Sunday, July 06, 2008

Saving Energry: One Danish Island Does it!

There's a great article in the July 7 and 14 New York titled "The Island in the Wind" by Elizabeth Kolbert about the Dutch island of Samso, where over a decade the 4300 people living changed how they used energy so by 2005 Samso was "producing from renewable sources more energy than it was using."

The people at Samso are conservative farmers mostly--not wealthy, not idealistic, not adventurous. First, the Danish government had a contest to choose one community to sponsor for a renewable energy project. After an engineer along with Samso's mayor drew up a plan to wean the island off fossil fuel, the island won the contest. The Danish federal government funded one person, Soren Hermansen, to be the project's first employee. For years Hermansen worked alone to convince these conservative farmers to rethink how they used energy in discussions and "he brought free beer along to the discussions." More and more people got involved.

People in Samso erected eleven big turbines on land and a dozen micro-wind turbines. The land-based wind turbines produce enough electricity for all 4,300 people on the island. They also erected 10 offshore wind-turbines, and one offshore wind turbine provides electricity for 2,000 homes. So the 10 offshore turbines "were erected to compensate for Samso's continuing use of fossil fields in its cars, trucks, and ferries." The offshore turbines feed electricity back into the energy grid as well as provide the "energy equivalent of all gasoline and diesel oil consumed on the island." So Samso produces more energy than it consumes.

The turbines were financed three ways. The European grants gave money. Cooperatives of Danes buying shares at $360/share also paid for the turbines. And private investors put up money for turbines making 8% on their investments. Farmer Tranberg on Samso took out a $1 million while the Danish government promised him above market price for his power. Now his windmill has paid off, and he's making enough money to retire, but he still farms because he likes it. People in Samso are now making money off their turbines.

Also Samso has three plants which burn biomass to make heat for buildings: in one plant they burn bales of straw; a 2nd also burns straw; a third burns wood chips. The straw used in the two plants comes from wheat stalks the farmers used to burn in their fields. A few farmers also use canola oil to run cars and tractors, but their program using electric cars failed. The people also removed their furnaces, replacing them with heat pumps. They're now working on finding ways to run their cars without gasoline.

What Samso shows is that one very modest federal program spending a tiny amount of money started moblizing of an entire community. One can't sit back and let "the experts" decide our energy future. At Samso they financed the program partially through cooperatives in which people of modest means could invest. The investors are getting excellent returns of 8% on investments. The people of Samso lacked fancy educations but did have common sense. They didn't sacrifice their way of life when they changed their methods of using energy. Instead they became a world famous showcase of how simple technology we have now can reduce our energy bill to 0. People from around the world now come to Samso to study how they did it.

1 comment:


Piú giú, in fondo alla tuscolana...!?...passavo per un saluto!