A Visit to “Energy Island” and A Meeting with Time Magazine’s Environment Hero of the Year (1/13)

Samso Island is located in Denmark and has the unofficial title of “Energy Island” for the innovations it has made in the area of energy and community. We spent two days on Samso learning about the islands initiatives and figuring out how we could apply what we learned to our situation back home.

The energiakademi (Energy Academy) was established about 15 years ago and has been central to much of the community development-related energy projects that the island has undertaken, so we spent our first day on the island learning about various initiatives and talking to Soren Hermansen, the dynamic leader of the Academy.

The Building

The building in which the Academy is currently housed was built three years ago in the style that was typical of the island’s houses decades back.  The Academy is a long-house style building that historically would house both humans and animals.  The ventilation system runs through the ceiling.  Windows open every hour on the hour to facilitate this process.  The house is lifted above the ground a little bit, which keeps it warmer and saves money on insulation.  Similar to most houses on the island, the Academy is heated with energy from one of the island’s four district heating plants.

Electricity and Advanced Metering

Electricity for the Academy is supplied through photovoltaic cells that are overly productive in the summer, but underproductive in the winter.  Excess energy is fed into the grid and is accounted for through an energy meter that has the ability to both move forwards and backwards.  In the summer the Academy receives credit for the excess energy they produce and in the winter the credit is applied towards energy they get from other sources to meet their needs. In Denmark there are no feed-in tariffs and the Academy doesn’t expect the country to ever pass such a law.  Instead, people who want to produce energy on a small scale can apply for special metering technology for the ability to produce their own energy and connect to the grid.

Construction

Insulation for the Energy Academy came from newspaper and Russian Rupees, interestingly enough.  Two local contractors took care of the construction aspects of the house.  When the house was built three years ago, Denmark mandated 40cm of insulation in the walls and 200 cm in the floor.  The mandatory insulation requirement has now been boosted to 50cm and 300cm, respectively.  Fairly significant changes for a short amount of time!  Construction laws in Denmark are becoming more and more strict.

Community Outreach

Similar to the Winneshiek Energy District in Decorah, the Energy Academy offers a free consulting service where someone from the Academy goes to homes to look for energy saving opportunities.  The Academy also holds informational sessions in the evenings about such topics as energy efficiency, wind and solar so that local people have the ability to stay educated on such topics.

Hero of the Year

Soren Hermansen is the dynamic leader of the Energy Academy and also Time Magazine’s Environment Hero of the year in 2008.  He has been out of the office a lot lately as he travels around the world to talk about what Samso has done, but we had the good fortune to spend a few hours with him during our time at the Academy.  A native to the island, Soren has the amazing ability to bring people together and appeal to individual and community interests simultaneously.  He was a farmer until he took the job with the academy so he is well connected to the daily realities of many people on the island.  Samso Island has the tradition of looking forward and being innovative.  He recognized at the beginning that people like changes, but want to be a part of creating the changes so he worked hard to make that happen.

The Energy Academy started up in 1997 after a slaughterhouse plant shut down and 100 people were without jobs.  This was a time when innovation was welcomed and job creation was a priority.  Soren and his crew organized Café Seminars at which community opinions were discussed.  To organize the cafés, Soren sent out postcards to everyone and/or distributed the invitation through the local newspaper.  Everyone was required to RSVP and in their RSVP to name their “burning wish for Samso.”  Soren organized these burning wishes and sat people at tables accordingly.  The goal was to mix up social circles and get the creativity flowing.

Soren gathered people on the island together for meetings before any changes were made to try to get people invested.  He realized early on that turbines look ten times nicer to people if they have some shares because when someone partly owns a turbine, they not only get green energy, but also tax-free money in their pockets.

The island has had much success in becoming energy self-sufficient and has begun to share its lessons with others.  The Academy is involved with Kufunda, a community in Zimbabwe that is working on many sustainability projects.  Soren also recently met with the Japanese Minister of Energy who is interested in trying similar strategies on some islands in Japan.  Soren believes that success isn’t worth much if you can’t share it.

Soren also recognizes that technology is available almost anywhere, but the important thing is to learn how to get people together.  He truly is a community organizer with charisma.

What’s next?

Now that the original goals of “Energy Island” have been realized, Samso is moving towards the goal of being a Fossil Independent Island.  Denmark’s goal is to be Fossil Fuel Independent by the year 2050 and Samso hopes to show the rest of the country how it’s done.

Samso is planning to make a biomass plant and will soon be replacing the current ferry with one that will run on methane.

Soren told us that biofuels are a good idea for the island of Samso because Samso has the land and resources to make it an environmentally sustainable option.  Commodity crops don’t sell for very high prices on the European market and Samso doesn’t export crops to developing countries, so nothing is lost by using land for biofuel.

{ Return to Green Germany J-Term Blog for more posts. }

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