Renewable Energy and Community: Samsø

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11 offshore wind turbines contribute power to Samsø's independent power grid (Photo: Marcelo Medeiros).

A clear mandate for the 21st Century where consumption is concerned is not to continue along the lines of  the 20th Century, and to find a new way, a smarter and less expensive way, of sustaining ourselves. Really, that’s what’s been at the heart of the green movement since it was conceived in a post-war context.

But, many of the major barriers to this mandate are cultural. The 20th century, with its unchecked industry, heavy reliance on ever-dwindling fossil fuels, and the exponential creation of harmful waste, is all that we’ve known.

Technology and community make magic!

There has certainly been theoretical and technological progress in the last few years around sustainable energy, and away from that earlier paradigm. But, where technology always has the power to impress me, the thing that really turns my crank green-wise how it applies practically to community.

Technology applied to infrastructure planning for cities and towns, how it can transform lifestyles and economies for the better, and how all of that plays into what the future looks like is really where it’s at for me. So, I’ve been reading about Samsø, which is an island in Kattegat, a bay that is inland from the North Sea, and off the coast of Denmark. The island is home to over four-thousand inhabitants, with a surface area of 43.2 square miles. That’s the size of a small to medium sized city in North America.

Samsø: from imported fossil fuels to off-the-grid eco-energy in 10 years

In 1997, the island was powered by oil and coal, shipped from mainland Denmark. But, that year was also a year in which the island entered a government competition to model sustainable energy on a community scale. The islanders themselves invested in offshore windpower,  biofuels,  solar energy, and biomass heating. They made renewable and sustainable energy the economic engine of their community.

Here’s a breakdown of the Samsø energy grid, now independent from mainland Denmark’s grid after a period of roughly a decade:

Click to view in full. Infographic: GDS Infographics

Perhaps not all of the solutions here would be applicable to every North American town, due to geographical and climatic differences. But, I think the powerful principle at work here is the scale of the re-fit. It speaks to the potential of what can happen when we create cohesive communities that can work together toward a common, and undeniable, goal.

If they can do it, why can’t we?

It also strikes me that new technologies like this can be implemented in communities anywhere in the world. This in turn can mean a whole new job sector for those who live in those places. These would be places where technicians, engineers, inspectors, instructors, software designers, and many other careers are not only possible, but absolutely required. And the end product is a community that runs on clean and efficient energy, with the excess of that energy sold to other regions and grids, bolstering the local economy and further investments in the local grid.

The development of cutting edge technology where sustainable energy is concerned is an exciting prospect. But, when it is modeled on a community level, that’s when it really begins to shine. This is when outdated and culturally biased perspectives are traded for new, and when the magic to transform the economies of our towns, cities, and countries can really happen.

See more images of Samsø, and learn more about its energy grid courtesy of this feature on Samsø in the Guardian newspaper.

You can visit Samsø! Take a look at the Visit Samsø tourism site to plan your trip.



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Rob Jones

Rob served as Editor-In-Chief of BuildDirect Blog: Life At Home from 2007-2016. He is a writer, Dad, content strategist, and music fan.