Renewable Energy

Samso: World's Most Inspiring Renewable Energy-Powered Island

Wade Lyman, a College of the Atlantic human ecology major from Bar Harbor, spent his formative years developing a deep appreciation for the natural world—and a deep fear of the possibility of ecological collapse. “I hope that involving myself in this cooperative sustainability effort with the Samso course is a good way to rapidly develop and refine a skill set that can be applied to a career in sustainable development. I’m particularly interested in energy storage and smart grid technologies, as well as heating and cooling, especially in difficult climates."

[Editor's note: This fall, 13 students and two faculty members from College of the Atlantic visited Denmark's island of Samso, the world's first island to be 100 percent powered by renewable energy. Here's an article by one of the students that visited Samso.]

College of the Atlantic students spent three weeks on Samso Island, Denmark, to learn about and adapt energy sustainability methods for the Maine islands. Photo credit: Jay Friedlander / College of the Atlantic

Considering Samso's reputation as the home of perhaps one of the most inspiring renewable energy projects in the world, it's very encouraging to leave it with a sense of normalcy.

Very early on in the course, I got the sense that apart from the initial costs of the energy projects there were no deviations from normal life associated with the switch to renewables. Their goal was simple: replace fossil sources of energy for electricity, heat and transportation with tried-and-true renewables; and that's precisely what they did.

While quite remarkable in many respects, Samso's energy project is most noteworthy in that it was achieved by un-extraordinary means.

A local electrician on Samso expressed the idea clearly: "We don't necessarily do anything different here on Samso, we just provide people with more information about existing energy solutions and actually use the available technology and subsidies."

I was surprised by the visual subtlety of Samso's sustainability measures.

There were no major innovations, no ground breaking technologies developed for the move toward decarbonization, even the scale of the projects seemed surprisingly unobtrusive. Instead, 11 land-based wind turbines—each harnessing enough power for 600 homes—provide comprehensive electricity for the entire island, and several district heating plants provide heat and hot water for most of the homes and businesses. The rest is covered by several municipal- and privately-owned solar installations, heat pumps and wood stoves.

The transportation sector, which comprises Samso's most energy intensive investments (including a ferry that runs constantly, year round), is more than offset by 10 offshore wind turbines.

When reading about Samso, the idea of 21 sky-scraping turbines seemed insufferably obtrusive and loud, but I changed my opinion when I actually experienced it. Although they were very conspicuous, it was clear that the amount of power they generated was well worth any negative visual impact they might have on the landscape. And as for their impact on the soundscape, I stood right beneath them in a roaring wind and found their noise subtle and rhythmic—easily ignored.

Read page 1

A local couple in the Samso community told me that most of the negative impacts of wind disappear when the people are allowed to invest in the projects themselves. They explained that they were among the community members investing in a turbine adjacent to their driveway.

When reading about Samso, the idea of 21 sky-scraping turbines seemed insufferably obtrusive and loud, but I changed my opinion when I actually experienced it. Photo credit: Wade Lyman / College of the Atlantic

Now that they associate the turbines with economic gain, it doesn't look at all like an eye sore, instead it "looks like a sculpture and sounds like music."

In my opinion, even without financial compensation, the turbines instill a sense of security. The knowledge of their tremendous power—providing energy for 600 Danish homes—is substantiated by their impressive aesthetic, which ultimately leaves me with hope for eventual freedom from fossil fuels. That alone makes them worth it.

Seeing such a dramatic switch to wind power makes me wonder how social resistance to the technology was overcome, given that many people in the U.S. seem unconditionally opposed to wind turbines.

The courageous leaders of the Samso Energy Academy, Soren Hermansen and Malena Lunden, described a long struggle and democratic discussion replete with social nuances and disagreements that eventually led to a project that most community members could agree on.

After spending three weeks on the island and having discussions with the local community, it is clear that wind was the dominant renewable resource available and that Samso may have been  particularly well suited both logistically and culturally for wind as opposed to solar as a main power source.

On Samso, the strong east winds seldom stop, and on several hilltops stand the archaic remains of long decommissioned windmills. Turbines are thus seen as a part of the cultural landscape—and the roots of this sentiment are deep and resilient.

In past centuries, the windmills of Samso were the axle of the community's wheel; the landscape was stippled with more than 100 turbines, which drove the grindstones that partly defined the local food system and economy.

It seems that the community of Samso may have been primed for wind projects, but how much of a role this cultural history played was unclear to me.


