Samso Energy Self-Sufficiency
Inhabitants on the small Danish island of Samso have collaborated to form a social energy revolution. The small Baltic island has become one of the first industrialised places in the world to qualify as being totally energy self-sufficient.
As the location for next month's UN climate change summit, this comes as a huge propaganda win for Denmark, who can now boast a region that can be used by the rest of the planet as the blueprint for future green energy production. It all started in 1997 when Samso won a competition between five Danish islands to become Denmark's "Renewable Energy Island" by presenting a 10-year plan to convert its energy consumption from oil and gas to clean technology. Back then Samso was in crisis because one of the island's main businesses - a slaughterhouse employing 100 workers - was forced to close down.
The self-sufficiency dream
Engineer Ole Johnsson, from the mainland town of Aarhus, became fascinated by the competition and saw Samso as the ideal place to realise this energy self-sufficiency dream. As reported by UK newspaper the Independent, after studying the island's annual wind-speed and sunshine-hour records, he calculated how much energy the island could produce from wind turbines and other alternative sources and concluded it was possible to beat conventional sources. He sent the plan to Copenhagen and it won.
Since then 21 wind turbines have been built on Samso - an island 30 miles long and 15 wide - 10 on a sandbank off the island's south coast and another 11 dotted all over the island, and is now considered one of the most successful green-energy projects to have got off the ground since environmentalists started raising the alarm about climate change three decades ago.
Alongside the turbines, the houses in Samso's 22 villages are heated by power plants that rely on furnaces fired by wood chips and straw and farms of man-sized solar panels inhabit the fields, kept trim by herds of sheep.
The project also creates new jobs as the island's plumbers and carpenters have now all become experts in energy-saving home conversion and insulation techniques, and even get the opportunity to carry out installations in mainland Europe and the US. Being a skilled worker from the world's only "Renewable Energy Island" is proving to be quite a USP.
Inoffensive wind turbines
Samso's initial army of NIMBYs had to be won over by the idea of a green energy revolution on their island, but things such as inoffensive wind turbines of the "harmonious" - as opposed to the more offensive "gorilla" - type, which means they are all painted the same colour and have a standard height and blade length, helped to ease the transition.
But despite the utilitarian nature of Samso's achievements, the real winners of the project are the big financial investors. One of them is Jörgen Tranberg, who owns a 250-acre dairy farm. With help from the bank, the 55-year-old farmer invested 2.5 million euros in wind turbines. He paid 1.2 million euros for the one on his farm he owns outright and he is half-owner of one of the offshore turbines, too. He claims that on a good day the windmills alone can earn him 3,000 euros, as told by the Independent.
Like it or not, it is these sort of numbers that will truly get the ball rolling on similar schemes across the globe. The uplifting sentiment of helping to save the world through renewable energy will not be enough to ensure it replaces traditional sources. Governments and investors need to know that the numbers add up, and if they follow the example set by Samso and the Danish government, they will.