January 17, 2015


Green-Energy Inspiration Off the Coast of Denmark (DIANE CARDWELL, JAN. 17, 2015, NY Times)

Monhegan faces challenges as stark as its beauty. Foremost among them -- and the spur for the journey to Denmark -- is dependence on expensive, dirty fuels for heating and electricity. Even with the recent fall in oil prices, Monhegan residents pay among the highest power rates in the nation -- almost six times the national average -- and the electric company, locally owned and operated, struggles to keep the lights on.

Twenty years ago, Samso faced similar problems. Its farming and fishing industries were in decline, and its electricity and heating costs, mostly from diesel and coal, were rising. Its young people were leaving the island to attend high school and choosing not to return.

But in 1997, the island began a long-term transformation. It won a government-sponsored contest to create a model community for renewable energy and, through a combination of wind and solar (for electricity) and geothermal and plant-based energy (for heating), the island reached green energy independence in 2005. That means Samso actually generates more power from renewable sources than it consumes over all. Attached by a power cable to the mainland 11 miles away, the island sells its excess electricity to the national utility, bringing income to the hundreds of residents who own shares in the island's wind farms, both on land and at sea.

Samso has attracted global attention for its accomplishments. Soren Hermansen, 55, and his wife, Malene Lunden, 49, worked for years to develop the program on the island and now have created an institute, the Samso Energy Academy, to spread their story and methods to international visitors.

The Maine islanders, along with students from the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, had traveled to Samso to attend the academy and hear the Danes' advice. If all went well, each islander would go home with a team of students dedicated to solving an energy problem using ideas borrowed from Samso.

Beyond that, the planners hoped, new Maine island projects could become templates for broader adoption of renewable energy. Because of their particular geography, islands often lack the resources and infrastructures to meet their own needs. Fuel, like other necessities, is often imported -- sometimes with great difficulty -- and electric grids, when they even exist, are often underdeveloped or out of date, all of which leads to higher prices and less reliable service. With residents open to cheaper and better alternatives, islands are becoming seedbeds of innovation, living labs in which to test and refine technologies and approaches that are too new or expensive to establish on a mainland. And their small size makes the systems easier to manage and analyze.

Denmark is also studying the use of renewables on Bornholm, an even more remote island than Samso, in the Baltic Sea, said Rasmus Helveg Petersen, the country's minister of climate, energy and building. The Carbon War Room, the nonprofit organization started by the Virgin Group mogul Richard Branson, and NRG Energy, an independent power producer, are experimenting with solar, wind and geothermal sources to replace diesel in the Caribbean. And the Alaska Energy Authority has awarded several renewable energy innovation grants to offshore communities.

Posted by at January 17, 2015 8:07 AM

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