Resume: The Energy Academy at Samsoe was initially a hippie project, now a million dollar business project that generates interest worldwide. It is an example of how ambitious local visionaries who were backed-up from the political level succeeded in convincing local business to play an active part. It is also a very illustrative example of the challenges we have to face to obtain sustainability: People and organization. Once those two parameters are in place technology becomes an efficient tool.
Søren Hermansen is Director at Samsoe Energy Academy. It took 10 years to get the island where it is today producing 140% wind energy and thereby exporting renewable energy to the mainland. Samsoe has amassed a great deal of practical experiences with the implementation of a broad variety of local renewable energy projects, from wind turbines to CO2 neutral district heating plants, rapeseed oil tractors and solar energy panels. Søren is awarded for his remarkable doings internationally. At the seminar we listened to his passionate story about how he and a few others made it happen, and what the Energy Academy will do next.
Looking back, Søren Hermansen says that what they did was to “Think local and act local” in the way that the local businesses, farmers and citizens were active in the project. But it didn’t start like that. It all started with a top-down decision by the mayor and the leader of the local trade council to increase the amount of wind energy in Samsoe’s energy system. Samsoe bought 5 mio. DKK worth of energy at the time and they wanted to reduce that.
The top-down decision was in line with that of the government 10 years ago. But it was initially mostly a hippie project. Some local visionaries did what they could to create interest and get local support, but to little avail. They contacted the local farmers and told about the project. They were sceptical. The visionaries talked to the local black smith and told about the project. He got angry because plumbing and heating systems was his business and he wanted no new competitors. After some talk back and forth the black smith understood that all the heating systems had to be exchanged, so the project actually meant more business. The farmer also saw business opportunities and they convinced other locals and when a model with joint local ownership of the mills was established the project moved from hippie to business. “You have a different view on a windmill if you own a part of it. It looks different and it doesn’t make that much noise!” says Søren Hermansen and the audience laughs.
Four key parameters made the project a success: 1. Anchorage, 2. Ownership, 3. Realization, and 4. Transformation.
10 years later the mission is complete. Samsoe has gone from importing to exporting energy. 78 million USD was invested in the project. It created jobs and made a 100% CO2 reduction. It generated new local knowledge and more.
“People and organization have been the biggest challenge. Much bigger than the actual technical solutions” says Søren Hermansen and he continues: “To meet some of these challenges we have built an Energy Academy where we can tell about the project and where people can meet. We have 6.000 visitors every year, worldwide press coverage continues, and we are proud to have such a place where people of all nations can share ideas about energy and how it is made and used. A key element to enable more of such projects is to for politicians to create frame works that enable local innovation. And it is very powerful when it happens, since concrete innovation breeds more contacts locally that spread to other areas. ”
My personal comment: I find it very interesting that the softer parameters such as people and organization are key to success and that we spend very few focused resources to increase personal empowerment and exchange successful models of organizing new initiatives. Wonder when we will get a ministry with the responsibility for such important areas?
See his presentation slides here.