Samsø, home to 3,724 people is an island of 114 km2 located 15km off the Jutland peninsula. Its economy is based on agriculture and tourism. Already in 1997, Samsø decided to be a pioneer community in climate action and in only 10 years it became Denmark’s 100% renewable energy island.
Utopia is possible was the slogan back then, but which process really made change possible? The fear of change is embedded in people, acknowledges Søren Hermansen, CEO of the Samsø Energy Academy, and the local leader who introduced to the island community the idea of becoming the renewable energy island. We know what we have, we don’t know what’s in the future, he adds. To break this human resistance, we must invite people in a process to sit down and feel comfortable to talk about the unknown, he explains.
The open discussion that took place on Samsø allowed citizens to see what this change would mean for the island and their community and led to local co-ownership of on-shore and off-shore wind turbines, biomass-fueled district heating, solar panels and electric cars.
Nowadays, the stakes and ambitions are higher. 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals have been agreed globally, agendas increasingly focus on climate change, and Denmark has a goal to be independent of fossil-based energy by 2050. These conditions create a reason for Samsø to set the bar even higher and attempt once more to lead in solutions that point to the future.
The island’s ambition is to become fossil-free by 2030. To do so, the plan foresees that the excess electricity from wind will be stored instead of being sold to the grid, the local district heating system will be partly electrified, the number of electric cars will be further increased and local biomass from agriculture will be converted into biogas to substitute natural gas as the fuel for the ferry that connects the island with the mainland.
Always working “from best to next”, Samsø has built a brand name for what successful community-centred energy transition with local benefits and sustainable local development can look like. Through the fossil-free island project, the Samsø Energy Academy expects to demonstrate how renewable energy and circular economy can be at the same time catalysts for the sustainability of a community, good business and effective climate action.
To inspire more local leaders to design a more sustainable future for their territories and engage in the energy transition the Energy Academy is reaching out to communities in Europe, Asia, Australia, North America, Africa. It participates in cooperation and knowledge exchange programmes, provides advice on sustainable community development and organises on Samsø study visits, workshops and leadership programmes for local leaders, stakeholders and policymakers from around the world.