Søren Hermansen, the “energy magician” of Samsø, a small, blustery island of 4000 in Denmark’s Kattegat Strait, which now produces 110% of the energy it needs – almost all of it from renewables — and also exports knowledge through the Samsø Energiakademi – the Samsø Energy Academy.
Using the power of community engagement, Søren Hermansen led the Danish island of Samsö to become energy independent and carbon-neutral. In this exclusive Green Interview Hermansen discusses his native island of Samsö, how community engagement shifted the island from being powered by fossil fuels to wind turbines, and how today it has become “carbon-neutral,” a term which means it has a net zero carbon footprint.
Hermansen’s native Samsö is a small, blustery island nestled in Denmark’s Kattegat Strait. At one time it was a cluster of farming communities powered by coal and oil, now it’s an impressive showcase of sustainable power: wind turbines, district heating plants, rapeseed oil tractors and solar panels. In 1997 the Danish government put out a challenge to 5 of the country’s populated islands to reduce their carbon footprint and increase production of renewable energy. The Municipality of Samsö entered and won the contest and Hermansen was the project’s first staffer.
Power of Community Engagement
Over a ten-year period, as a result of skillful community engagement, realistic analysis, and deep understanding of local sensitivities, Hermansen helped set up investment plans for residents to buy in to a suite of alternative energies including wind and solar. Islanders exchanged their oil-burning furnaces for centralized plants that burn leftover straw or wood chips to produce heat and hot water. They bought shares in new wind turbines, which generated the capital to build 11 large land-based turbines, enough to meet the entire island’s electricity needs.
Hermansen also convinced the islanders to pay for the construction of 10 massive offshore turbines, which provide enough power to offset the gasoline and diesel they still use in their cars/ commercial fleet and ferries, making Samsö “carbon-neutral,” a term which means it has a net zero carbon footprint. In other words, the amount of carbon the islanders still release into the atmosphere—largely through driving—has been matched by the additional electricity produced by the offshore turbines and sold back into the grid.