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Danish Island Becomes Energy Self-Sufficient: the Lesson of Samsø

Samsø, a Danish island in the North Sea, has become entirely energy self-sufficient, by using wind energy, solar and other renewables. The community was puzzled when it was announced in 1997 that it had won a government prize awarded to a community who would create a renewable energy plan; an engineer had submitted the entry without telling anyone but Samsø’s mayor. Interest was high after the award, but then fell off. It was Soren Hermansen, a lifelong resident of the island, who took on the task of turning the plan into action. The story of how he did it is a blueprint for other communities around the world.

In the nineties, the island of 4,300 people imported all their energy, mostly in oil tankers, and paid little attention to where it came from. In a fascinating article in The New Yorker magazine, Elizabeth Kolbert reports that:

“Then, quite deliberately, the residents of the island set about changing this. They formed energy coöperatives and organized seminars on wind power. They removed their furnaces and replaced them with heat pumps. By 2001, fossil-fuel use on Samsø had been cut in half. By 2003, instead of importing electricity, the island was exporting it, and by 2005 it was producing from renewable sources more energy than it was using.”

Image Credit: Joachim Ladefoged, The New Yorker

What was the process that transformed Samsø? Years of talking, educating and persuading, and the following:

  • A leader who is motivated and knows the social relationships in the community
  • Visits to every local meeting, no matter how small or on what issue, to discuss the project
  • Willingness to make the project something that is fun and competitive with other communities (bringing free beer helps)
  • Enlisting the support of the island’s opinion leaders

The people of Samsø stress that they are not special people, but they began to think about their energy — “It became a kind of sport”. Now Samsø teaches others how to transform their communities in its energy academy.

 
 
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Written By

Carol Gulyas is a leader in the renewable energy community in Illinois, where she serves as VP of the Board of the Illinois Solar Energy Association. Recently she co-founded EcoAchievers -- a provider of online education for the renewable energy and sustainable living community. She spent 18 years in the direct marketing industry in New York and Chicago, and is currently a teaching librarian at Columbia College Chicago. Carol grew up in a small town in central Indiana, then lived in the Pacific Northwest, Lima, Peru, and New York City. She is inspired by reducing energy consumption through the use of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and green building technology.

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