Project Description

A Story of Possibilities and Transformation in Renewable Energy from Samsø, Denmark

By Bernd Gabers

Samsø is an island in Denmark famously known as “The Little Pearl in the Baltic Sea.”

As a tourist destination, it is also well-known for its variety of fresh vegetables due to its mild climate.

Despite these things to celebrate, all was not well in Samsø. 25 years ago, the islanders began leaving Samsø because of the unemployment crisis. Most of them stayed away.

Around that same time, the Danish Ministry of Energy and Environment launched a call for project proposals to determine which island could be supplied with renewable energy within the next decade. The people of Samsø responded and, quite surprisingly, were successful in their bid. Now that the island received financial support from the government, the immediate question was how should Samsø begin the project?

The main actors of the energy project quickly agreed that there should be a technical project, but there should also be a social impact initiative where all islanders of Samsø would participate. The plans were swift, and the progress was sure! An engineering firm from the mainland was hired to quantify sun, wind and biomass available each year for the energy turnaround in Samsø. Meanwhile, the citizens mobilized themselves into groups to get involved.

Windfarms were quickly applied for and approved, individual heating systems were converted to a community district heating system which saved a lot of money for private and commercial customers on heating costs.

With this rapid growth in energy efficiency, local craft firms adopted new techniques to safeguard jobs. The project quickly became a pyramid scheme! A more positive one, of course! As more and more islands became active participants in this rapidly growing revolution fueled by one renewable energy project.

I finally joined the project in the year 1999—21 years ago after moving to the island to develop solar systems. As a technical person, I was in awe with the knowledge of the islanders. I was also amazed at the positive social impact of the transition and the level of cooperation among islanders.

Within 5 years of the project that had a ten-year lifespan, the small island of Samsø became a major success story and a beacon for sustainability among energy experts worldwide. Samsø was now a gathering point for energy experts, just as the Vikings gathered in the past as The Energy Academy was built in 2007 with the architectural semblance of a “Viking Longhouse.”

At this point, you might be asking, what is the value of this experience to the Caribbean?  The lesson is that everything takes time and commitment. In the Integrated Resource and Resilience Planning (IRRP), stakeholder participation from Caribbean countries is extremely important. We must listen to the stories of local authorities in countries which have implemented approaches which saw them joining forces to implement microgrid systems even as they grapple with hurricanes.

The vision is for the Caribbean to one day be resilient to weather systems, changing climatic conditions, and free of unstable prices and logistic changes around energy imports!

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