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The Island Laboratory of Samsø

The small Danish island of Samsø which is comparable in size to Belle-Île in France, wants to become a template for the energy transition in Europe. The island does not test cutting-edge technologies, but rather validates green energy methods, a job facilitated by its small size and strong community support.

Ten offshore wind turbines have been installed off the coast of Samsø to generate electricity for local consumption or export to the Danish grid.
Ten offshore wind turbines have been installed off the coast of Samsø to generate electricity for local consumption or export to the Danish grid. ©Thinckstock

Samsø does not have any particular energy supply issues. Nestled between Jutland, the continental portion of Denmark, and Zealand, home to the capital Copenhagen, the island is within 50 kilometers of either coast. In addition to being connected to the Danish grid, the 114-square-kilometer island can rely on many shipping routes to secure the fuelFuel is any solid, liquid or gaseous substance or material that can be combined with an oxidant... supply of its nearly 4,000 inhabitants.

In the 1990s, Samsø was chosen by the Danish government to test the technical feasibility and social acceptability of converting the community to 100% renewable energyEnergy sources that are naturally replenished so quickly that they can be considered inexhaustible on a human time scale... . The Samsø Energy Academy1 created in 2006, offers educational workshops on sustainable developmentThis term was first defined in the Brundtland Report, published in 1987, as “development that meets the needs of the present without... and regularly hosts delegations from Europe and the rest of the world.

Samsø, an Exporter of Wind Power

The first phase of the program was aimed at producing electricityForm of energy resulting from the movement of charged particles (electrons) through a conductor... from 11 land-based wind turbines, spread among three farms, and ten huge offshoreRefers to sea-based oil exploration and production operations, as in "offshore license" or "offshore drilling". turbines, located three kilometers off the coast. The electricity from each farm is collected and transmitted to the island’s homes. Once the residents’ electric needs are met, the excess is exported to the Danish grid. Of the 105,000 megawatt-hours of electricity generated by Samsø’s turbines every year, three-quarters are absorbed by the public utility. Wind already accounts for a large share of the country’s electricity supply. A vast interconnection system linking Denmark to Norwegian hydropower plants and the north German grid enables the country to balance the intermittent nature of wind powerIn physics, power is the amount of energy supplied by a system per unit time. In simpler terms, power can be viewed as energy output... .

To promote community buy-in of the program, Samsø residents are allowed to own a portion of the wind turbines under a cooperative ownership arrangement.

The Danish island of Samsø teaches energy transition best practices to visitors from around the world.

District Heating, 75% of the Total

Another program objective was to reduce the amount of imported fuel oil used to provide heatIn the field of statistical thermodynamics today, heat refers to the transfer of the thermal agitation of the particles making up matter... and hot water to the island’s residents and small businesses. Over the years, Samsø has built several heating plants and a dense district heating network. A plant in the north of the island uses solar thermal panels, combined with a wood chip boiler. Smaller units in the center and the south burn straw to heat water. Together, these facilities supply 75% of the population’s heat.

Samsø’s more isolated homes are fitted with individual solar collectors, geothermalDescribes the technology used to tap subsurface heat to produce energy... heat pumps or wood pellet boilers. The island’s large golf course is a showcase for eco-friendly equipment and solutions.

Samsø’s population used to produce 45,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. But now, according to the Energy Academy, the island has a negative annual carbon footprintThe carbon footprint (also known as greenhouse gas inventory) of a good or service measures the impact human activities have on the environment ... of 15,000 metric tons. That is because Samsø exports a large amount of its renewably sourced power to the central grid, and this surplus largely compensates for the island’s emissions, particularly from transportation.

Gradually Becoming Fossil Free

Samsø’s next goal is to become a fossil-free island. A project was launched in 2017 to build a large biogasA product of the methanation (anaerobic digestion) of organic waste... plant that can process all of the island’ solid and liquid organic waste. The objective is to gradually replace the three diesel-run ferries that currently provide transportation to and from the island with boats powered by the locally produced biogas. Electric cars already account for half of Samsø’s municipal fleet, and there are five charging stations on the tiny island. By 2020, it is hoped that 50% of all cars on the road will run on electricity or biogas.