Samso: World’s First 100% Renewable Energy-Powered Island Is a Beacon for Sustainable Communities

Wind Energy Could Generate Nearly 20 Percent of World’s Electricity by 2030

Low-Carbon Energy World ‘Feasible’ by 2050

Show Comments ()
Solar shade canopies. University of Hawaii

This College Could Become the First 100% Renewable Campus in U.S.

As a growing number of U.S. cities make pledges towards 100 percent renewables, it's easy to forget that the entire state of Hawaii set this important benchmark three years ago when it mandated that all of its electricity must come from renewable sources no later than 2045.

To help the Aloha State meet this ambitious commitment, in 2015, the University of Hawaii (UH) and the Hawaiian Legislature set a collective goal for the university system to be "net-zero" by Jan. 1, 2035, which means the total amount of energy consumed is equal to the amount of renewable energy created.

Keep reading... Show less

Silver Nanoparticles in Clothing Wash Out, May Be Toxic

By Sukalyan Sengupta and Tabish Nawaz

Humans have known since ancient times that silver kills or stops the growth of many microorganisms. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, is said to have used silver preparations for treating ulcers and healing wounds. Until the introduction of antibiotics in the 1940s, colloidal silver (tiny particles suspended in a liquid) was a mainstay for treating burns, infected wounds and ulcers. Silver is still used today in wound dressings, in creams and as a coating on medical devices.

Keep reading... Show less
4.4 million premature air pollution deaths could be avoided in Kolkata if emissions are reduced swiftly this century. M M / CC BY-SA 2.0

Study Finds Timely Emissions Reductions Could Prevent 153 Million Air Pollution Deaths This Century

One of the roadblocks to swift action on climate change is the human brain's tendency to focus on threats and stimuli that are an obvious and noticeable part of their everyday lives, rather than an abstract and future problem, as Amit Dhir explained in The Decision Lab.

Now, a study published in Nature Climate Change Monday shows that acting quickly to curb greenhouse gas emissions would also reduce the air pollution that is already a major urban killer, thereby saving millions of lives within the next 40 years.

Keep reading... Show less
Lands threatened by BLM's March 2018 sale include Hatch Point. Neal Clark / SUWA

Trump Administration Sells Oil and Gas Leases Near Utah National Monuments

The Interior Department on Tuesday is auctioning off 32 parcels of public lands in southeastern Utah for oil and gas development.

The Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) lease sale includes more than 51,000 acres of land near Bears Ears—the national monument significantly scaled back by the Trump administration last year—as well as the Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients monuments.

Keep reading... Show less
Katharine Hayhoe talks climate communication hacks at the Natural Products Expo West Convention. Climate Collaborative

Katharine Hayhoe Reveals Surprising Ways to Talk About Climate Change

By Katie O'Reilly

Katharine Hayhoe isn't your typical atmospheric scientist. Throughout her career, the evangelical Christian and daughter of missionaries has had to convince many (including her pastor husband) that science and religion need not be at odds when it comes to climate change. Hayhoe, who directs Texas Tech's University's Climate Science Center, is CEO of ATMOS Research, a scientific consulting company, and produces the PBS Kids' web series Global Weirding, rose to national prominence in early 2012 after then-presidential candidate Newt Gingrich dropped her chapter from a book he was editing about the environment. The reason? Hayhoe's arguments affirmed that climate change was no liberal hoax. The Toronto native attracted the fury of Rush Limbaugh, who encouraged his listeners to harass her.

Keep reading... Show less
Rising Tide NA / Twitter

Kinder Morgan Pipeline Protest Grows: Arrests Include a Greenpeace Founder, Juno-Nominated Grandfather

By Andy Rowell

Just because you get older, it doesn't mean you cannot stop taking action for what you believe in. And Monday was a case in point. Two seventy-year-olds, still putting their bodies on the line for environmental justice and indigenous rights.

Early Monday morning, the first seventy-year-old, a grandfather of two, and former nominee for Canada's Juno musical award, slipped into Kinder Morgan's compound at one of its sites for the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline and scaled a tree and then erected a mid-air platform with a hammock up in the air.

Keep reading... Show less

The Grapes of Trash

By Marlene Cimons

German monk and theologian Martin Luther probably said it best: "Beer is made by men, wine by God." It's true—the world loves its wine. Americans, in fact, downed close to a billion gallons of it in 2016. But winemakers create a lot of waste when they produce all that vino, most of it in seeds, stalks and skins.

Keep reading... Show less

Why Mike Pompeo Could Be Even Worse for the Environment Than Rex Tillerson

By Kelle Louaillier

As Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson was one of the most blatant revolving-door cases in the Trump administration and a clear sign that Trump's government was of, by and for the fossil fuel industry. But make no mistake: Mike Pompeo could be far worse.

Keep reading... Show less


The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!