My name is Alex Newcombe and I am a student from Australia. I researched Samsø Energy Academy on the internet before arriving here for work experience in August. The practical nature of the development inspired me. Renewable energy development is a passion of mine, and I have been studying Civil and Environmental Engineering for three years ‘down under’ and will study a semester at Denmark Technical University. Though inspired I still had some questions when I arrived. In this article I will share my story, what I have learned and how it can be applied anywhere.
The spirit and vision for the future of Samsø Energy Academy is what initially inspired me, and now I’m here, I’m even more inspired. Samsø has succeeded in ‘walking the walk’ in regards to green development where many politicians ‘talk the talk’. It is inspiring to see a community progressing towards being independent from fossil fuels.
What Samsø has succeeded in is enhancing the social, environmental and economic capitals of the island. I have learned that the opportunity for locals to hold shares in wind turbines links all three capitals in a cycle. This means that the ‘three pillars of sustainability’ are linked, as they should be, to increase sustainability as a whole. Economic sustainability is increased from the shares and local craftsmen being employed and gaining further qualification in regards to their respective trades. Environmental sustainability is increased as there is less pollution as less energy from fossil fuels is being consumed on the island and in transporting the energy to the island.
One of the most interesting aspects of the development on Samsø is the social capital created by these wind turbines. There is a relationship between the community and the wind turbines; the Samsingers can see where their energy is created, and they are in part owned by them. The energy is not fully privatised, and this actually strengthens the sense of identity and community, something often overlooked in the field of energy. Samsingers, as islanders, are proud to be independent of the mainland.
The secret is to have no secrets. Public meetings establish a connected community attitude going into a development. The concerns of the community must be listened to, and addressed. For example, on Samsø, the blacksmith was hesitant to replace oil furnaces as it was his only income. Education was shared about solar and thermal heating and the blacksmith has expanded his knowledge and business capacity. The individual problem was looked at and transformed into an opportunity for further development.
Even though the development would have been economically and environmentally positive for the island, if the plans were not communicated effectively, the local support would not have been so enthusiastic, and the development may not have proceeded. The environmental and economic benefits of renewable energy are widely agreed upon, but the social aspect is widely overlooked, and vitally important in getting a project off the ground. In my opinion, the first step should be to gain social capital, and the support of the community, and “to lead people, walk behind them” as Lao Tzu said.
Fossil fuel free transport is the next big challenge, especially for an island with the only point of contact to the mainland being a diesel ferry. With agriculture being a dominant economic driver on the island, waste from agriculture could make biofuel a potential option to tackle this challenge, and if anywhere is going to achieve it, Samsø is. Skål til Samsø!