How Denmark is leading the way in renewable energy

It’s 8:10 p.m. Samso Time, Thursday, February 23, when the ferry pulls into dock at Kolby Kas after a two-hour float from Kaludborg. It’s dark…and dusty. And cold.

There are no streetlights between cities, I notice, as I blindly follow the car ahead of me to the centre of the 20-mile by 6-mile island, to Tranebjerg and Flinch’s Hotel – my home base for the next two days. The island feels deserted, and it is in a way…February is Denmark’s coldest month, and many of Samso’s 4,300 residents are burrowed snugly in their warm homes – a stark contrast to when an influx of several tens of thousands visit the island during the tourist season.

Many come in July for the popular music festival, the beautiful beaches, and sailing. But of late, Samso has been invaded by a different kind of tourist…an eco-tourist.

That was my mission…why I travelled over 4,000 miles: to discover Samso’s Eco-Revolution.

In 1997, Denmark held a national competition. The selected winner would be home to a one-of-a-kind experiment: The winner would be expected to convert all its energy supply to 100% renewable energy within 10 years.

The small island of Samso was given the nod. Because it is an island that has no conventional energy resources of its own, Samso was an ideal choice for such a controlled experiment.

Since 1998, Samso began converting its energy into renewable energy, and has been so successful that 100% of its electricity comes from wind power and 75% of its heat comes from solar power and biomass energy.

That’s a near total Eco-Revolution…but it gets better.

Here’s how they do it.

Think of the amount of time that wind turbines have been around…and multiply that by 40.

According to the Danish Wind Industry Association, wind turbines and wind mills have been “a part of the northern European landscape for more than 800 years.”

Now, wind power makes up approximately 20% of Denmark’s power consumption…and that’s with Danish wind manufacturers selling 90% of their production outside of the country.

Germany is the largest buyer of Danish wind turbines snatching up 24% of exports, and Spain comes in second with 10.5%. Big numbers for big markets. In total, Danish manufacturers held 40% of the world market for wind turbines.

That equates to over DKK21 billion, or nearly $3.4bn – about 1.8% of Denmark’s GDP.

With power like that, wind is like Denmark’s new currency.

Samso has taken the torch and has really shown the world what wind power can do.

With the completion of an offshore wind farm comprised of 10 beautiful turbines, Samso has become carbon neutral. The energy produced by these wind turbines compensates for the island’s transportation emissions, including the ferries, and all other non-renewable energy sources.

In fact, sometimes Samso’s wind turbines produce so much energy that the island sells it back to the mainland!

But wind power isn’t the only thing that’s super-charging Samso’s Eco-Revolution…

On Samso, it’s much more effective to use solar power for heating. Because of the expense of solar modules, the island has put them to use in a “collective” environment. Instead of installing solar arrays on individual homes for electricity, Samso uses solar power for heat at its district heating plants.

District heating plants pump hot water to nearby homes for individual heating purposes. The water is heated using a combination of solar panels and renewable wood pellet or straw-furnaces.

Studies have shown that it’s about 20% cheaper get heat from the local district heating plants than it is to buy oil for heat.

There are about 250 homes that have installed solar cells for heating their own water tanks in instances where they reside too far from the district heating plant. In total, Samso is pushing past the 75% renewable mark when it comes to heat energy needs.

By combining solar power with local, renewable, biofuel, Samso has custom-tailored a renewable energy program that is simple and highly effective. Solar panels are so efficient that on a cloudy winter day, it can heat the water to 25 degrees above freezing on its own.

With only 25% of heat energy derived from fossil fuels, Samso’s well on its way to achieving 100% renewable status ahead of schedule.

There’s only one sector left to tackle, and it might prove to be the most difficult.

Samso’s Eco-Revolution is in danger of stalling…so the many naysayers say. Every critic of Samso’s progress ritualistically cites transportation as the missing cog in the otherwise praiseworthy renewable energy system.

Well, they’ll be eating their foot once Samso’s new projects have been put into place.

The experts on Samso will by applying two radically different concepts to tackle the transportation problem.

The first project is a biofuel: rapeseed oil.

Rapeseed oil can be used to fuel any vehicle once a simple adaptation is made to the engine. It is cleaner than ethanol, and does not need to be refined in a clunky, energy-consuming refinery. That wouldn’t be practical for this small island.

All that you need to make your own biofuel is rapeseed, and a rapeseed press…and cows to eat the waste. Once pressed, the oil can be put directly into your fuel tank.

The island can grow approximately 600 hectares of rapeseed a year. That’s not enough to run every car, but it’s definitely enough to take car of the largest diesel guzzlers: farm tractors and ferries.

To eliminate the rest of transportation’s oil consumption, Samso wants to introduce a hydrogen plant, powered by all that excess wind power. That’s a few years down the road, but in the meantime, the Energy and Environment Office wants to put a hydrogen-fuelled truck on display at its new Energy Academy upon its completion.

The hydrogen truck, designed by H2 Logic Alps, would be a demonstration piece to start generating interest in this new, renewable fuel. Samso is planning on banning traditional combustion engines from the island once vehicles are converted to hydrogen.

Generating community interest has been a key way of developing projects and increasing investors. Samso’s Energy and Environment Office was so successful because it offered more than just a great chance at a return on investments…

In order for renewable energy project to survive, they needed strong backing from the community. In that way, Samso’s success goes way beyond the ‘greening’ of energy consumption. This Eco-Revolution was not only an environmental change.

Samso’s residents embraced a way to save their economy and improve their way of life.

Through investing in co-ops that financed wind power and district heating plants, islanders took personal control over their quality of life. By introducing these renewable energy projects, Samso has created new, better-paying jobs, increased tourism, and added to its economy.

“The community is more inclined to support the project because they see it as something that is done locally by local people. As such, people participate not because they are forced to by the authorities but because they want to,” says Soren Hermansen, director of the Samso Energy and Environment Office, in an interview with Chan Cheng Tuan of Sunday Mail.

Community commitment is necessary for the advancement of any project, which is why Samso uses many local resources like straw and wood pellets for the district heating plants. Soon rapeseed will be added to that list.

Residents want to see Samso succeed, and understand that by participating in the islands renewable energy projects the whole island benefits.

By S.R. Nunnally for The Daily Reckoning. You can read more from Ms Nunally and many others at www.dailyreckoning.co.uk.

A self-described disciple of Langston Hughes, Edgar Allen Poe, and Gertrude Stein, S.R. Nunnally’s amazing resume pulls together a unique mix of art history, computer science, and financial research that’s given her an unparalleled edge in today’s financial marketplace. She now travels the world to uncover the best alternative energy stocks available.

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