A few months ago, I became interested in Samsø after reading Elizabeth Kolbert's column in The New Yorker entitled The Island in the Wind. Then, just this week, I noticed a photo essay of Samsø in The Guardian with pictures from Nicky Bonne. What's interesting about Samsø is that it's a producer of energy — the entire island produces more energy from renewables than it uses. They sell the rest and have been doing so since 2003.
Which makes me wonder, how did they get to this point?
True, Samsø is a small island with just over 4,000 people populating the forty-four square mile community, but it seems that they've been able to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time. It all started about ten years ago, when the island won a Danish contest and was dubbed "renewable-energy island." Subsequent to that, after overcoming some initial reticence and skepticism, Samsingers, from all accounts, came together to invest in the future of their community.
They've cut their carbon footprint by 140%.
Samsø has 11 large, land-based turbines (~$850k each), 12 small wind turbines scattered in various places, and 10 huge off-shore turbines ($3 M each). In aggregate, Samsø creates about 10% more power than it consumes.
And you know what, no one cares about the wind turbines, because, in all likelihood, everyone in the community has invested in them. Due to the system set up whereby electrical companies purchase power from turbine owners, the owners stand to pay off their investments in roughly eight years.
They've invested in other things, too, including solar, biomass, and wood-chip power generators. The end result is that they're selling energy to Denmark and living about as self-sufficient as I've ever seen anywhere.
When you go back and look at the origins of the name "Samsø," you realize the community is living up to its name in a new way. According to Wikipedia (yes, I'm citing Wikipedia), the word "samle" means to gather and "ø" means island. Interestingly, Samsø was a meeting place during the Viking Age. Now, however, the Vikings are long gone, but Samsø is still a gathering place — it's for visionaries who want to study how communities can be self-sufficient and carbon neutral.
Photo credits: Nicky Bonne.