Europeans are far ahead of North Americans when it comes to adopting green living standards by large groups and local communities. The Danish Island of Samso is a brilliant example of how a community can adopt a self sufficient lifestyle within a relatively short space of time. North America is beginning to catch up with Europe. The case of a brand new Alberta community living on solar energy shows a unique approach to a sustainable lifestyle.
The Danish island is located in central Denmark, and home to 4,000 people who have spent the last ten years collaborating intensively to achieve self sufficiency and carbon neutrality. Samso’s energy needs are generated by wind turbines, eleven of which are placed in green fields and ten in the surrounding coastal waters of the North Sea. Visitors to the island will agree that if any place deserves carbon neutrality it’s Samso. It’s a romantic place which in 1214 was given by King Valdemar the Victorious to his new queen once they got married. There are plenty of goats grazing in the fields underneath those wind turbines and a photovoltaic panel array at a solar heating plant. Most farmers rear organic pigs below the unsynchronized rotating blades of the wind turbines.
The houses in which the inhabitants live are 70% heated with natural resources such as rye, wheat and straw. The roofs are paneled neatly with solar panels. There are cars and thirty percent of the houses are dependent on oil for their heating yet all the carbon emissions are more than offset. What’s the most amazing is that it all has been achieved in under ten years’ time.
A Reuters report comments that Samso is living proof to the rest of the world that there is an effective way to deal with the carbon problem. Carbon neutrality has been achieved because the wind power offsets the automobiles’ carbon emissions as well as the emissions of the 30 percent of homes still heated by oil.
The community has achieved this milestone without any government loans or subsidies. The islanders pretty much coughed up all the investments — 400 million Danish crowns ($84.35 million) — themselves. The costs average at just over $20,000 per citizen; not a small feat.
So what’s their secret? One islander, a dairy farmer says the key to the island’s success is the determination and can-do spirit of the inhabitants. That, plus a solid economic foundation makes it possible, according to Jorgen Tranberg. In addition to being a dairy farmer he’s also an owner of a few turbines, and these go a long way toward paying his bills. Tranberg added that plenty of meetings had been held and that the inhabitants had benefited from excellent advice from experts.
Outsiders, including the Canadian ambassador to Copenhagen, have been eager to find out all the details of how the community’s development. What the visitors find is that Samso’s inhabitants have put in plenty of effort to achieve self-sufficiency. Needless to say, the island is a model community. “I often use Samso as an ambitious example of how to cope with the big challenges that our own country faces in the race to become independent of fossil fuels,” Randy Udall, a U.S. energy sustainability activist said.
The island’s fame has accumulated also through a song called Energy Island, the lyrics and MP3 of which can be found here.
Meanwhile, the Canadians can rightfully claim to be the first to have a real solar powered community in North America. What’s known as the Drake Landing Solar Community is located in the town of Okotoks, Alberta and consists of 52 houses majority powered by solar energy.
The system that links the community together is ingenious. Excess energy is stored underground for use during the extremely cold winter months that make Alberta notorious.
A total of 800 solar panels located on garage roofs throughout the community generate 1.5 mega-watts of thermal power during a typical summer day, the project’s organizers said. They started testing the system on June 21, summer solstice, last year and found that the stored energy will be enough to provide more than 90% of the space heating needs of the attached homes within five years. The energy is stored underground in what’s known as a Borehole Thermal Energy Storage (BTES) unit, technology not yet in use anywhere else.
The homes of the community are all newly built, single detached homes which are gold-certified in the Built Green Alberta program, which itself is modeled on NRCan’s EnerGuide for New Houses Program.
The carbon footprint of people living in the community will approximately reach 1 to 2 tonnes of greenhouse gas emitted, compared to an average Canadian footprint of around 6 to 7 tonnes a year, according to a report on YellowsandBlues.com.