Upon these declarations, a small Danish island cleared its throat: Samsø, with a population of 4,000, had actually already taken the title of world’s first selfsufficient island in 2007.
But never mind who came first, the feat is impressive and sets a standard. Because although these two islands may have fewer inhabitants than some cities’ tower blocks, they’re symbols of positive change, testing grounds for new ideas and technologies, and examples for our cities to follow.
El Hierro’s remote location in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean makes naturally strong winds an invaluable energy source. Wind, however, is an unreliable force of nature. To power an entire island of 11,000 people it needs to be converted from a variable into a constant.
El Hierro’s fascinating solution has been to combine wind with hydro power, building a wind farm with five turbines and linking it up with what is essentially a giant hydropowered battery. Normally, when wind farms produce energy at an excess, the surplus is simply lost. In El Hierro, the surplus is used to pump desalinated seawater 700 metres up into a reservoir situated in the crater of an extinct volcano. When the wind turbines don’t meet the island’s demand, the stored water is released into a smaller basin below, cascading through a series of hydro-electric turbines with a combined capacity to generate 11.3 megawatts of electricity.
This wind-hydro plant effectively creates a self-sustainable loop of renewable energy, meaning that, once implemented, El Hierro will be able to completely cut its dependency on 6,000 tons of imported diesel fuel per year (saving approximately two million euros annually) as well as eliminate an annual carbon footprint of 22,000 tons of C02. Moreover, officials say the project has resulted in 180 direct jobs and a further 1,500 indirect ones. And finally, the island’s administration has a 70 percent stake in the wind-hydro energy plant, meaning that inhabitants will be paying their electricity bills directly to local government, which has pledged to reinvest the money in further sustainable development.
Samsø, off the eastern coast of Denmark, used to spend close to ten million euros per year on imports of coal and other fossil fuels to generate its electricity. But in 1997, the Danish government held a competition that challenged local communities to prove that it was possible to be powered solely by renewable energy. Samsø, somewhat surprisingly for its residents at the time, won the bid.
The local government, led by the self-proclaimed “ educated farmer ” Sören Hermansen, set out the island’s potential energy resources—wind, biomass and solar power—and decided to utilise them all. The local community pitched in to fund the construction of an offshore wind farm consisting of eleven turbines and a solar power / biomass heating system that covers 70 percent of the island’s homes.
Now, as the world’s first fully renewableenergy community, and also as owner of the entire system (half the wind turbines belong to the municipal government, the other half to residents), Samso has massively reduced its CO2 emissions by 140 percent and produces so much electricity that it is able to sell it back to mainland Denmark.
This content is available in print-version at LECOOL.