to 85 percent from renewables and 15 percent from coal by 2040.

Currently, 20 percent of power in Denmark comes from wind.

"This is a good turnaround for the company, as we are closing down power plants. Still, wind is an unstable friend and we must rely on power stations," said Eldrup.

It will take time to meet the lofty goals in the coming years. After Denmark invested in wind turbines in the 1980s, it became the leader in the wind industry.

Denmark is traditionally a farming country. While states in the midwestern U.S. are trying to make corn into ethanol, Denmark is turning its straw into biomass."Using feedstock for ethanol is sort of a problem," said Eldrup, who would much rather use a second-generation source for biomass.

It turns out when you co-fire 90 percent coal with 10 percent straw, you get an optimal mixture. (The country's largest biotech companies have announced breakthroughs that make cellulosic ethanol closer in cost to gasoline.)

Denmark has the world's largest demonstration plant for turning second-generation straw into ethanol. The country has sold its first license to a Japanese company that will build a large-scale plant in Malaysia.

"There's an enormous amount of biomass that is not used. Find a way to turn excess material into energy," said Eldrup in reference to using straw.

Denmark taps into materials that are not being used today. Most big cities produce a lot of waste, so Denmark is testing a new plant that will help get rid of organic waste by treating it with enzymes that will turn it into ethanol.

"People are not very happy about waste and need to get rid of it anyway," said Eldrup.

One of the more innovative methods that the country has developed for saving energy is using water that normally would just be spilled into the sea. After decades of installing updated infrastructure, the heated water from power stations heats 60 percent of the country's homes today.

Denmark is the only country that uses district heating on this scale. It's invasive, because you have to dig up roads and put in pipes, and basically forces residents to heat their homes in this way. But in a country that has to keep the heat on for eight months out of the year, laying down the pipes to deliver heat from otherwise unused water has paid off.

"We are not leading in everything; we are a small country. The competition is increasing. China is moving fast on wind [and electric vehicles]," said Eldrup. (See As wind sours, will the U.S. fall behind?)

Denmark is the first country in Europe to introduce electric vehicles to the market. "We know a lot of consumers like the thought of driving an electric vehicle because they don't pollute the environment, but are they willing to buy the vehicles?"

They'll find out soon enough. Eldrup knows that introducing electric vehicles is risky, and the early stages of the introduction process will likely be riddled with problems.

But Eldrup really isn't all in it for the cars. "The smart grid is a very important part; that's why we are interested in electric cars," he said.

Until now, it has been difficult to store electricity the same way we store coal or gas. But the cell phone industry significantly improved batteries. Eldrup wonders, "Why not put four wheels on the battery?"

Better Place is building out electric vehicle networks in Denmark. "Every now and then, we are lucky enough that it works."