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Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way
WEB MAGAZINE - November 2018

The challenge of renewable energy in island communities

In many ways, Samsø in Denmark is the perfect symbol for the global dialogue that must take place in order to develop and implement the climate solutions necessary to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. Since 1997, the communities of Samsø have worked towards becoming entirely self-sufficient with CO2-neutral energy. In fact, they have already succeeded to such a degree that the yearly emissions per inhabitant are negative by 3.7 tonnes.

“We made a ten-year master plan that outlined what had to be done in order to achieve carbon-neutrality,” says Søren Hermansen of the Samsø Energy Academy. The plan included shifting from oil-based heating to district heating from locally sourced biomass, such as wood chips and straw. Oil furnaces were replaced in more than 2,300 households and four district heating plants were built, serving more than 70 per cent of all households.

“We soon realised that this transition was much more about our society and the threats of the future than the actual technical details,” Hermansen says. At the time, the local communities of Samsø were facing many of the classic challenges of rural areas – a decreasing and ageing population, empty houses and a lack of employment opportunities.

“We therefore shifted our focus toward community involvement, local job creation, and economic benefits for the individual households. The transition became the prime development motor for our communities.”

Eleven 1MW wind turbines, owned by local farmers and wind turbine guilds, were erected to cover the local power demand. In addition, ten large offshore wind turbines were built to offset Samsø’s entire transport emissions, including the emissions from tourism, trucks, tractors and ferry traffic.

“We export 80 million kWh of clean energy per year, which is fed into the power grid via a subsea cable to the mainland,” says Hermansen. The energy is traded through NordPool, the comprehensive Northern European Power Exchange. “Normally, we have a large surplus of power, but on the rare occasions when our production doesn’t meet demand, the cable serves as a backup.”

“We soon realised that this transition was much more about our society and the threats of the future than the actual technical details."

Søren Hermansen
Samsø Energy Academy

Hydro energy – a vital component of Faroese renewables

The main energy supplier in the Faroe Islands, SEV, was awarded the Nordic Council Environment Prize 2015 for its determination to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The company is continuing its efforts to increase the share of renewable energy in the Faroese energy mix.

“We’re currently preparing a 12MW wind farm on the island of Suðuroy, the southernmost of the Faroe Islands,” says Hákun Djurhuus, CEO of SEV. “This will increase the share of renewables on the island from 15 per cent to between 60 and 70 per cent.”

To ensure balanced production, SEV is installing a pump turbine system between the existing hydropower dams on the island, consisting of a 4 MW hydro turbine and a 6 MW pumping system.

“When there’s more power in the grid than we can consume, the pumps use the surplus power to pump water into the more elevated hydro reservoirs on the island. When there’s no wind, the water can be taken through the turbines to produce power.”

Using hydro to balance the wind energy is especially useful on Suðuroy, as it is yet to be connected to the main electricity grid in the Faroe Islands. A subsea cable will be installed within the next ten years or so, via the neighbouring island, Sandoy, which will be linked to the grid in 2024.

“In the long run, our plan is to install a similar pump storage system in the main system, on a somewhat larger scale, to facilitate the transition to 100 per cent carbon-neutrality,” says Djurhuus.

Bornholm’s challenging road to a low-carbon future

In 2008, the Regional Municipality of Bornholm, an island in eastern Denmark, adopted a vision to become carbon-neutral by 2025. The vision was followed by a strategic energy plan for the period 2015-2025, stipulating how the community could reduce emissions by 286,500 tonnes.

The majority of emissions savings were expected to derive from power production, heating and transport. Key objectives included replacing around 6,000 oil furnaces, expanding solar power by 3,600 kW, and adding 56 MW wind power capacity to minimise the need for fossil energy imports through the power cable connecting Bornholm and southern Sweden.

“A key part of the strategy was to install onshore wind turbines at six sites on Bornholm,” says Anne Thomas, Vice Mayor of the Regional Municipality of Bornholm. “However, onshore wind was later rejected politically due to complaints about the turbines. We’ve therefore been looking into alternative solutions to achieve our vision, notably near-shore wind turbines.”

Due to the geological characteristics of Bornholm, with steep cliffs rising from the ocean and deep water near the coast, not many of the sea banks surrounding the island are suitable as near-shore wind farm sites.

“We’ve identified one site where we could install 200 MW,” she says. “A wind farm that size would require an additional subsea cable connection to the mainland. That’s a sizeable investment, which would have to make economic sense for our society. The surplus capacity from the wind farm would have to generate enough income to finance the additional infrastructure.”

“We now need a political discussion about whether to revisit the issue of wind turbines on land. We have two political decisions: the vision of becoming carbon-neutral by 2025 and a decision not to build onshore wind turbines. It seems difficult or impossible to reconcile the two. It’s a good example of the complexity of the dialogue about our low-carbon future.”


Photo 1: Jeremy Gallman / Unsplash

Photo 2: Karsten Wurth / Unsplash