Have you ever heard of a Danish island called Samsø? Neither had I, but you’d like it. The island is known for its strawberry picking, potatoes, and the tiny little fact that they are completely Carbon Neutral. Naturally, this little island off the coast of Denmark has started to attract global attention.
It doesn’t look like much– about 4,000 people living on less than 115 square kilometers of land—but look closer and you’ll see the rows of wind turbines set up offshore, the sparkly dot of a solar panels on every roof; the island has realized its green energy potential.In fact, it totally got rid of its carbon footprint by using a combination of wind & solar power and biofuel.
This incredible undertaking began in 1997 when the little island of Samsø won a state-financed competition to be “Denmark’s Renewable Island.” That competition was the catalyst for both islanders and public entities to get involved. A traditionally pragmatic people, the Danish islanders saw the basic economic motive for participating: money. Being all Earth-friendly was a happy bonus.
Many islanders are shareholders in the wind turbines that supply power to the island and many others have installed their own household windmills, wood chip boilers, heat pumps, and solar panels in an effort to save money and be self-sufficient. Not only are the islanders saving themselves money overall, they are also profiting from the shares they hold in these green energy enterprises. As the price and demand for oil is ever-rising, this initiative has been a blessed experiment for the island’s residents.
One such resident, Jørgen Tranberg, who saw the economic potential early on, has invested in the wind energy on the island. He fully owns one 1MW land-based turbine and co-owns another 2.5 MW turbine from which he generates a healthy profit. “When the wind turbines were introduced, no one was interested in CO2 emissions,” he says,” But most people now have recognized that the temperature is rising- except those who buy houses right on the edge of the sea.”
Residents do not have to invest the $1.2 million that Tranberg has in order to work toward self-sufficiency or profit. Another resident, Bo Agerskov, participates in the island’s green economy on a more private level. Agerskov has his own wood chip boiler and utilizes solar panels, and his drive stems from not only economic interest but in the interest of sustainability. He explains that if he connects his wood chip boiler to one of the turbines, he can be completely self-supplying with sustainable energy.
Due to its success, Samskø has become a target for green tourism. Other countries have also taken notice of the small island; Japan, China, and the U.S are only some of the countries who have sent delegates to visit and who have taken home ideas and inspiration to their own countries.
For example, Montpelier, Vermont has taken its cue from the Samskø model of wood-fueled heating. Montpelier is on the brink of completing a wood-fueled central heating system for the entire city and has pledged a goal to be a town run completely by sustainable energy by 2030.
Now that it has become an international beacon of sustainable living, Samskø’s next goal is to eliminate the use of fossil fuels for transportation to the island and on the island, itself. Some of the cars and tractors on the island are already electric, and the island is more increasingly utilizing biofuel.
The island would love to become a producer of biofuel, and it seems that everyone from professional engineers to regular islanders are collaborating to find the best plants from which to extract energy. The spark that ignited in 1997 with what was, at the time, an experimental competition, has created an island powerhouse that, concerned about the costs to the people and the planet, are finding ways to make the world beyond their own shores a greater, greener place.