Wind power could meet islands’ energy needs

Samso, with a population of 4,000, has achieved a 140 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions over the past 10 years by investing in onshore and offshore wind turbines and biomass for district heating. The island, which attracts more than 20,000 visitors in the summer months, now bills itself as a "100 per cent renewable energy island", and even exports electricity to the Danish mainland.

Soren Hermansen, who lives on Samso, told a seminar at the Institute for International and European Affairs in Dublin that he was working with some of the islands off the west coast to see if they could follow its example. Samso had been designated Danish Energy Island by the government in 2001 to show what could be done. It was also fortunate to be an independent municipality with a mayor and council.

"We had been importing [euro]10 million worth of energy, mainly fossil fuels, and this was very costly," Mr Hermansen said. "But there was a history of wind power, so we started by building 10 offshore turbines, which were the biggest in the world." These were now generating an income for the municipality and other stakeholders. "It’s windy there, like on the Aran Islands, and now the people have cheaper energy than they ever had before, because we no longer use fossil fuels."

Four oil-fuelled district heating plants for the villages on Samso were converted to run on staw, woodchips and solar thermal power and these plants supply 75 per cent of the island. It was now "an independent energy democracy", Mr Hermansen said.

"You are in same position as Denmark, with a lot of wind power and biomass potential. The difference is that a high energy tax on fossil fuels in Denmark for many years paved the way for investments in alternatives."

Prof Henrik Lund of Aalborg University said Denmark was planning to make the transformation to "100 per cent renewable energy systems" by 2050 by relying on wind and biomass (including municipal waste) for power as well as energy conservation and more efficiency.

Brendan Halligan of the institute said Denmark was always the "one country I would use as yardstick to measure our progress, or lack of progress. And the lesson is that we’re always 30 years behind Denmark – and we still are."

By Frank McDonald,