In 1997, Samsø, a Danish island, won a government competition to become a model renewable energy community. Four islands, Laeso, Samso, Aero and Mon, and the region of Thyholm in Jutland, were asked to put forward a convincing plan to cut their carbon outputs and boost their renewable-energy generation. Samso won.
Islanders have cut their carbon footprint by a staggering 140%
At the time, the island was entirely dependent on oil brought in from the mainland by tankers and on coal-powered electricity transmitted to the island through a mainland cable link. Today that traffic in energy has been reversed. 100% of its electricity comes from wind power and millions of kilowatt hours of electricity from renewable energy sources is exported to the rest of Denmark.
An offshore wind farm with 10 turbines and 11 land-based windmills were completed, funded by the islanders. The people of Samsø now heat their homes with straw burned in a central heating system and power some vehicles on biofuel which they also grow.
Now 100% of its electricity comes from wind power and 75% of its heat comes from solar power and biomass energy.
An Energy Academy has opened in Ballen, with a visitor education centre
Each plant is owned by a collective of local people or by an individual islander. The Samso revolution has been an exercise in self-determination – a process in which islanders have decided to demonstrate – and fund – measures to alleviate climate damage while still maintaining a comfortable lifestyle.
What has happened in Samsø is a social not a technological revolution. It was a requirement of the scheme that only existing, off-the-shelf renewable technology be used. The real changes have been in attitude.
Electrician Brian Kjar, who has a house near the southern town of Orby, bought a wind turbine second-hand for a fifth of its original price. This produces more electricity than his household needs, so he uses the excess to heat water that he keeps in a huge insulated tank he built. On Samsø’s occasional windless days, this provides heating for his home when the 70ft turbine outside his house is not moving. His comment:
‘Everyone knows someone who is interested in renewable energy today. Something like this starts with a few people. It just needs time to spread. That is the real lesson of Samsø.’