Paving the way for green European energy
In October 2012 EU Member States adopted the Energy Efficiency Directive, which will ensure more than 17 pct. improved energy efficiency in 2020. But the road to reducing the European CO2 emissions is a winding one, however one small Danish island is leading the way forward – Samsø is self-sufficient with renewable energy and is a green inspiration and project partner all over the world.
By Agnete Vestergaard-Kristensen
Located 15 kilometers off the east coast of the Jutland Peninsula, which comprises most of Denmark, is the small, green island of Samsø. The island is idyllic as far as the eye can see with field upon field of grain and potatoes. Today the island is green to the core, with 100 percent of Samsø’s electricity consumption covered by wind turbines, while 70 percent of its heating needs are supplied from renewable energy sources.
However just 10 years ago, this island had one of Europe’s largest carbon footprints at 11 tons per person – almost double the average Danish of a six ton emission.
That needed to change.
Experts, countries and international organizations agree that the changes that can be observed in the climate are man-made and are due to an increase in the amount of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere.
An old Chinese proverb that says that “When the wind of change blows, some people build walls, others build windmills” and that is exactly what the island of 4000 habitants did.
Every year during the 1990s Samsø imported energy to a value of around €6.7 million. But the islanders soon found that they themselves could produce energy – green energy.
Local visionaries did what they could to create interest and get support by contacting the local farmers and introducing the project. They were met with skepticism, but soon the locals saw business opportunities and a model with joint local ownership of the turbines was established.
“You have a different view on a windmill if you own a part of it. We’ve been met with skepticism such as noise problems and bird
killings, but it doesn’t make that much noise,” says Søren Hermansen. When showing around ACP-EU delegates in May 2012 he explained how he has had many a delegate group visit and surveying the grounds around the mills for dead birds, never to find one.
Søren Hermansen is one of the initiators behind the Energy Initiative as well as the Energy Academy showcasing how to incorporate green energy into the community. He first put an ad in the local news paper offering shares in the speculative wind project and soon 450 bids in on the project. The green adventure had taken off.
EU funding paved the way
The EU Commission has calculated that the EU countries can save as much as €320 billion annually in expenditure for importing fossil fuels if efforts to achieve the EU’s overall climate goals in 2050 are successful. In addition, the Commission estimates that a green economy based on renewable energy sources will improve air quality in Europe. This can save up to an annual €88 billion on the EU’s health expenditures.
But the road to setting up wind turbines is long and winding. When first the local community of Samsø was on board, funding was needed.
For eight years, various pools and agencies as well as the EU and the Samsø Municipality invested nearly €67.1 million in renewable energy on the island. Samsø municipality itself invested about €17 million in five of the 10 offshore wind turbines. The total investment for Samsø’s 11 wind turbines on land was €8.9 million. Nine of these turbines are owned by farmers. The other two are owned by a local windmill guild. The Energy Academy itself was built when the ‘renewable island’ received € 400,000 in EU funding to build the buildings of Samsø Energy Academy. The ERDF support was given over the period 2000 to 2006 and has led to Samsø being a model for green development all over Europe.
As many as 6.000 visitors, including politicians, ambassadors, officials, scientists, journalists, students, show their interest and come by the Energy Academy every year to learn from what they call “The Danish Way”.
“’Think local and act local’ in the way that the local businesses, farmers and citizens are active in the project. We care about the production, because we own the wind turbines. Every time they turn, it means money in the bank. And, being part of it, we also feel responsible,” says Søren Hermansen, leader of the Energy Academy.
Today the island of Samsø has enough wind turbines to make it more than 140 percent self sufficient in electricity, putting Samsø on the map as a model for many other European projects.
Impact on the local economy
The project has had great impact on the local economy as well. Tabels show that the rise in production has resulted equally in a rise in economy by approximately six percent annually. A 2007 report on the effects of using sustainable energy say that the positive impact for the locals is that the import of wood chips is reduced over the first ten years by €1.400 per islander. All in all, the island saves around €6.5 million per year on energy.
“Europeanization” of energy policy
In 2006, according to Eurostat, the EU imported 54% of the energy needed for its consumption. This results in volatility in prices due to geopolitical developments as well as speculation on raw materials needed for energy production. During the second half of 2007 and the second half of 2008, the price of electricity for households increased by 9.6% and by 21.1% for gas within the EU 27. Many still remembers the crisis caused by Russia during the winter of 2008-2009, when gas supplies to Ukraine were suspended. Since then the European Parliament has called for a comprehensive energy policy based on solidarity between Member States, which is greatly supported by Europeans.
A 2011 Eurobarometer shows that almost 80% of European citizens are in favor of solidarity between Member States in the event of supply difficulties. However waters are divided when it comes to prioritizing renewable energy.
Aprox. 50 % of the Danish, the Swedish and the Dutch citizens find that the development of renewable energies should the main priority for the EU. On the other hand, in Lithuania, in the Czech Republic, and in Bulgaria only around 13 % considered renewable energy as an essential priority.
The Energy Road Map
In the European Union more and more focus is put to creating a more green growth, incorporating green energy and reducing CO2 emissions with the 2020 goals and the Energy road map 2050.
From 2010 to 2011 alone, the EU’s oil bill increased by nearly €100 billion. Therefore the adoption of the Energy Efficiency Directive in October 2012 was a step in the right direction. The Directive establishes a common framework for the use of energy from renewable sources in order to limit greenhouse gas emissions and to promote cleaner transport.
“Setting the right framework for low carbon economy can be a driver of innovation that gives possibilities for the EU to achieve and maintain global technological lead positions by which the strong positions of European companies are improved by virtue of, for example, efficient use of energy and the use of renewable energy”, Danish Minister of Climate, Energy and Building, Martin Lidegaard, said after an ACP-EU meeting in May 2012.
Riding the storm
Currently Samsø is involved in six EU projects. One example is the “Cradle to Cradle Islands”, which supports Danish islands in sustainable development, where Samsø in 2010 received 50.000 euro from the EU’s ERDF to develop ways to contribute to environmental sustainability and economic profit of the North Sea Region.
Another example is cooperation with the local golf club, where all gas driven lawn mowers have been replaced by electrical ones with solar panels on top.
“We are trying to inspire others to get started by sharing our experience. There are opportunities to produce energy in a cleaner way, and to use it more intelligently all over the world. It’s just a matter of getting started,” says Søren Hermansen.
Agnete Vestergaard-Kristensen is a 2012-2013 student in the Europe in the World programme; this report about Samsø was written as a part of the courses in the Utrecht (Netherlands) half of the one-year programme, of which the second part is taking place in Aarhus (Denmark).