Catching The Energy Island Spirit

I have now been on the small island of Samso in Denmark for a little over a week. Samso is a small, rural community of about 4,000 residents which at first glance looks like a typical farming village. Upon second glance, you may notice the 11 off-shore wind turbines or the 3 sets of on-shore turbines. As you look deeper you may notice the district heating plants with stacks of biomass to heat the island and as you look even deeper you will see a group of people set on helping the world rethink their energy usage by showing the viability of a completely renewable society.

Twelve years ago Samso won a competition to become Denmark’s renewable energy island. They had to convert within 10 years using existing technology and they did just that. Actually they did it in about 8; they have even converted 70% of the island’s heating to renewables and have accounted for their transport emissions by using credits from their turbines. The initiative has been headed by Soren Hermansen, an environmental scientist by training and a natural orator. I have spent the last week with Soren and his colleagues at the Samso Energy Academy, an institution that was set up to help spread awareness and direct the future sustainability projects on the island. Presently, the Academy is working on a transport proposal to switch the island bus system to electric.

Over the past week I have been living the small island life and loving every moment of this tranquil and peaceful place. I have had the chance to talk to a number of farmers and villagers who have lived on the island and changed the way they think about energy usage as a result of this project: from the farmer who runs his tractor on rapeseed to the pig farmer who has become an entreprenuer, owning his own wind turbine in Samso and investing in solar power in Germany. The people of Samso don’t think they should pay outsiders to ruin their beautiful environment and have therefore taken control of their energy future. It is also interesting to note that some of the wind turbines on Samso are cooperatively owned by the residents further increasing their stake and interest in the project. Samso is a really interesting experiement in how community members can be actively engaged and interested in participating in sustainable development projects.

It should be noted that I haven’t spent all day in interviews and meetings. I have gotten the chance to hike around the beautiful scenic landscape as well as bike through the many small villages on the 155 square kilometer island. Here are a couple of pictures from my time here so far.

From Samso, Denmark
From Samso, Denmark
From Samso, Denmark
From Samso, Denmark