Energy  |  Successes  |  22.06.2011

Samsø Renewable Energy Island

A small island off the Danish mainland with a population of 4,300, Samsø was entirely dependent on oil and coal imports for its energy use. In 1997, the island won a government competition to become a model community for renewable energy, and began a Ten Year Plan to develop the project. It was decided that the eleven 1 MW wind turbines would be constructed to meet the islands electricity needs, and that 60% of the islands homes would be connected to district heating systems burning woodchips and hay.

The eleven planned wind turbines were erected in 1999/2000, and three new district heating plants were completed between 2002 and 2005. At this point, the island was able to generate 100% of its electricity needs, and around two-thirds of the island’s heating needs were met with renewable energy. However, the islanders decided not to stop there.  It was deemed that the technical solution to entirely decarbonise the transport sector of the island was not yet economically feasible, so in 2002, work started on the construction of an offshore wind park, which offsets the emission in the transport sector by exporting renewable electricity to the mainland. Solutions such as growing biofuels, producing hydrogen or electrifying the island’s vehicles are currently being explored, but until these can be implemented large scale, the island will continue to export its green energy.

Around 1,200 of the homes on the island are too remote to be connected to the four district heating plants, however around one quarter of the owners  have invested in heat pumps, solar systems, wood burners or biomass boilers. A key aspect of this uptake was the training of local craftsmen. The local government arranged training courses so that its maintenance workers were kept up to date with the latest technology. This collaboration has been very important, as now, when islanders call a plumber or boiler repair man to fix a problem with their heating, they are able to advice them about the latest renewable energy heating systems, which are often cheaper than their fossil fuel counterparts.

The wind turbines and district heating systems are organised in several different ownership models. Some are in public ownership by the district authority and some are cooperatively owned by local residents. Others are in private ownership, either owned by a national power company, by a professional investment foundation, or as in most cases, privately owned by local residents or groups of local residents. Given that the majority of projects are owned locally, either privately, publicly or cooperatively, citizens have a strong sense of involvement. This involvement and support for the island's renewable energy plan was a key ingredient to its success.

The Samsø energy academy was build in 2006, and acts as a research centre, a conference centre, an education centre, and hosts various public offices which work to promote renewable energy and support its growth on the island. In addition to hosting numerous school visits, more than 2,000 domestic and foreign professions visit the island each year to attend conferences or lectures and to learn from the islands success.

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