Friday, October 17, 2008

Samso - In The Red and Loving It!

Denmark seems to be constantly redefining the “gold standard” in ecotechnology. In the past 10 years, the Danish island of Samso has managed to cut its carbon footprint by a mind-blowing 140%. This has all been accomplished with a simple grid of windfarms, solar panels and sheep. Samso has been so successful that they are able to export their excess electricity to the mainland.

Samso used to be known mainly for its rich, sweet strawberries and delicately flavored early potatoes; but, there is history everywhere you look on this island also. The Vikings built ships and constructed canals here. Now the structures you see are of a much different nature.

Ten years ago, the island was almost entirely dependent on the oil and petrol brought in by tankers; and, from coal-powered electricity transmitted to them through a mainland cable link. Today that situation has been reversed. Samsingers export millions of kilowatt hours of electricity from the renewable energy sources implemented on their tiny island to the rest of Denmark. By managing to supply all their own needs plus export to the mainland, Samsingers have managed to reduce their carbon footprint enough to be the first community to have a negative footprint that I am aware of. While the rest of us are struggling to reduce our footprint – 0% carbon footprint seeming an unattainable standard – the island of Samso is already operating in the red (and proud of it!)

Change has taken place right across the island and is clearly visible to the naked eye. Solar, biomass, wind and wood-chip power generators have been multiplying across the island while traditional fossil fuel plants have been closed and dismantled. Dozens of wind turbines are scattered about the island, houses have solar-panels in the roofs, and a long line of wind turbines operate off the southern tip of Samso.

Hot water is pumped to homes by the district heating systems that are linked from town to town. The systems are powered by either rows of solar panels that cover entire fields or by generators which burn excess straw from local farms or timber chips cut from the environmentally-maintained forests on the island.

No one has forced or imposed these standards of living on the Samsingers. Neither have they received any money from major energy companies. Instead, they have all joined together and each plant on the island is either individually or collectively (group) owned.

These islanders wanted to show the rest of the world what could be done to alleviate climate change and still live comfortably.

Towns are linked to district heating systems that pump hot water to homes. These are either powered by rows of solar panels covering entire fields, or by generators which burn straw from local farms, or timber chips cut from the island's woods.
None of these enterprises has been imposed by outsiders or been funded by major energy companies. Each plant is owned either by a collective of local people or by an individual islander. The Samso revolution has been an exercise in self-determination - a process in which islanders have decided to demonstrate what can be done to alleviate climate damage without necessarily giving up the “good life”.

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